Tanith Lee crafts a children's fantasy and the results are charming and eccentric. the plot: young Prince awakens with no memory in a strange and fantTanith Lee crafts a children's fantasy and the results are charming and eccentric. the plot: young Prince awakens with no memory in a strange and fantastic world; accompanied by a talking, shape-shifting horse (or lion), he finds he has to deal with several quests in his role as the "Looked-for Deliverer". also featuring feisty witches, a Clock Moon, chariots in the sky, a magic egg, threatening tree sprites, a dragon of brass, and a whole lot of fun nonsense. the book's many endearing absurdities reminded me equally of Lewis Carroll and Miéville's Un Lun Dun. the Prince himself is quite amusing in his general laziness, grouchiness, and disinterest in doing anything heroic.
the author's rich prose has been lightened considerably; rather than delivering lush darkness, she brightens her palette so much that the results veer towards the psychedelic:
"The Prince lay on his back and watched the sugarpink sky and the lavender clouds wallowing in it like furry, disgruntled whales in a pink sea. There was a mist over the heath that made it difficult to tell where the sky ended and earth began, and suddenly a bright thing came glittering across the mist.
I really have to mention this book's striking twist ending (she almost always throws one in there): (view spoiler)[after spending much of the time wondering who he is and where he is from, the young lad cracks the magic egg and learns that he came from our world, where he was "very poor and very old, and had nothing and no one"... one day, sheltering under a tree from the rain, an acorn falls on his head and kills him... and he woke to find himself in this world. the Prince realizes he can't come back to our world even if he wanted to, because he's dead here. he's in his own happy afterlife and he has no inclination towards leaving it. (hide spoiler)]
Tanith Lee keeps it classy in this fun and rather old-fashioned fantasy adventure about a ghost-killer, the musician who follows him, and a vengeful yTanith Lee keeps it classy in this fun and rather old-fashioned fantasy adventure about a ghost-killer, the musician who follows him, and a vengeful young witch's ghost. together they encounter a tragic and threatening ghost city, one that comes complete with a ghost forest and a ghost lake in the form of a five-pointed star.
"Tanith Lee keeps it classy" is my callow way of saying that this does not really read like a Tanith Lee novel. none of her usual writerly flourishes, no strange, so-lush-it's-carboniferous prose stylings. there are no sadistic heroes or masochistic heroines (or vice versa); creepy sexuality in general is kept at a minimum. gender roles are straightforward. the narrative is also straightforward: there are some flashbacks and memories recounted but no dreamy meanderings that blur the line between fantasy and the reality of the story itself. the tone is not reserved and distancing, it's lively and amusing and often outright comic. Lee the comedian! wonders never cease. about the only thing remaining of the Lee I know is her usual twist ending, which in this case really works.
so if a person had told me that Kill the Dead is a classy novel where Tanith Lee discards her usual trademarks, I may not have even bothered to read the book. I read Lee specifically because of all the weird and often twisted things I listed above. the combination of all of that is what makes her awesome and it's the reason why she's been one of my favorite authors since forever. fortunately I first read this novel when I was a kid, loved it, and so just reread it despite recognizing even as kid that it was something very different for Lee.
my guess is that it's her version of a mainstream fantasy novel. it even has - gasp - a genuinely heartwarming ending where faith in humanity is restored etc and holylol were you on happy drugs when you wrote this Tanith? what this means to me is that this brilliant, iconoclastic author could easily put out mainstream fantasy novels if she so desires. she just does not desire that, at least not too often. for that, I'm thankful. but I'm also thankful for this wittily deadpan, perfectly accomplished, charming little island that somehow exists in the middle of her otherwise dark, stormy, and disturbing oeuvre. ...more
futuristic tale of an alluring and depressed vampire coping with life on the run and death in the sun.
young mark monday probably should never have gotfuturistic tale of an alluring and depressed vampire coping with life on the run and death in the sun.
young mark monday probably should never have got a hold of this book because it introduced him to a dark, rich, and enticing new world of fuckedupedness - one that he quickly embraced. poor, naïve markmonday... innocence smashed!
don't get me wrong, it's not like this book is full of graphic sexual violence. but what it does do is position what is usually seen as 'perverse' as something understandable, even defensible. when Sabella has to deal with an annoyingly sexist postman, weirdly clinging relatives, a charming stalker, his tough older brother... the reader is resolutely on the side of the blood-sipping killer. nowadays this is typical for vampire novels. back in the 17th century when I was a pre-teen... well, not so much. I'd never read about a sexy, appealing killer before, one who made decisions I could see myself making, up to and including prostituting herself so she could obtain her regular fix of the red honey. I certainly had never read a novel where masculinity - in the form of the older brother mentioned above - was made both unpleasantly brutal and sinisterly appealing. such things are common in the realm of romantic fiction, but not in the science fiction that I actually read. it was all so new to me, this heavy-breathing reduction of the genders to their most essentialist, disturbing, and still deeply erotic parts. it felt wrong when I was reading it, like the author was doing a bad thing and I was somehow able to watch. and so I loved it. the fact that this was a sleek vampire novel set in the far future on another planet made it even better. and its weird happy ending made it perfect.
reading it again years later, the queasy-sexy-uncomfortable charge is greatly reduced because I am of course an adult with a whole host of adult experiences under my belt. but it is only reduced - not absent. the novel is still a wonderfully perverse experience. the futuristic setting is fantastic and as an adult I can particularly appreciate the stripped-down qualities of the minimal narrative. the prose glistens in a typically Tanith Lee fashion. she's a stylist, one to rival other genre stylists like Vance or Valente. Sabella is still strange, cynical, and attractive. her tormenter is still brutal, cynical, and attractive. the relationship still makes my skin crawl in the best, most guilt-inducing way. nice to see that the magic remains, whether reading the novel as a kid or as an adult. although I am definitely not recommending this for kids. young mark monday should have had this book taken away from him and sent right to bed without dinner....more
a lushly written, weirdly ambiguous, often eerie little tale of an age-old curse and two lost souls who find eachgirl and boy meet-cute; antics ensue.
a lushly written, weirdly ambiguous, often eerie little tale of an age-old curse and two lost souls who find each other.
a night-bound young woman in a castle seeks to explore the daytime world; a young man takes up a harp and hits the road.
lady held captive by two cackling witches seeks support in escaping her dark and lonely castle.
guy looking for thrills and adventure and maybe some punani takes to the road with his enchanted harp.
a tragic woman and an optimistic man find they have much to learn about life, love, and each other.
a sinister enchantress wielding dark weapons and guarded by two brave elders sends out a diabolical spell that lures a young man to his potential doom.
a callow minstrel ignores all good sense by removing a sheltered miss from her castle; he soon grows tired of her and attempts to abandon her at an unfriendly village.
evil witch who has escaped her prison takes control of a poor Duke and terrifies his city; the witch's heartless paramour, a homeless singer, appears in the city to mock its residents and torment its brave Duke.
naïve girl is taken captive by a sinister Duke; innocent boy attempts brave rescue.
a tormented lass is possessed by a dark and deadly spirit; an ensorcelled lad seeks to rid her of this malignant parasite.
lonely, ancient spirit seeks to escape its unappealing mortal cage but another mortal misunderstands. typical mortals. *sigh* ...more
who knows what tomorrow will bring? maybe sunshine and maybe rain. but as for me I'll wait and see. maybe it'll bring giant metal spiders that want towho knows what tomorrow will bring? maybe sunshine and maybe rain. but as for me I'll wait and see. maybe it'll bring giant metal spiders that want to kill you....more
this is a tale of an insanely self-absorbed little twit of a pianist who returns to his recently re-acquired ancestral chateau. he's apparently dyingthis is a tale of an insanely self-absorbed little twit of a pianist who returns to his recently re-acquired ancestral chateau. he's apparently dying and all he wants is a place to run to and hide, one where he can do his slow dance with death while moodily contemplating his sad life with all of the poisonous self-loathing typical to a Tanith Lee "hero". fortunately for him, he gets a new lease on life due to a pair of threatening yet strangely life-affirming were-cousins. unfortunately, some predictably ignorant peasants decide to get inbetween our sexy goth trio and their Lifelong Happiness At Last. damn, peasants are a real drag! especially if you are self-absorbed twit/pianist.
the above description does a profound disservice to this intriguing and rather gorgeously written bit of fantasia set in semi-modern times. but i couldn't restrain myself from the snark - it was almsot like i wanted to have some petty revenge on the confounding and infuriating hero. i'll try to do better later in the review.
but first, a shout-out to Tanith Lee. now this is one of those authors who holds a special place in many fantasy-lovers minds. some love her for all of the boundaries she seemed comfortable in ignoring, the ruthlessness, the vivid imagination, the perversity, the srange sexual situations, the often lush prose, her chameleonic ability to write in many different genres. others loathe her for her often self-annhiliatingly passive heroines and her despicable heroes, prose that moves beyond purple into Ultra-Purple, a cold-blooded disdain in providing happiness for either her characters or her readers, etc. i understand the divisiveness, but i fall squarely into the former camp - at least when i was much younger. Tanith Lee & Jack Vance & Michael Moorcock & Roger Zelazny were my go-to fantasy and scifi authors for a long while, until i gave up on fantasy for a shameful period of at least 10 years or so. but i'm back to my favorite genre and plan on catching up with all of my old favorites, to see if the magic is still there.
i'm glad i started off my Tanith Lee rediscovery by reading Lycanthia. this is a slim story and i read it all in one evening. it is a bewitching one as well. i was entranced from beginning to end because it has literally everything my blackened little unheart wants in my fantasy... Weird Ambiguity, a ton of it. Characterization that does not attempt to pull the reader's heartstrings and protagonists that are often stunningly unsympathetic and capable of doing terribly wrong things. Luscious, almost overripe prose, with frequent bits of dry gallows humor and sardonic self-awareness. Monstrous things that are not eye-rolling or corny. Cruelty & Tragedy & Despair that is not facile or there to check off boxes on the Gothic List of Necessary Things, but is carefully layered within the narrative and the characterization. a winding but not confusing plotline. a gothic atmosphere of mystery and potential violence.
"Atmosphere"... Lee knows how to create it! her descriptions of the sinister forest, the eerie little village, the off-kilter and enigmatic supporting characters, and especially the chateau itself... wonderfully baroque detail-porn that i totally ate up. the whole rich stew is swooningly romantic - not so much because of romance between the characters (although there is a feverish yet childlike version of that), but rather because of the swooningly romantic atmosphere. a classic kind of "Romantic" - of the Byron, Shelley, and Shelley school.
the central theme of the novel is fascinating: the idea of Self-Aborption and its impact, how it ruins any attempt to truly understand one's surroundings, the people in those surroundings, the context of an entire place. Lycanthia's aristocratic asshole of a hero, and what befalls him and his lovers, is a perfect encapsulation of the deleterious effect of such a trait. some may howl at the moon and live only to consume life, like beasts - and those around them can tremble with fear or anger or even lust; others may howl and rage only at themselves and their lot in life - and those around them can find themselves betrayed by that all-consuming narcissism, destroyed by that terminal inability to connect with anything outside of themselves....more
oh the beguiling wonders of the Exotic East, the Ancient Orient, of heat and spice and jungle, of India!
oh the enchanting lures of Gold and Status!
ohoh the beguiling wonders of the Exotic East, the Ancient Orient, of heat and spice and jungle, of India!
oh the enchanting lures of Gold and Status!
oh the captivating charm of Power Over Women, to bend them to your will, to make of them your puppets!
oh the bewitching promise of Revenge, bold & bloody!
there is a family in Victorian England. the patriarch made his wealth in questionable ways, in India, at the cost of many lives. the matriarch is from the stage, now trapped in her body as she is trapped in her country estate. one son is piggish and priggish; the other son a self-pitying sadomasochist. the daughter is mad, stark raving mad - but the quiet kind of mad, the kind that has the bones of tiny animals sewn within her petticoats, shhh, no one need know. there is a fallen child, fallen from upper to lower, now from the slums, her sister a murdered murderess. she joins this family as a kitchen maid, and then more, a victim and a victimizer, an instrument of unearthly revenge.
Tanith Lee weaves a strange and brilliant tale out of disparate parts. colonial India, made dark and eerie and threatening, the stereotypical wonders of the Exotic East turned inside out, made into an Other that no mere englishman can hope to understand. victorian life in a country manor, all the upstairs-downstairs melodrama tarnished and not-so-charming, made malevolent, turned brittle until ready to crumble into pieces. sexual sadism, stripped of its romantic veneer, made ugly and sickening - there is no victim embracing her victimhood here, there is just a girl trying to survive. phantasmagoria, slowly creeping, lurking in the shadows of the narrative, longing to take over the tale, and finally doing so in the end, destroying that narrative and transforming its characters.
i appreciated much about this novel. its refusal to make a particular sexual scenario 'sexy', its anger at exploitation in all of its forms, and its disinterest in explaining its magic. but i especially appreciated the level of its writing. the author writes like a dream, a dark and gorgeous dream. such beautiful prose! Tanith Lee, you cruel and perfect lady.
there is a scene with trained monkeys at a formal dinner. they are dressed and are able to act just like their upper class dining companions. a brilliant scene, hallucinatory and full of malice. and, happily, full of compassion for those clever monkeys.
death follies on the foxhunt: sweet justice!
there is an elephant, of sorts. it is from the past. it is coming to get you, upper class, it will rear and roar and trumpet and destroy. there will be a massacre in the manor. huzzah!
and then Night's Daughter did this and then she did that and they were strange and surreal and beautiful adventures but Night's Daughter is just lessand then Night's Daughter did this and then she did that and they were strange and surreal and beautiful adventures but Night's Daughter is just less mythic and interesting than Night's Master or Death's Master or even Delusion's Master so I was a bit bored but I do remember loving that sequence at the bottom of the sea. nice place to visit!...more
poor Ugly! her misshapen appearance really sticks out on the planet Indigo, where everyone is practically perfect in every way. Ugly needs to trade uppoor Ugly! her misshapen appearance really sticks out on the planet Indigo, where everyone is practically perfect in every way. Ugly needs to trade up! time to move into a new body, freshly made and certainly more pleasing to the eye.
this is a futuristic morality tale in which Pygmalion is a beautiful, psychopathic young genius and Galatea his equally beautiful handmade toy. it is also a chilly deconstruction of independence and class with a sad-at-heart, sadistic Henry Higgins transforming, degrading, and abusing his elevated Eliza Doolittle. all in all, quite an unpleasant tale. our heroine is an intriguing cipher capable of who knows what but she's also an irritatingly unformed pawn. I was happy to cheer her on when she demonstrated small moments of defiance and independent thought, but those moments could have come more frequently.
but it's absorbing too, in its own odd way. the prose is hypnotic, which is par for the course for Lee. in Electric Forest the author had yet to reach her zenith and her lush prose is heavily reliant on the naming of various colors - but she still demonstrates how strong of a stylist she can be in her striking descriptive passages, the ambiguous and sinister characterization, and offhand moments of mannered conversation.
the dreamlike narrative increasingly centralizes a corporate espionage plot. the espionage is interesting enough but seems to be working at cross-purposes with the main goals of the novel - which at first appeared to be the examining of various forms of control and various uses of beauty. the author also does the novel no favors by including an epilogue which repositions the entire narrative as a surprisingly benevolent exercise in role-playing. although the subject matter made my skin crawl, I don't like it when an author so rigorously attempts to make her tale less disturbing in the end. sort of takes away the whole point of this creepy anti-romance.
overall an intriguing little novel but mainly of interest to Tanith Lee completists. like myself!...more