How the Light Gets In

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

saint-fire

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.



Volpa—“Fox”—seems just another unremarkable slave girl, destined for a life of hard work and abuse at the hands of her owner. None save Volpa and her miserable mother know that they once met angels, before they left their old life and became miser Ghaio’s property. It’s not until the night that Ghaio decides to rape the teen that he discovers Volpa can draw fire from her hair. Volpa is untouched by her flames. Not so the miser.

Pious Isaacus is convinced that Volpa is Lucifer-touched, fit only for the pyre. Close examination convinces the Council that this is not the case; Volpa can recite the holiest prayers without discomfort and seems entirely innocent of this world’s corruptions. Renamed Beatifica, the slave girl is taken into the comforting embrace of holy orders.

Defeat at sea leaves no mundane defense between Ve Nara and Jurneia. As the city’s elite flees, the choices seem to be between certain doom and a girl armed with supernatural fire. Volpa is no warrior. Can she choose to use the fire to kill? Will the Council forgive her if she fails?

Will they forgive her if she succeeds?

 ~oOo~

This was weirdly upbeat for a book whose protagonist is continually subjected to hardship and abuse, whose trials draw on Joan of Arc’s, whose long-term career choices appear to be between being exposed in a hanging cage until she dies OR being burned at the stake.

Yeah, there are high ranking functionaries in this book who think the appropriate punishment for a woman who is known to be immune to fire , whose special gift is divine pyrokinesis is to try to burn her alive. Because that can only end well. The only reason this book doesn’t end with a scene like this

is because Lee seems to have been in an unusually good mood when she wrote Saint Fire.

Volpa’s purity seems to be rooted in her extraordinary passivity, a habit beaten into her over a lifetime spent as a slave. As a result, her decisions rarely drive the plot. That’s left to Danielo, a high ranking Soldier of God who believes God wants humans

to live as the flowers live, glorying in delight, hurting no other, loving everything that is God’s, which means also humanity and the Earth. […] If God had hated life so much, he would never have made it. […] To tell men that they are mired in transgression, and will escape their filth by much suffering and denial, is to make monsters.

Danielo may seem an oddity in a Church that would execute him (slowly and painfully) if its leaders had the slightest idea what he actually believed. As Danielo explains to his lover,

I came to think only by dwelling within the iron tower, I might secretly break open some windows in it.

A few, like Isaacus, are beyond persuasion—but others, even people of seeming opposed faiths, can find common ground. In contrast to certain other fantasies, Saint Fire rejects the idea that life is corrupt and malign in favour of

love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

Saint Fire 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

Total

31

26*



* Includes one uncle.



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