Reviews: A Year of Tanith Lee

Final Birthgrave

Quest for the White Witch — Tanith Lee
Birthgrave, book 3

I only just now got my hands on a copy of 1978’s Quest for the White Witch , the third and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Birthgrave series. A fine choice for Throwback Thursday! If only this were Thursday and not Friday.

Heir to godlike powers that would make him lord of any land he cared to possess, Vazkor has but one aim: to find the goddess Karrakaz, the woman who abandoned him as a child. Having found her, he will have his revenge.

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And the moon is full and bright

Heart-Beast — Tanith Lee

Many travel to better themselves, seeking fame, fortune and knowledge in far off lands. Perhaps Daniel Vehmund initially sought to better himself, but by the time he appears in Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasy Heart-Beast, he has embraced a life of expatriate decadence, reveling in the exotic vices of the East. The odds that Daniel will return home alive, let alone healthy, seem quite poor.

And then comes Daniel’s encounter with the tomb-robber and the cursed diamond …

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Strange Omnibus

Dark Castle, White Horse — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1986 Dark Castle, White Horse is an odd little omnibus, two short novels in one cover.

It is an incongruous pairing.

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Dark world of living gods

The Blood of Roses — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1990 standalone novel Blood of Roses is set in a fantasy world that mirrors the Europe of the dark ages. This is world where the Church is just as corrupt as it was in our real world, where the pagan past is more present than rulers prefer to believe, and … where vampires and shape-shifters are real.

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“I just don’t want to die! Is that so unreasonable?”

Sand — Tanith Lee
Blake's 7, book 48

Sand was the ninth episode in Blake’s 7’s fourth and to date final season. It was also the second and final Blake’s 7 episode written by Tanith Lee.

Five years before the start of this episode, an unlucky spacecraft crash-landed on the isolated world Virn. The crew survived long enough to send out a series of increasingly desperate distress calls to the Federation before succumbing to what the castaways thought was a local virus. Now that it is far too late, Commissioner Sleer and a small team have come to investigate Virn, which they believe may contain a mysterious substance of use to the Federation.

Did I say “Sleer?” The Commissioner may be using that name but anyone familiar with the series would know at a glance that “Sleer” is none other than long time series antagonist Servalan! Who is considerably less dead than her enemies believe!

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Daughter of Shadows

Delirium’s Mistress — Tanith Lee
Tales of the Flat Earth, book 4

Tanith Lee’s 1986 Delirium’s Mistress is the fourth book in her Tales of the Flat Earth series.

Although true love is alien to the demons who live beneath the Flat Earth, Azhrarn truly loved his Dunizel. She died, as mortals do. An enraged Lord of Darkness fixed the guilt on his brother Chuz, Master of Delusion, and vowed to even the score at some later date.

Azhrarn has one tangible keepsake of Dunizel: their daughter, whom her mother named Sovaz. The girl’s demon father calls her Azhriaz. He does not love her as he did her mother; he sees her only as a possible playing piece in his games. He keeps her sequestered in his underground city until he finds a use for her.

Of course, keeping your daughter hidden away in hell, concealed within a magical stone, surrounded by demonic guards, is basically begging some heroic adventurer to come retrieve her.

Enter Oloru….

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Blake’s 7 without Blake

Sarcophagus — Tanith Lee
Blake's 7, book 35

Tanith Lee wrote the script for the 1980 Sarcophagus, a third season episode of Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7. Before I talk about the episode, let me explain Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7 was a British science fiction television program. It was broadcast on BBC1 from 1978 to 1981. Unlike Star Trek, in which the Federation was supposed to be a force for good in the galaxy, Blake’s 7’s Federation is explicitly dystopian and oppressive. It may not be coincidental that B7’s Federation uses a symbol that is essentially the Trek Federation’s Starfleet symbol turned on its side1.


The episode opens with a lengthy funerary ceremony, during which odd images are shown (their significance will become clear only later). At the end of the ceremony, the entire structure in which the rites were held is shot off into deepest space.

Many centuries later…

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Backtracking

The Winter Players — Tanith Lee

You might think after my experiences scrambling to find the books I wanted to review for the Fifty Nortons in Fifty Weeks project, I would have learned to acquire all the books needed for grand projects before I launched them. Nope, which is why I am reviewing Tanith Lee’s 1976 standalone fantasy The Winter Players now, in May 2016, and not back in late 2015 as planned.

Bronze-haired Oaive is the latest in a long line of priestesses, each trained by her predecessor in the arts of magic. Their duties are to protect their village and to guard the three sacred relics hidden within the shrine: the Ring, the Jewel and the Bone.

Sixteen-year-old Oaive has been priestess for just two years when the grey-haired stranger comes to town. He ends a way of life that has persisted beyond memory and history.

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Inexplicably Obscure

Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women Through Space and Time — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1989 Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women Through Space and Time is, like Red as Blood or The Gorgon, a single author collection. Oddly enough, I had never seen this one until my niece Amy bought it for me. This may be because the collection has, as far as I can tell, had exactly two editions in the last quarter century. More on that later …

The title is pretty descriptive: Lee is writing about women as figures of malign, terrible power. Will she embrace the trope? Will she subvert it?

She certainly ranges across the full scope of speculative fiction.

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A Cork on the River of Destiny

A Heroine of the World — Tanith Lee

In Tanith Lee’s 1989 A Heroine of the World, Aradia is a child of thirteen when the war begins and her comfortable world disintegrates. She is not much older by the end of the novel, but in just a few years, this former rich girl takes on many identities to survive: a servant, a war-bride, an emperor’s mistress. Among others.

Aradia’s parents, certain of victory, blithely ride off to war,
leaving Aradia with a cold, unsympathetic aunt. Aradia never sees her parents again. Her father dies in a cavalry charge, her mother in an exploding munitions dump. The conquering Kronians occupy the City where Aradia lives. The aunt commits suicide in despair.

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Christian Dorse is a terrible person but a great protagonist

Lycanthia or The Children of Wolves — Tanith Lee

1981’s Lycanthia or The Children of Wolves is one of Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasies. It is not one that lends itself to sequels.

Christian Dorse returns to the family chateau. It had been lost to debt by his grandfather and has only now been returned to the Dorse family. The restored owner believes himself In the grip of a fatal malady, and does not expect to long enjoy possession of the estate.

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“decayed, ruinous, romantic, and depressing by turns”

The Book of the Mad — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 4

1993’s The Book of the Mad is the fourth and final volume in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. It is also the first book in this series that prompted me to shout angrily at whoever wrote the cover copy.

The Paris of our real world may be far across the Uchronic seas from Paradys, but Paradys need not feel lonely. Two other versions of the depraved city, Paradise and Paradis, are close at hand. One only need know the correct magical path to walk from one to another.

Alas, at present the only two people who know that secret are Felion and Smara, and they are as mad as they are murderous. They are confined to the Paradys lunatic asylum.

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“This life is all we can expect, and (…) it will probably be unpleasant.”

The Book of the Dead — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 3

1991’s The Book of the Dead is the third in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. Like The Book of the Damned, it is a collection of short works. Also like The Book of the Damned, it is filled with characters making decisions they probably will regret, for however brief a time remains to them.

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The Remotely Piloted Woman

Electric Forest — Tanith Lee

The Tanith Lee 1979 standalone Electric Forest is one of her straightforward SF stories.

Magdala was clearly an exceptional child, but, sadly enough, not in any good way:

On any planet of the Earth Conclave, fetal conception was the controlled result of selective, artificial impregnation. This ensured that all children born were healthy. Occasionally, however, mistakes occurred in the area of contraception, and a fetus was conceived biologically. Sometimes, such children were less than perfect. It had happened that Magdala Cled was one of these.

which is why her mother surrendered her to State Orphanage C; why her fellow orphans tormented her; why despite her natural intelligence she was consigned to a menial job; and why the name everyone called her was not her legal name but rather “Ugly.”

When Claudio Loro offers her beauty, how can Magdala resist?


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A Matryoshka Novel

The Book of the Beast — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 2

1988’s The Book of the Beast is the second of Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys. The Book of the Damned was a collection; The Book of the Beast is a novel. Made out of short stories! Mysterious are the ways of authors … or perhaps publishers.

Young scholar Rauolin had no inkling of the dark history of the D’Uscaret clan when he took a lodging in their ancient home. Others are better informed—the name alone is enough to reduce one prostitute to hysterics—but poor Rauolin doesn’t begin to grasp the trouble he has invited until after his assignation with the enchanting and quite dead Helise D’Uscaret.


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Paradys is no paradise

The Book of the Damned — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 1

1988’s The Book of the Damned is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s four volume series, The Secret Books of Paradys.

“Paradys” is an example of what our pals Kœssler and Derocquigny called “faux amis du traducteur” or “false friends.” That is also a good term for the boon companions someone might find in Paradys. Paradys, this fantasy world’s answer to Paris, may sound like Paradise, but anyone seeking a lost Eden or even a walled garden in Paradys is a fool.

There are quite a lot of fools, as it turns out.


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A side trip into radio

The Silver Sky — Tanith Lee

Although she may be best known for her novels and short-form collections, Tanith Lee worked in media other than print. For example, fans of the television show Blake’s 7 may know her as the author of the episodes “Sarcophagus” and “Sand.” Lee also wrote for radio. People familiar with my Livejournal More Words, Deeper Hole know that I have a long-standing interest in science fiction audio dramas. When I discovered that Daughter of the Night provided access to Lee’s The Silver Sky, which was broadcast on Saturday Night Theatre on 9 August 1980, I couldn’t resist downloading and listening to it.

Scientists have come up with a theory suggesting that an actual time machines might be possible. Solid British engineering of the sort that made the Comet and the R101 household names turned that theory into operational reality! Alas, good old British politics may cut off the funding for the project before it can send its first manned capsule into the depths of time.

Lead researcher Paul is having none of that political nonsense! And so with the same cool intellect that has left his marriage in ruins, he quietly alters the schedule so that the next test flight will also be a manned one. What could possibly go wrong?


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The last of Vis

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

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.


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Unexpected discoveries

Tamastara or The Indian Nights — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1984 Tamastara or The Indian Nights collects seven stories, five original to this volume. I was actually going to skip this one, in part because for some reason I had never catalogued it and thought I didn’t have a copy, and in part because “British author tackles Indian fantasy” filled me with foreboding, especially in the context of the more problematic aspects of The Storm Lord.

Having discovered that I do in fact have a copy, I feel that I am required to review it, trepidation or no.


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Leah has many fine qualities

The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales — Tanith Lee

I didn’t care for 1985’s The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales when I first read it, when it first came out. Not because it lacked any virtue but simply because it wasn’t my favourite, Lee collection, Red as Blood. What it is is another fine collection by Tanith Lee, one with fewer dark fairy tales and more horror.


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Darker Than the Night

Sung in Shadow — Tanith Lee

1983’s Sung in Shadow is Tanith Lee’s reworking of a certain famous play involving star-crossed, love-struck teens. I don’t know why I was surprised to discover this as I read: the play is arguably the iconic romance in English lit. It is also just as intense, melodramatic, and bloody as the best of Lee.

Sana Verensa’s great families are united on one point only: that they are hate and distrust each other and engage in endless struggle for dominance and revenge. Alliances come and go while old hatreds are nursed for decades. In a city plagued by continual violence between bravos, what hope has love?


Who can know where love will find us,
Love far darker than the night,
Love far colder than the snow—
That has been both cold and bright—
Sung in shadow, that was show,
Bitter-tasting are you now,
Music of sweet and delight


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Adult fairy tales

Red as Blood — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1983 collection of re-imagined fairy tales, Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, is by far my favourite Tanith Lee book. It’s not just that the stories in it are wonderful. I picked it up on a whim when I was a lowly security guard at a particularly unpleasant post1. The mass-market edition of Red as Blood had a very convenient property from my perspective: it fit into the inside breast pocket of a uniform without leaving a telltale bulge. I read and reread it a lot in late 1983, early 1984.

I have not reread it in years and years. As my Because My Tears Are Delicious to You series has shown, not all old favourites stand up to a reread. So how did Red as Blood stand up?


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The Return of James’ Sad Face

Anackire — Tanith Lee
Wars of Vis, book 2

1983’s Anackire, second in the Wars of Vis series, picks up a generation or so after the events of The Storm Lord. The cover of the book bills it as “an epic companion novel,” suggesting that this takes place in a shared world and that it is not a direct sequel. Not so! This is as sequelly a sequel as ever sequelled a melodramatic fantasy novel.

I disliked The Storm Lord and I disliked this book even more.

Raldnor has vanished into legend—or possibly into another time or place. None can say with certainty. He seems to have left peace of a sort behind him. Peace is an unlikely thing in the tumultuous lands of Vis. Indeed, as the events of this novel will show, it has only been a pause between wars. As the book opens, that pause is drawing to an end.


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The adventurer-detective

Cyrion — Tanith Lee

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.


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