The language of love has left me stony grey

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

faces-under-water

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.


Schaachen recognizes immediately that the mask is an object of significance. It is clearly significant to the heavily armed men who come looking for it. The thugs retrieve the mask, but leave a few dead bodies behind. Whoever sent the thugs neglected to warn them that Furian is a lethally skilled streetfighter.

Fearing retribution, Furian investigates the history and nature of the mask. Forewarned is forearmed. The trail that leads him first to doomed singer Del Niro, then to Eurydiche, the mysterious masked lady whom the dead man had idolized. Furian in his turn meets Eurydiche and falls under her thrall.

Furian will not have much time to enjoy his romance. The mask-maker and the guild he leads have plans for Furian. Plans involving a canal and lead weights…

 ~oOo~

Venus is to Venice as Paradys (in The Secret Books of Paradys) was to Paris: a magic-drenched echo of the original. But where the Paradys novels were firmly focused on a fantasy Europe, Faces Under Water looks west, to the Amarias, this world’s answer to the Americas1. A considerable chunk of the Amarias is dominated by the haughty and cruel Orichalci, enemies armed with magic just as powerful as any in the Old World. The Orichalci are generic Native Americans, as imagined by someone from the UK with little or no direct experience of Native Americans. Venus is Venice as imagined by someone from the UK with little or no direct experience of Venice.

Venus is not just a magic-drenched echo of the Venice. It is a magic-drenched, debauched echo of the original. There is lots of (soft-focus) sex, some of it consensual. Unlike the interminable Blood Opera series, depravity, in the exploitative sense, is a mark of a profound character flaw. Good people might sleep around—promiscuity appears to be less an avocation in Venus and more a social obligation, like wearing this season’s mask and knowing which fork to use—but they draw the line at their own kids. Good for them.

I didn’t really warm to either Furian or Eurydiche; the second is forced by the plot to play a passive role, whereas Furian is energetic but dim. I found Schaachen the most interesting character; his curiosity and arcane knowledge make him an effective opponent for the mask maker. Furian’s pride keeps him from fully embracing his role as a Goodwin to Schaachen’s Wolfe, which in turn keeps this novel from being a novella.

Still, an amusing enough little novel, enough that I am curious where Lee took this series. Kitchener Public Library has all of the Secret Books of Venus , so I will soon find out.

Faces Under Water is available for a range of prices, from reasonable to somewhat less reasonable.


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


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

Total

30

25*

* Includes one uncle.

1: The period and settings (Italian and New World) reminded me of Yarbro’s 1980 fantasy Ariosto. Not having read the Yarbro in decades, I could not swear to the similarity.


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