The last of Vis

The White Serpent — Tanith Lee
Wars of Vis, book 3

White-Serpent-1988

Tanith Lee’s 1988 novel The White Serpent is the third and final volume in the Wars of Vis series, which has been, as you may recall, not exactly my favourite Lee series.

As this book opens, a fragile peace holds in the lands of Vis. The ancient antagonisms remain, and wars could rekindle at any moment.

It’s ironic that the event that kickstarts the plot is a genuine moment of affection between two people of different races.



Wounded after an encounter with bandits, Yennef is rescued thanks to a farmer’s wife, Tibo. She is able to convince her husband and her domineering brother-in-law that Yennef is a potential resource rather than a threat to be eliminated. Once healed, Yennef leaves the farm, and Tibo, forever. Tibo finds herself dealing with the aftermath: her son by Yennef.

The brother-in-law sells the boy, Rehger, to a passing slaver. Tibo discovers this too late to save her son; he is already gone, carried off to distant Alisaar. The grieving mother takes a passionate revenge; she throws the brother-in-law over a cliff. The local church puts her to a trial by ordeal, one that is blatantly fixed to convict … and yet, somehow, Tibo is adjudged innocent. She may be a murderess, but she is also favoured by the gods. Being god-touched leads to exciting new career opportunities!

Years pass, and Rehger becomes a gladiator of tremendous renown in the city of Saardsinmay. Though he is technically a slave, his achievements entitle him to women and wealth. There are free men who live much worse lives than bold Rehger.

But the ancient enmity between the dark-skinned races of Vis and a sorcerous white-skinned race breaks out in renewed warfare. Rehger’s home, the city of Saardsinmay, is threatened by the sorcerers’ command of earthquake and tsunami. Rehger’s lover Aztira is one of the pale sorcerers … but it is not clear that she will be able to save her lover when the city dies.

 ~oOo~

If I may descend into cover neep … no, wait, why I am asking permission? There’s not a thing you can do to stop me! Ahem, as I was saying, this book does not look like the Platonic ideal of “old DAW books”; it does not flaunt the yellow spine that made DAW books so easy to find in the Before Times. DAW dropped the classic yellow spine in the summer of 1984. I assume they must have done so for sensible reasons, but I still miss the familiar DAW-signal.

I noted a few hints that this book may be a science fantasy like the Birthgrave, rather than a secondary world fantasy. Some passages can be read as evidence that some of the peoples of Vis arrived via rocket ship. A touch of science (perhaps) but not enough to matter.

This book was an odd fit with the other two Vis novels, not least because it features temporarily misplaced parents rather than dead or abusive ones. True, Yennef wanders off before Rehger is born, but Yennef and Rehger are reunited in the end. True, Rehger never sees his mother again, but she did love him, and she does survive and thrive in an unexpected way.

I expected that, as in previous books in the series, the significant characters in Rehger’s life would suffer quick and conveniently timed deaths once they served their role in the plot. That is not what happens. Lots of the characters survive—even his parents! It’s almost as if Rehger is not a protagonist, but a frame that links a large cast of otherwise poorly connected characters and narratives. I am not entirely certain this approach works, but it was certainly unexpected.

Although this book gives us more of the race hatred and misogyny that shaped the worldbuilding of the previous volumes in the series, here the characters seem kinder, more humane. The tone of the book is less grimdark (the world is grim, that’s life) and more regretful (the world is grim, that’s sad). I did not care for either The Storm Lord or Anakire, but I may give this book a reread in few years time.

This seems to have been the least popular of the Wars of Vis novels. North American readers will have to sift their sources of used books to find a copy of the 1988 edition. The British are more fortunate; SF Gateway offers an ebook.



Title

Missing or dead moms

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

Total

18

15



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