You may recall my review of the first two books in the series. It took a little time for me to start the following two because I wasn’t loving what I’d already read. Fortunately, the latter half of the series was more successful for me.
In Paradys once more, The Book of the Dead is comprised of several short stories all centering around…you guessed it, death! The Book of the Mad moves between three different versions (parallel worlds?) or Paradys and their inhabitants, all of whom are categorized as mad for various reasons.
The Book of the Dead by Tanith Lee
My Edition: Hardcover (omnibus) – 197 pages – 1993 – Guild America Books – ISBN: 087951440X
There were probably more themes in this collection than just death, but I didn’t pick up on them. Like I did before, I’ll just give a few thoughts on each short.
There is a prologue for this one about some clown who fakes his own funeral so he can make sure it’s done right. Then before each story is a little blurb told by the same narrator (I presume) who tells the story of the clown.
The Weasel Bride – The swan princess but with a weasel who bites her husband and then another tale about a woman who has teeth in her ladybits (woof.)
The Nightmare’s Tale – This one dragged a bit. Some kid (young man, really) wants vengeance and makes a long journey to get it, only death cheats him of it. So some friendly natives bring the corpse back to life so the kid can kill him again. Then the natives kill the kid later? Disliked.
Beautiful Lady – A woman whose mere presence causes some to sicken and die. People think she’s a poisoner. DID NOT see the twist at the end. It really made the story. WTF.
Morcara’s Room – A look at superstitions and death. This one was surprisingly realistic. Really enjoyed this.
I also loved this description of Morcara: “And there were images too of Morcara in her silver silke and diamonds, dancing. But once she picked a live coal off the fire and threw it in the lap of a woman who (she thought) had insulted her, and once she challenged a man to a duel, and when he did not go to it because, he said, he would not fight a woman, she visited him and cut him across the forehead with her rapier.”
Also: “For death is the destiny of all, and unavoidable, be it now, tomorrow, or eight decades hence. But how often do we like to be told, how often do we not convince ourselves we are immortal?”
The Marble Web – I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Something about a girl being kidnapped into a magical realm by some creepy conjurer. Mostly I was confused.
Lost in the World – This reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World (intentional?), but had an unexpected twist.
I marked this quote: “Oberand was by now mad. It was a fact. Much of his freedom came from it. It was sanity that had caused unhappiness, as so often it does.”
The Glass Dagger – How not to woo your lady, or, a study in jealousy.
The Moon is a Mask – A magical mask turns a girl into an owl, but the mask is not to be trusted. This made me think of the Icarus myth a little.
In all, this was a successful collection, especially compared to The Book of the Beast. I enjoyed most of the stories, loved a couple and only really disliked two. I don’t feel that you need to read any of the Paradys books in a certain order, or even read them all in order to enjoy one. If you only pick up one from this collection, I recommend The Book of the Dead.
The Book of the Mad by Tanith Lee
My Edition: Hardcover (omnibus) – 174 pages – 1993 – Guild America Books – ISBN: 0879514817
Of the four Paradys novels, this is the closest thing to a novel. Each chapter visits one of three cities: Paradys, Paradis and Paradise. From what I gather, Paradis and Paradise are parallel worlds (say that five times fast). Paradys felt more like an earlier version of Paradis – but that doesn’t explain the change in spelling so maybe all three are parallel worlds. I’m a bit confused on the structure here. But, the chapters focus on four main characters and their descent into madness.
In Paradis there’s Leocadia (who I basically pictured as a sexy Captain Hook lady, but without the hook) – she’s an eccentric artist, and a bit of a drunk, living off an inheritance from a rich uncle whose gone away. Her cousins are jealous of her fortune, so they scheme up a way to have her committed so they can take her house and money. In the sanatorium, she’s allowed to paint and drink still, but as she slowly begins to sober up, she sees things very differently.
In Paradys we meet young Hilde. Raised in a wealthy household, she’s a well-behaved girl of about fourteen or so. But she has a secret. At night, she spends time discovering her body and fantasizing. When she goes to a play with her mother, she sees an actor who essentially becomes the man of her dreams. She makes her way to his rooms one day to make her sexual dreams become reality. Only, he’s done with her rather quickly and the loss of him and the mistreatment she experienced leaves her obsessed and maddened. Her parents lie and say she’s died so they can send her to the sanatorium.
In Paradise, a strange city of madness and death, twins Smara and Felion long to escape the madness and the murders they regularly commit. Felion’s uncle, who has gone away, left him information about a strange maze he built. His uncle says it has the power to transport them through time and parallel worlds. But the twins can’t seem to bring themselves to the same place.
I was really into all the characters at first. Leocadia is badass. I thought maybe she would find a way to break out of the asylum and take back her life. But, as the title says, this book is about madness, not revenge. Similarly, I expected Hilde might in some way seek revenge on the actor who used her. Unfortunately, life gets the better of Hilde, though her actor does get what’s coming to him (trigger warning for some brief but fairly gruesome rape.) Smara and Felion were interesting at first, but I couldn’t really understand the “rules” of their city. They seemed forced to murder, but I’m not really sure why.
As the story and the “madness” of the characters progressed, I became confused and lost interest. There are a lot of interconnecting elements here though. Leocadia finds the abandoned old asylum that Hilde was placed in. Smara crosses over to Leocadia’s asylum and Felion finds Leo’s home. The uncle mentioned in both stories appears to be the same man.
I think this one was just a bit too complex for me. As usual, Lee is great with imagery and her characters are very lively in this one. But I just couldn’t focus on what was going on. Maybe I was supposed to feel a little crazy by the end of the book, but that’s not my preference.
I definitely consider books 3 and 4 to be more successful than books 1 and 2. In all, if any of these stories sound interesting to you, I say check them out!