You’re my possession, a sweet obsession of mine

Mortal Suns — Tanith Lee

mortal-suns

Tanith Lee’s 2003 novel Mortal Suns is a standalone secondary world fantasy.

Born deformed, Cemira is consigned by her mother, Queen Hesta of Akhemony, to Death’s Temple to live or die as the god Thon decrees. Cemira apparently attracts Thon’s favour, for she survives the wilful neglect and the abuse that follow.

Cemira is spared a long life of onerous labour in Thon’s temple by the Sun Consort Urdombis. Urdombis, the senior wife, has her co-wife’s child brought back to the royal compound as soon as she learns the child exists. Renamed Callistra, Cemira will be, if not a treasured member of the family, at least acknowledged.

Thon is not done with the girl. Death will transform Akhemony and the lands surrounding it.


Akreon, Great Sun of All the Lands, is but middle-aged; his death comes as a complete surprise. Akhemony at least need not fear a power vacuum its neighbours could exploit. Akreon took his procreative duties very seriously. His kingdom has a bounty of potential heirs.

Of all those heirs, Klyton is clearly the one best suited to rule the kingdom, or so Klyton would argue and he should know, for is he not the one most suited to rule? Alas for Klyton, he is not the most senior heir. Given how far down the succession Klyton is, it seems very unlikely he will ever rule. And yet, somehow, his rivals fall to mishaps bizarre and unnatural. Some power, vast and cruel, has a purpose for Klyton.

Women do not rule in Akhemony, although canny wives like Urdombis can wield tremendous influence within the palace. Footless Cemira seems destined by her deformity for a life of pampered obscurity, for what powerful man would want to marry a cripple, even one as beautiful as Cemira? But Klyton is smitten.

Her brother Klyton…

 ~oOo~

Akhemony and its neighbours seem to be inspired by Egypt (if Egypt and company had been on an isolated island-continent) but that does not extend as far as an enthusiasm for keeping royal bloodlines pure with royal incest. Klyton and Cemira’s love is a forbidden love, and this is a world where royal sins blight the whole kingdom.

Klyton is not alone in his unfortunate choices. In fact, the royal family seems oddly prone to terrible decisions (this is one of the few Lee books where necromancy turns out to be a very bad idea). In the royal family’s defence, I think they are the victims of vast forces intent on transforming the land; it is not so much that these are flawed people who do stupid things. It’s that they are led towards those decisions, then punished horribly for having been manipulated. It’s not exactly fair but gods are not fair.

Or, as it turns out, immune to inexorable fate themselves.

Some readers will find Cemira oddly passive. Once again, we have a Lee protagonist who is valuable but not powerful. Cemira lives in a palace because Urdombis believes propriety demands all members of the royal family be acknowledged … but the young woman’s life there is as constrained as it was back in the temple. She does not do much because there is not much of consequence she can do; if she dares, a senior family member or helpful servant steps in to overrule or correct her.

Although its inhabitants are not aware of it, Akhemony’s best years are behind it. Ahead, only entropy and death. The forces at work are too powerful for mortals to resist, even if the mortals understood what was actually going on. Where White as Snow was relentlessly grim, this is quietly melancholic.

Mortal Suns is available here.



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

0

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

Personal Darkness

1

1

Darkness, I

0

0

Wolf Tower

1

1

Faces Under Water

0

0

Red Unicorn

0

1

Saint Fire

1

0

A Bed of Earth

1

1

Louisa the Poisoner

2

1

Venus Preserved

1

2

Metallic Love

1

1

White as Snow

1

1

Mortal Suns

1

1

39 books

38* absent mothers

33** absent fathers


* Includes one aunt.

** Includes one uncle.



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