My TBR Tear Down challenge is definitely going to help me tackle my Tanith collection, because most of it was added years and years ago. Today I bring you the first two books in the Paradys Quartet…with mixed results.
Each book in this series is actually comprised of novellas or shorts all set in the city of Paradys. Paradys feels a little Victorian, with a dash of technology thrown in here and there. Many of the residents these stories follow are rich and indulgent (I realize this makes them sound like chocolate.) In this first installment, the three novellas take a look at gender and crossing its boundaries. The second follows a strange curse as it moves through inhabitants of the city and wreaks havoc.
The Book of the Damned by Tanith Lee
My Edition: Hardcover (omnibus) – 242 pages – 1988 – Unwin Hyman Ltd. – ISBN: 0879514086
I’m no expert on 80s fantasy/sci-fi, but I feel like Tanith was probably pretty forward thinking for her time. After reading these novellas, I realized each dealt with a main character that was crossing between genders in some way. I appreciated her theme, even if I didn’t particularly care for her characters.
Stained with Crimson – From what I gathered, this is a tale about gender-changing vampires who, after they “die”, come back to life as the opposite gender. The main character Andre, finds a cursed ring, meets a vamp lady, Antonia, and becomes obsessed with her. I’m not sure if the ring really matters in all this. But Antonia dies, not sure from what (ok, there’s a lot I’m not sure of in this one) and comes back as a man, parading as Anthony, Antonia’s brother. Andre challenges him to a duel, is killed, and also comes back to life as a lady. Then she hunts down Anthony to be with him and then when Anthony dies and comes back as Antonia, she kills lady-Andre so she can come back as a male.
It was…an interesting concept. I just wish I understood more of how things worked. I enjoy vampire tales and I loved the idea of the transformation after death. But I never understood why Antonia/Anthony died and they didn’t even seem to do a whole lot of bloodsucking. I wanted some more rules, ya know?
Malice in Saffron – Trigger warning for rape, of both men and women; though it’s not graphic, it is present. Here we have Jehanine who, after being raped by her stepfather, runs away to the city and finds safety in a nunnery. She has no desire to convert though and instead spends her evenings dressing as a boy and committing crimes with a gang. As her male alter-ego, Jehan, Jehanine seems to become possessed by violent urges. Later on, she sleeps through a plague, sees an angel (or maybe the devil), discards her male self, becomes a nun and nurses her ailing brother back to health by literally feeding him her own flesh.
Sooo…I was very lost at the end. I’m not sure if Jehanine saw an angel or a devil – maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe the message is that religion is what you need it to be? This tale was a bit too deep for me. I did find Jehanine’s double life interesting. She was awful as Jehan; at first, it was rewarding to see her come into her power as a male and get some revenge, but she quickly became a total dirtbag. It was good to see her return to “herself” but then the whole plague and cannibalism thing happened and I wasn’t really interested anymore.
Empires of Azure – The two main characters in this tale are Louis de Jenier and a writer lady whose name I forgot (and can’t find flipping back through the book). Louis is a gender fluid character who is known for his drag shows. He is staying in the city in a house that ends up being haunted. The previous tenant was possessed by an Egyptian hermaphrodite ghost but proved to be an inadequate vessel. Thanks to Louis’s fluidity and dual nature, the ghost possess him and now just needs writer lady to take down the whole story.
I didn’t care for any of the characters in this one, but I did appreciate the way Tanith talked about Louis’s sexuality:
“Physically-sexually, de Jenier was dormant, or non-existent. His sexual engagements had been with me, overtures received and complied with indifferently. Emotionally-sexually he responded to women, but as he had no wish to form a union, let alone consummate it, he had learned early on to limit his company, words, glances and caresses.”
“Timonie [the previous vessel] had been solely and only a woman. Outside and under the skin. She was discarded, and punished. But Louis, under the skin, under the skin of the soul, was potentially dual. He had been worth centuries.”
As usual, I love the setting Tanith created and Paradys felt very atmospheric. I always appreciate her skill for creating a lush setting without a ton of description or world-building. Sadly, with this set of novellas, I liked the atmosphere more than the characters.
The Book of the Beast by Tanith Lee
My Edition: Hardcover (omnibus) – 159 pages – 1988 – Unwin Hyman Ltd. – ISBN: 0879514175
For this collection of shorts, I thought it would be more interesting and entertaining if I just typed out my notes, as is. So here we go:
The Scholar – He’s staying in a haunted house, fancying a ghost, then goes to a goth hooker. She kills herself (via poison douche!?) after finding out he’s staying at the haunted house. He meets the ghost lady who seems real, but says she’s dead. She tells him her story which leads to…
The Bride – She marries a guy who’s cursed to turn into a demon if he has sex. He literally fucks her to death?
The Jew – The (sex) beasts are killing people. This guy is a magical night watchman, but he didn’t (couldn’t?) stop the killings. Is the beast D’Uscaret? [That’s the family house from the first story and the guy The Bride marries.]
The Scapegoat – Young bride Helise isn’t dead. She told his [D’Uscaret’s] fam that hubby had a bird-demon head when he boinked her and they locked her up. Fucking him made him a demon and he prowls the city doing murders now. I assume that’s what the Jew saw. The family uses her as bait, when the monster comes back to screw her, they kill him mid-coitus then poison the poor bitch.
The Widow – Helise wasn’t dead or a ghost (?), but then she fucks the Scholar and she literally melts!! WTF. Did he bone a corpse?
The Roman – The birth of the curse, via this guy’s son after he takes a magic amulet from a whore. First it brings him luck, then the evil bird ghost from the amulet starts draining his life/energy. His son is the first monster?
The Suicide – The soldier is old now, his son grown and cursed. He kills his son and himself, but the son’s wife already has kids. Cursed.
The Madman – The Scholar is crazy now (totally don’t blame him) and maybe he’s infected? He also kills himself.
The Demon – Nope, he’s not dead (so many fake-outs!), he ends up finding the Jew and his daughter, who is grown now. The demon in him was passed on from Helise. They’re gonna try to exorcise it. Trippy sequence. He healed and married the daughter.
I much preferred this collection of shorts over the novellas. I liked how they were all connected and told a broader story. The bird-sex-demon was confusing, but at least it was interesting.
Overall though, I don’t know if this is a Tanith collection I’d recommend. It took me most of the month to get through; even broken up into these smaller segments it felt like a slog. I like the dark tone but I think this collection was asking me to think a lot more deeply than I care to when reading. I’m not super excited about tackling the next two books, but I do want to see where they go.