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.
“Blood-Mantle” • (1985) • short story
Childhood folktales inform an ominous reunion.
This is Lee’s take on Little Red Riding Hood. Always bet on Red.
The Gorgon • (1982) • novelette
The Tree: A Winter’s Tale • (1984) • novelette
Orphaned as children, Jenver, Marcusine, Stemyard, and Araige have grown to loathe the great ancient tree that dominates their uncle Marsh’s mansion. The previous generation’s plan to have the tree cut down was abandoned when that generation died in a sudden calamity. The tree has more elegant means to deal with the kids.
Gothic atmosphere, check. Ominous foreboding pays off in spades, check. Dead parents, double check. If I had to pick a single Lee story to represent her, this one might be my choice.
I was unconvinced that Marsh at fifty would inexplicably lose all his allure for potential sexual partners. That’s very unrealistic and draws attention away from the plausible elements, like the ancient, evil tree.
“I Was Guillotined Here” • (1989) • short story
Belief in reincarnation gives one woman the strength she needs to deal with unwanted attention from men.
Another Lee story about beauty being as much burden as asset. this story contained one especially memorable scathing line:
After all, he did not see himself as I saw him; he would long ago have put a bullet through his brain, as indeed would so many of us, if we were granted that alien perspective.
“Crying in the Rain” • (1987) • short story
A mother prostitutes her daughter, hoping to buy some security for her children before she dies.
Finding her teenaged daughter a wealthy patron is the least bad option available in the socially stratified, radioactive, polluted world of tomorrow. It won’t buy her a long life (the daughter may be dead of cancer by twenty) but at least it won’t be as unspeakably horrible as it could be.
Elle Est Trois, (La Mort) • (1983) • novelette
A series of anecdotes illustrates that there is no need to court death. When the time comes, death will court you.
“Nicholas” • (1989) • short story
Despite Nicholas’ aloof, self-centered ways, despite the way he casually wreaks havoc, she will never abandon him.
And who can blame her?
The Hunting of Death: The Unicorn • (1984) • novella
A Madonna of the Machine • (1988) • novelette
Despite all the precautions a regimented, mechanized utopia can hedge around its human components, one unit is plagued by visions of another world. Even the Machine cannot completely resist change.
The Machine is quite an efficient, elegant society: no waste, no avoidably cruelty, very transhumanist if you look at it from the correct angle. Poor peter [sic] cannot but then,
Probably there’s something wrong with the brain.
“Red as Blood” • (1979) • short story
“The Rakshasa” • (1989) • short story
What dreadful demon waits, deep in the forest, for the foreign woman?
This has an exceptionally spiteful twist at the end.
Bite Me Not or Fleur de Fur • (1984) • novelette
He a vampire imprisoned, she a serving girl raised up by a lord — what hope for love between two such alien beings?
This is the perfect sort of story for some spiteful twist. The twist is that there is no twist. She was NOT a naive fool for trusting a predator; he was NOT much worse than he pretended to be. Whether or not the ending is happy depends on your perspective, but I am inclined to say it was as happy as the circumstances allowed.
By Crystal Light Beneath One Star • (1987) • novelette
The State has a new and terrible location for its futuristic gulag, but its prisoners have something the State cannot take away from them.
“La Reine Blanche” • (1983) • short story
“Sweet Grapes” • (1989) • short story
No art escapes entropy. Some artworks fall victim sooner than others.
The Tenebris Malgraph • (1989) • novelette
A self-indulgent, spoiled, but essentially harmless woman is doomed by a seeming fossil whose true nature is not apparent until it is far too late.
The explanation of the true nature of the supposed fossil is such flagrant technobabble that the writers of Doctor Who would hesitate to use it.
Black as a Rose • (1987) • novelette
“Rachel” • (1989) • short story
An arranged marriage is followed by both tragedy and wonder.
“Down Below” • (1989) • short story
A child faces the first step down the long inevitable descent into poverty and the grim accommodations it forces on the poor. There is a reprieve! But only for the moment.
Ah, the wonders of modern economies, in which the only social mobility allowed is down.
White as Sin, Now • (1989) • novelette
The dowager queen is quite mad, but madness is the key to her escape.
Generally speaking, being so beautiful that kings are immediately smitten is about the worst thing that can happen to a woman in a Lee story. Kings generally don’t care if the women they want are smitten with them.
Lee revisited some of the themes and details in 2000’s White as Snow .
I think this might be my second favourite Lee collection, second only to Red as Blood. Unfortunately, I seem to be alone in this on this side of the pond, because at least in North America, the collection has not been reprinted in decades. British readers can at least pick up this ebook edition.