Cyrion, Tanith Lee’s 1982 collection, gathers all of the stories featuring the eponymous hero. In addition to the previously published material, Lee includes one work original to this volume, Cyrion in Stone, as well as extensive linking material.
In a secondary world much like the Medieval Middle East, a clumsy, ginger-haired man stumbles into the Honey Garden, an unremarkable inn. The man is Roilant and he comes in search of the legendary Cyrion, Man of Mystery! Cyrion is not present but some of the patrons have heard of him and are happy to share what they know of the renowned adventurer.
“Cyrion in Wax” • (1980) • short story:
An encounter with a malevolent mage, Hasmun the dollmaker, leaves Cyrion the target of one of Hasmun’s lethal vendettas. The question isn’t “can Cyrion survive” but “how unpleasant will his death be?” Or so all believe.
You may say “generally, protagonists in ongoing series tend not to die in their stories.” That’s true in general but not of Cyrion, who dies in at least one of these stories. I am not saying which one.
One of Cyrion’s favourite shticks, by the way, is to walk open-eyed into traps, expecting to improvise and outsmart his opponents. He’s good at this. His opponents either do not know this, or tend to discount Cyrion’s history of successful improvisation. They ignore or discount at their peril.
“A Hero at the Gates” • (1979) • short story:
An ancient city lies in thrall to demons, victim of a pact made long ago. Prince Memled appeals to the fair-haired Westerner to defeat the evil within Memled’s city. The situation seems straightforward enough—but of course it isn’t.
I don’t often say this about wandering adventurers in secondary worlds, but Cyrion’s methods and his explanations are reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’.
One Night of the Year • (1980) • novelette:
Cyrion investigates a woman’s tragic death. Any one of her four companions could have killed her. If he fails to solve the case, he dies; everyone who tackled the puzzle before him has failed….
This isn’t exactly a Christie-style cozy, but I think it was influenced by them.
“Cyrion in Bronze” • (1980) • short story:
A poisoned oasis is a small threat compared to the danger that lurks within a cursed mirror!
See earlier comment about how absolutely nobody ever expects to be outsmarted by the fellow whose schtick is that he’s always the smartest guy in the room1.
“The Murderous Dove” • (1979) • short story:
Slaughtered doves and a murdered dovekeeper are but the first steps in an assassin’s plan to kill Hulem of Klove. But then the assassin makes the mistake of trying to use Cyrion as his catspaw….
I think this is another case of “didn’t know who Cyrion was, probably would have picked a different plan if he did.”
Also, I expected there would be some fancy term for someone who keeps doves but if there is one, I did not find it.
“Perfidious Amber” • (1979) • short story:
An unbeliever comes into possession of a demon-cursed ring. All who have owned this trinket have fallen to its deadly secret. Cyrion must decipher the ring’s hidden message; if he fails, he will be the one to die.
Again, this is very much a “Sherlock Holmes as a dashing blonde fantasy adventurer” story. It’s also the sad story of a man who tried to dupe The Smartest Man in the Room.
A Lynx With Lions • (1982) • novelette:
Summoned into the heart of the desert by the elder who taught him the ways of the desert people, Cyrion arrives to find his old mentor the target of a deadly plot. Cyrion may not be able to save his friend. He can, however, avenge him.
Both antagonists and protagonists use oddly convoluted plans here. The bad guy does have the excuse that he’s planning on violating one of his culture’s greatest taboos and would prefer not to get caught.
Cyrion in Stone • (1982) • novella:
His heroic bona fides established, Cyrion assists Roilant with his problem. Roilant threw over his fiancée for a woman with a less sinister reputation, only to discover that his former fiancée does not just have a reputation for witchery; she is a witch of considerable power. A witch who can punish a beau who breaks his engagement. Donning Roilant’s appearance as his own, Cyrion investigates, only to discover that the situation is darker and more complex than he expected.
Of course Cyrion is a master of disguise…
I was not expecting the accused witch to make a plausible case for herself. She claims that her pose as debauched villainess was a mere ruse, adopted to protect her from her depraved relatives.
I get the sense from the 1970s and 1980s DAW books I have read that Wollheim was keen on books with lots of rape, having made a lot of money from the Gor fans. Several female authors—Lee, Clayton, and Cherryh, among others—tried to subvert reader expectations.
The setting here draws heavily from the Levant in the time of the crusades: this world’s Roman may have been called Remusans and the great prophet of the region may have been named Hesuf, but the physical geography and the details of the contending religions seem very familiar.
Most of these stories are fairly slight, constrained by their length to fairly straightforward narratives. They are also oddly mystery-like in their structure, featuring rush-lit gatherings in which Cyrion dispassionately explains to his audience (which often includes the villains themselves) how he resolved the problem at hand. I wonder if Lee ever wrote a straight-up modern mystery. She certainly could have.
I know of no recent edition of Cyrion.
1: I have compared Cyrion to Sherlock Holmes … but he’s also reminiscent of Batman, presumably entirely by accident. Still, it would have been interesting to see Lee’s take on that character. She might have been more interested in the female characters than the actual authors were.