Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Tanith Lee

Many years ago, as a small child, I discovered a wonderful book in our village's local library. The book was 'East of Midnight' by Tanith Lee. It was a book for children/young adults, and was fantasy-adventure-romance fiction.

The narrative concerned a sorcerer-king named Zaister, who was the Royal Consort to a sorcerer-queen in a world where women are the dominant gender. Women are the Daughters of Night, men are the sons of the Sun. Women wear all-black and dye their hair black unless naturally dark-haired, while men are only allowed to wear reds, yellows, and orange clothes. The Royal marriages are arranged, but the bloodline passes down through the women. The Queen will marry her first consort at sixteen, when he is also sixteen. After a period of five years, the Consort-King is murdered and  sacrificed to their Gods, and new consort is chosen for the Queen. The Consort-King is always sixteen years old, while the Queen ages by five years with each husband she loses, until she abdicates and a daughter of suitable age becomes Queen. However, in 'East of Midnight', Zaister, one of the first Consorts to a Queen of the same age, Izvire, seeks to avoid his ritualistic fate through his sorcery. He discovers the existence of alternate worlds and 'doubles' in those alternate dimensions. After finding his double, a slave named Dekteon, he kidnaps the slave and exchanges lives with him so that Dekteon can be the scapegoat in the ritual. However, things don't go quite according to plan.

My favourite part of the book is when Dekteon first encounters the sorcerer-king Zaister in the 'between-place' artificial world between dimensions that Zaister has conjured and summoned him to, specifically his vigil at Zaister's ruined spectral mansion and his wanderings in that magical, unreal world while he is stalked by the sorcerer-queen Izvire and her moon-priestesses, whose own magic and pursuit of Zaister allows them to manifest themselves within distortions in the landscape and the creatures that inhabit it. I was intrigued by the three central characters of Zaister, Dekteon and Izvire, their relationships and motivations, and the cleverly woven plot.

There were two more children's novels by Tanith Lee advertised in the pages at the end of 'East of Midnight'; these were 'Companions on the Road' and 'The Winter Players'. I was eager to read more books by Lee but unfortunately I didn't manage to obtain them at the time.

Then, a little while later, as a teenager I bought 'Companions on the Road' and 'The Winter Players'. I also tried to buy 'East of Midnight', the fabulous book that I remembered, but unfortunately at that particular time it was apparently out of print.

'Companions on the Road' was darker than 'East of Midnight'. It was a magical ghost story in a fantasy medieval-type setting. The plot concerned two army deserters and a thief stealing a golden chalice from an underground chamber beneath the ruined citadel of a city that their army has just conquered and ransacked. However, as they go on the run with their loot, they discover that the chalice was a tool of dark and malevolent sorcery, and they are now being hunted by evil, vengeful spirits.

'The Winter Players' is about a young priestess who guards three sacred, holy and magical relics: a ring, a jewel and a bone. A mysterious stranger arrives at her temple and steals one of the items, the bone. To retrieve the important relic, she goes after him in pursuit. This is probably my favourite of the three books. In addition to being extremely atmospheric, and describing desolate, sinister landscapes that brim with danger like the other two books, the plot of this one has many unpredictable twists and turns and an extremely clever, unexpected ending.

 These are my copies of the books. As you can see, I finally managed to buy 'East of Midnight' later in a new imprint. I don't like the cover art for this new edition, although blatantly it is meant to appeal to children. Although I read it when I was about nine or ten, I think it is more suitable for young adults, but it will appeal to the Harry Potter generation.

You can find out more about Tanith Lee here:

As you can see, she is extremely prolific and she writes for adults and children. She's also an amazing writer, and I have to admit to being heavily influenced by her writing.

I was describing her fiction to a friend of mine, and they mentioned a supposedly similar writer named Michelle Paver. I haven't read Paver, but she might also be worth checking out:

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