The way you’d play with me like a child

Dark Dance — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 1

Dark-Dance

1992’s Dark Dance is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera trilogy.

Most people might react to the death of a parent with grief. Rachaela Day saw her mother’s death as an escape, a chance to live life as she desired: simply and alone, with the bare minimum of social contact. Rachaela is unhappy, therefore, when a representative of the Scarabae, her estranged father’s family, contacts her.

Not as unhappy as she will be after agreeing to meet with her long-lost family.


The surviving members of the Scarabae family live on a vast, gothic estate out in the middle of nowhere. Until now, Rachaela has been the sole exception, the only living member of the peculiar clan not to live in sequestered luxury. Once Rachaela arrives, her kin are determined to persuade her to stay. They could be forgiven for assuming that their efforts would succeed, because the Scarabae estate is isolated and difficult to leave, a Pitcher Plant of a home.

Her relatives, peculiar and strangely long-lived, might have convinced her to take her place among them. Her father, on the other hand, prefers to seduce the daughter he has never seen. As the Scarabae apparently do, Rachaela finds her father irresistible, but only for the moment. Repelled by her family’s incestuous ways, she flees back to modern society.

Pregnant.

Eleven years later, her daughter is on the verge of womanhood and the Scarabae come calling once more…

 ~oOo~

The Scarabae appear to take their name from the Scarabbaeidae, the Scarab beetles, one species of which was sacred to the Ancient Egyptians. They resemble vampires in some ways: although they don’t need to feed on humans, they are pale, beautiful, and inhumanly long-lived. Despite their solitary nature, they somehow attract loyal servants and great wealth as well.

Unlike vampires, the Scarabae seem to be a danger to themselves rather than to ordinary humans. Dealings with humans seem to spark pogroms, from which the Scarabae are the main sufferers.

At first, the family interest in Rachaela is merely mildly disquieting. It’s as if they want her to complete the family set (like a collector yearning over that last, elusive issue of the comic of choice). Before long, all the family’s unsavoury habits are revealed. While Rachaela is able to escape her family’s web, her eleven-year-old daughter Ruth is not so lucky.

Not that Ruth minds. Ruth is a true Scarabae and embraces her family’s traditions whole-heartedly. Unfortunately for the Scarabae, that includes the tradition that every once in while the Scarabae give birth to a homicidal monster. The events towards the end of the book go a long way to explaining why the Scarabae have been chased out of nation after nation: one Ruth at the right time and place could carve an Elizabeth-Bathory-sized swath through the local population.

Imagine a late Heinlein novel as a gothic horror and that’s pretty close to the impression Dark Dance left on me. I cannot say I cared for this tale of incest and murder at all. I am dreading the next two books in the series.

Those of you who like gothic horror focused on homicidal hypersexualized eleven-year-olds may find this to your taste. If so, I regret to inform North American readers that it seems to be out of print over here. There is, of course, a British edition.

This week’s addition to the chart is an edge case; Rachaela’s father does re-enter her life. Since he was missing when she was a child, I decided to count him among the missing dads. If I added a column to the chart for parents the kids would have been better off without, he would be there too.

Title

Missing or dead mothers

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

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players

0

2

Delirium’s Mistress

1


The Blood of Roses

2

1

Castle of Dark

1

0

Prince on a White Horse

0

0

Heart-Beast

0

0

Quest for the White Witch

1

0

Shon the Taken

0

0

Black Unicorn

1

1

Gold Unicorn

0

1

Dark Dance

1

1

Total

28

23*



* Includes one uncle.


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