Tanith Lee’s 1987 Night’s Sorceries: Stories from the Time of Azhriaz is the final volume in the Tales of the Flat Earth quintology. In many cases, the stories illustrate the consequences of an enduring, passionate love (Sovaz/Azhriaz and Chuz) for innocent bystanders.
Foreword (Night’s Sorceries) • essay:
A two paragraph introduction explaining that the stories are set (for the most part) during the same time span as Delirium’s Mistress.
Night’s Daughter, Day’s Desire • (1987) • novelette:
As an unwanted child, Beetle was consigned to the local temple with a small gem insufficient to buy Beetle more than a marginal life as an abused servant. On hearing that a pair of sorcerers are living close to the temple, the corrupt priests decide that Beetle has the right combination of loyalty and expendability to make him the perfect emissary. He is a catspaw, sent to see if the sorcerers are malign or beneficent. Which, as it turns out, they are.
I guess one job requirement for running temples dedicated to the Flat Earth’s indifferent gods is ignorance of the commonest tropes in the SFF genres.
Beetle is not anywhere near as loyal as his cruel masters believe he is. He and many of the other servants hate and despise their lords heartily. Whenever possible, they take what small revenge they can, while not tipping their hand to those who can make their lives hell.
Children of the Night • (1987) • novella:
How can the innocent Marsineh escape arranged marriage to dread Kolchash? And how can her trusted companion, ambitious Yezade, convince naive Marsineh to let Yezade take Marsineh’s place? And will either be happy with the consequences? And what of poor Kolchash?
Marsineh’s One True Love Dhur (whom Marsineh met but six times) is far less fixated on her than she is on him. Unaware that the servant to whom he is speaking is Marsineh in disguise, he describes Marsineh thusly:
One of our neighbor’s daughters-the tall thin girl, or she with a nose like a stork’s bill.”
Lee seems to have been in an exceptionally good mood when she wrote this collection, so this story doesn’t work out anywhere nearly as badly for all concerned as it could have had Lee been in, oh, The Storm Lord mode. In fact, it’s really a screwball comedy.
The Prodigal • (1987) • novelette:
Jyresh’s father sends him to the estate of a far-off business contact, hoping that a harsh apprenticeship will pummel some character into the spoiled brat. Jyresh misreads his map and ends up serving as apprentice to the wrong master, the supernatural Beast of the Forest. A stranger arrives at the boy’s intended destination; the far-off friend takes the stranger to be the spoiled boy he is expecting. The stranger is in fact a disgruntled Azhriaz, arguably the paramount demon of the Flat Earth. Much drama ensues.
Again, this could have worked out a lot more badly than it did. Not that it works out well for Jyresh’s father or his associate. Always be polite to guests and to hosts.
Dooniveh, the Moon • (1987) • novella:
Ambitious demon Hazrond orchestrates an assignation between a horse and an eagle. From this union emerge two offspring: the flying horse Hazrond wanted and a less favoured beast whom the cruel Hazrond abandons. (This animal’s ultimate fate is told elsewhere, but … lest you worry, know that it does quite well for itself: it is a good guest and finds a good host.)
Bold Pereban tries to master the flying horse; he soon finds himself tumbling through the air, no winged steed in sight. Happily for Pereban, he ends up on the Moon. There he will be tested to see if he is the promised husband of a bride even now slumbering. But as keen eyed Pereban discovers, there is one small problem….
The moral of this story is “if you are going to arrange your whole life around a prophecy, give the prophecy more than a cursory read.”
Black as a Rose • (1987) • novelette:
Holy man Zhoreb crosses wits with Azhrarn, Prince of Demons. In return, the thoughtful demon uses love-smitten Jalasil’s infatuation with the pilgrim to set an amusing trap.
Amusing for Azhrarn, but he’s a dick. It’s a pretty sad story otherwise, and would have been avoidable had at least one of the people involved been more considerate.
Game Players • (1987) • novelette:
A cursed woman takes in two elderly wanderers, little guessing what divine figures wear those aged bodies.
It’s a pretty good bet that any stranger who comes calling on the Flat Earth is going to be a demon, a sorcerer, or a demigod in disguise. Always be a good host. Being polite won’t help you if you’re playing host to Azhrarn, but at least it won’t makes things worse.
The Daughter of the Magician • (1987) • novella:
Sovaz is trapped in a hideous, warped body thanks to the machinations of an ambitious sorcerer. Is this the end of her hope to reunite with her one true love? And what of the dread beast mentioned several stories ago?
Chuz plays love on god mode.
If your grand plan for ultimate power involves enslaving the soul of a woman who is: a) the daughter of one of the most powerful demons on the Flat Earth, b) the lover of another powerful demon, and c) was once a god in her own right … you might want to reconsider your plan
Oh, the fell beast actually had a pretty good life, despite being abandoned. And everyone who befriended him also did fairly well (unless they were seeking the beast for reasons of personal ambition). Unfortunately for the vast majority of the people who encountered the beast, their hearts were not pure…..
Aside from Black as a Rose, this was an oddly cheerful collection, particularly when you consider that the Flat Earth is a land abandoned by its gods and of interest only to its demons and monsters. Granted, Delirium’s Mistress found its way to a happy-ish ending, but this isn’t what I expected at all.