Reviews: A Year of Tanith Lee

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain

Cruel Pink — Tanith Lee
Colouring Book, book 6

2013’s Cruel Pink was not Tanith Lee’s last novel (I believe last week’s Zircons May Be Mistaken was her final book) but it is the last Tanith Lee novel I will review in the series A Year of Tanith Lee. I hope the series has been an enjoyable diversion in what has been otherwise a festering bubo of a year.

Five people. One house in old London.

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The Ghost of Me

Zircons May Be Mistaken — Tanith Lee
Ghosteria, book 2

[Due to a technical issue, this is unedited]

2014’s short novel Ghosteria II: Zircons May Be Mistaken is the second and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Ghosteria duology.

The decaying stately home has stood for centuries. No living person has entered it in years, not since the Terror of 2020 dragged civilization down into the dark. Living people may never walk the corridors again. Indeed, it is not at all clear humans survived the Terror.

The absence of living people does not mean the mansion is unoccupied. There are still the ghosts.

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Little Talks

Ghosteria Volume 1: The Stories — Tanith Lee
Ghosteria, book 1

2014’s Ghosteria Volume 1: The Stories is the first of two ghost-story collections by Tanith Lee. I wish I’d read this in time for Halloween.

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All Things End

The Family Sea — Tanith Lee
Piratica, book 3

2007’s Piratica III: The Family Sea is the third and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Piratica series.

Former pirate turned privateer turned national hero Art Blastside has it all: fame, wealth, and family. If only she could be happy on land. If only she could stop doubting her husband Felix. If only Art could understand why it is she doesn’t love her daughter Africa.

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When She Loved Me

Piratica II: Return to Parrot Island — Tanith Lee
Piratica, book 2

Tanith Lee’s 2006 Piratica II: Return to Parrot Island is the middle volume of her Piratica trilogy.

Rescued from the gallows by the adoring mob, reformed pirate Art Blastside has everything society assures her she should want: wealth, position, and her one true love, Felix Phoenix. If there’s one thing of which stories assure us, it is that happy endings and true love are forever.

If only Felix were Art’s only love.

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I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes

Disturbed By Her Song — Tanith Lee
Esther Gerber, book 3

2010’s Disturbed By Her Song is the second of Tanith Lee’s Garber collections (the third work including the novel 34.). Unlike Fatal Women, in which Lee adopted the persona of Jewish lesbian Esther Garber, in this Lee plays at being both Esther and Esther’s half-brother, the half-Arab, half Jew, entirely gay Judas.

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They can have their diamonds And we’ll have our pearl

Fatal Women — Tanith Lee
Esther Gerber, book 1

2004’s Fatal Women is one of three works Tanith Lee wrote under the pen name Esther Gerber. 2004 also saw the publication of the Gerber novel 34, while Disturbed by Her Song came out in 2010.

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A pirate so bold

Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas — Tanith Lee
Piratica, book 1

2006’s Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Piratica trilogy.

An exploding cannon cost Artemesia “Art” Fitz-Willoughby Weatherhouse her mother and her memory. At age sixteen, Artemesia regains her lost memories. They explain why she has never fit in at the Angels Academy for Young Maidens: Art is the daughter of Molly Faith, better known as the infamous pirate queen Piratica.

Escaping from the academy is trivial. So is trading her dress for trousers, her hated surname for the far more satisfactory “Blastside.” An encounter with a hapless highwayman provides her with a pistol and a very snappy hat. Luck leads her to stumble across the remnants of Piratica’s old crew. All she needs is a seaworthy boat and Art Blastside can pick up where her mother left off.

O Sing of the valour o’ a pirate so bold
Who robbed the seas over, and took all the gold
Of captains and traders, from Carrib to Inde,
And slipped by the nets of the Law like the wind

There is just one small complication.

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In Restless Dreams

Forests of the Night — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1989 Forests of the Night is a single-author collection.

Unlike previous Lee collections, this one includes epigrammatic introductions by Lee herself, introductions that are often more allusive than informative. Forests of the Night overlaps with other collections I have reviewed—but only slightly.

It includes what may be the single most Tanith-Lee-like short work I have ever read.

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You’re my possession, a sweet obsession of mine

Mortal Suns — Tanith Lee

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.

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Last night I heard the screaming

White as Snow — Tanith Lee
Fairy Tales, book 7

Tanith Lee’s 2000 stand-alone White as Snow was the eighth and second-to-last entry in Terri Wildling’s Fairy Tales series. Published by Ace and then Tor, Windling’s Fairy Tales  was

a series of novels that (retold) and (reinterpreted) traditional fairy tales

In White as Snow , Lee sets aside modern interpretations of the Snow White story, framed to offer Depression Era Americans some solace in poverty, to draw from the original source material. The result?

“Unrelentingly grim” may be too upbeat a description.

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I will sell my soul for something pure and true

Metallic Love — Tanith Lee
Silver Metal Lover, book 2

Tanith Lee’s 2005 Metallic Love is a sequel to her 1981 novel The Silver Metal Lover.

The infant Loren is abandoned to an oppressive religious cult. Years later, just when she is starting to question the cult, she stumbles across an illicit copy of Jane’s Story, the first hand account of the doomed romance between Jane and Silver (the work we know as The Silver Metal Lover). The romantic tale strikes a chord with Loren. When she flees the cult, she takes her copy of the book with her.

How could she foresee that she would someday encounter Silver herself? Or rather, encounter what Silver has become?

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Just a stranger on the bus

Venus Preserved — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Venus, book 4

2003’s Venus Preserved is the fourth and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Secret Books of Venus.

Lost beneath rising seas, Venus was resurrected as a submarine city, safe within its impenetrable dome. Not satisfied with granting apartments to those who can prove descent from former inhabitants of Venus, the brilliant minds behind Venus have turned to a bold stratagem to repopulate the city:

Resurrect the dead!

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You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Louisa the Poisoner — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s delightful 1995 modern-day Horatio Alger story Louisa the Poisoner is a standalone chapbook.

Pity poor Louisa, raised in March Mire, a swamp “so dangerous that none but fools would venture into it,” fostered by a mad, witchy aunt, then cast out into an uncaring world. Her aunt has tragically died in convulsions (after Louisa poisoned her). How is one sad orphan, all alone in the world, to fend for herself?

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You can fall for chains of silver, you can fall for chains of gold/You can fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold

A Bed of Earth — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Venus, book 3

2002’s A Bed of Earth is the third novel in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Venus.

A few yards of dirt in a Venus graveyard is all it took to trigger the long-running feud between the powerful della Scorpia and Barbaron clans. To surrender that narrow patch of land would show weakness and betray the family honour. Better bloodshed and death than dishonour!

Betrothed to Lord Ciara, 14-year-old Merelda della Scorpia prefers the dashing musician Lorenzo. The betrothal serves her grasping family’s goals, but eloping with Lorenzo serves Meralda’s heart. There is no real question which option the naive teen will choose.

Alas for Merelda, intercepting the two lovers and handing them over to vindictive, malevolent Lord Ciara serves Andrea Barbaron’s sense of comic malice.

Lorenzo does not long survive Lord Ciara’s hospitality. Merelda does; Lord Ciara is unwilling to settle for simply killing her; he prefers a more perverse vengeance. Merelda is alive when Lord Ciara sends her away from Eel Island, but … nobody ever sees her again. Alive? Dead? Alive but writhing in torment? No living person knows.

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How the Light Gets In

Saint Fire — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Venus, book 2

1999’s Saint Fire is the second novel in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Venus.

If it were not for the Council of the Lamb, the masses who call Ve Nara home might waste their lives on love and pleasure. Ever vigilant, the Council diligently guides their charges towards self-denial and suffering, God’s chosen path for mortal humans. The Council’s grip on Ve Nara seems unbreakable, save for two minor details:

  • The looming war with Jurneia, a country of heretics too blind to see their false god is but a mockery of the one true God, fools who think it’s the Christian God who is false. Whatever the truth or falsity of Jurneia’s theology, their vast fleet is all too real.
  • The girl with fire in her hair.


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No people, no problem!

Red Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 3

1997’s Red Unicorn is the third and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn series.

Poor Tanaquil! In the previous volume, she fell in love with Honj. Because he is the paramour of Tanaquil’s half-sister Lizra, he is forever out of reach. Heartbroken, she returns to her mother Jaive’s isolated home, only to discover that an unexpected romance has ruined life there as well.

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The language of love has left me stony grey

Faces Under Water — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Venus, book 1

1998’s Faces Under Water is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Secret Books of Venus series.

Having ragequit his former life as a pampered aristocrat, Furian makes a scanty living by running errands for alchemist Schaachen. A hunt for salvageable bodies in Venus’ canals turns up something unexpected: a mask of unparalleled quality.

A mask that Furian should have left in the canal.

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Into the Waste

Wolf Tower — Tanith Lee
Claidi Journals, book 1

1998’s Wolf Tower is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Claidi Journals , so titled because the story is told as a series of entries in protagonist Claidi’s secret diary. Wolf Tower was also published as Law of the Wolf Tower , while the series is also known as the Wolf Tower series. Names can be tricky things, as protagonist Claidi finds out.

The House is an oasis in the middle of a vast wasteland. In fact, most of its inhabitants believe that it is the oasis in the middle of a world-spanning Wasteland and that to be exiled from it is to be consigned to a short, miserable life. Claidi’s parents suffered such a fate, exiled from the House for crimes against propriety too terrible to mention.

Even the doctrinaire rulers of the House could not bring themselves to punish the infant Claidi for her parents’ crimes. Instead they consigned her to a life of servitude to the stupid and cruel Jade Leaf. Such is the House’s mercy.

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Player Two Has Re-Entered the Game

Darkness, I — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 3

1994’s Darkness, I is the final volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera trilogy. Thank goodness, because I am not sure I could have taken a fourth volume.

In the previous volume, Ruth died, struck down by the revenge-seeking widow of one of her victims. That would have been the end of her story .. except that Ruth is a Scarabae. Not only are the Scarabae slow to age, they reincarnate.

Ruth won’t have to wait too long to live again; Ruth’s mother Rachaela is pregnant….

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Bad Seed

Personal Darkness — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 2

1993’s Personal Darkness is the second volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera  trilogy.

Even as the embers of the House are cooling, ancients Malach and Athena retrieve the surviving Scarabae. The hapless Rachaela is carried along in their wake. The Scarabae have vast resources. The loss of the House is merely the latest forced relocation among many. The dead cannot be saved but the Scarabae can rebuild.

Rachaela’s demon-child Ruth, last seen fleeing from the corpse-filled House Ruth herself set on fire, has no interest in joining her family in their new stronghold, wherever that may be. She has an entirely different goal.

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The way you’d play with me like a child

Dark Dance — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 1

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.

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Forge a Perfect World

Gold Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 2

1994’s Gold Unicorn is the second novel in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn trilogy.

Some time has gone by since the events in Black Unicorn . Enough time for Tanaquil to find a new identity for herself (after turning her back on her mother and, reluctantly, on her half-sister Lizra). This has also been enough time for Lizra to metamorphose into the Empress Variam, the so-called Child-Eater.

Lizra is determined to save the world.

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Won’t you let me in, won’t you open up the door/ Surely there must be some room inside for just one more

Black Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 1

1991’s Black Unicorn is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn trilogy. Like last week’s Shon the Taken , Black Unicorn is a juvenile.

Young Tanaquil does not have a jot of magical talent (unlike her sorceress mother Jaive), not does she have much patience with a life constricted by her mother’s rules and whims. Life in a magical palace in the desert is tedious and annoying by turns.

At least until the day Tanaquil’s pet (a peeve) finds a bone. A very special bone:

Long and slender, unhuman, not at once identifiable, the material from which it was made glowed like polished milk-crystal. And in the crystal were tiny blazing specks and glints, like diamond—no, like the stars out of the sky.

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Turn of the wheel

Shon the Taken — Tanith Lee

1979’s Shon the Taken is a standalone fantasy. It’s also a juvenile, which I think makes it the first Tanith Lee juvenile that I’ve read in A Year of Tanith Lee.

Shon and his people live simple lives constrained by simple rules. First among these is not too look intently in a certain direction, lest that which dwells in that certain direction look too intently back. Never stay in the dark woods at night. If bad luck or bad judgement leaves some poor fool in the woods overnight, death is certain. Either at the … grasp … of that which dwells and its servants, or at the hands of that fool’s cautious relatives, afraid that the fool has returned possessed.

Shon becomes one of those poor fools, thanks to a spiteful trick by his resentful brother (plus some very bad luck).

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