Likes, Loves and Influences: Tanith Lee

Today it is time for the third part in my love letters to authors, and my subject is Tanith Lee. I’m not sure how well known she is these days, but I’m trying to do this more or less chronologically, and Tanith Lee is an author who has kept me company throughout much of my teenage years.

This is the part where I curse my unreliable long-term memory, because I cannot for the life of me remember how I actually came into possession of her books. They just always seemed to be there. However, I’m pretty sure that the first ever book I read by her was Volkhavaar.

It’s hard for me to gauge just how much of an influence that one book has had on me, but it is huge. It tells the story of a young slave girl, Shaina, who tends the goats of her master in a small village in the mountains. One day the village is visited by a troupe of entertainers who put on a play more dazzling and grand than the villagers have never seen before. One of them is a young man with dark curls and sea-green eyes, and Shaina falls in love. Yet the actors throw no shadows, since they are enthralled by the magician Kernik, and Shaina has to make a pact with the witch Barbayat if she is to free her love from Kernik’s clutches.

It is not a big book, but it laid the groundwork for many things that keep returning in my own writing. Love, for one, and handsome, dark-haired men. Travelling entertainers keep cropping up in my own writing as well; my first hero Yastar was a travelling acrobat, and the theme will return in my as yet unwritten third novel. In any case, Volkhavaar remains one of my all-time favourite books.

From there I moved on to her other works. I think the Flat Earth quintet was next: Night’s Master, Death’s Master, Delusion’s Master, Delirium’s Mistress and Night’s Sorceries. I got lost in the tales of the demon Azhrarn and his whims, and although I cannot actually remember that particular story, I have named one of my cats, Sivesh, after a character in the first book of that quintet.

P1050299He’s the grumpy looking one on the left. He’s an old man now, nearly fourteen, but I knew long before I picked him that I’d once have a cat called Sivesh, and sod the vets who have difficulty in pronouncing his name.

Actually, the one tale that’s stuck with me the most from that series of books is that of Simmu, who was both male and female, and who stole the water that made people immortal by infiltrating the locked and walled garden where the water is kept. The garden is populated by a number of virgin maidens (I forget how many), and Simmu is chosen as one of the maidens to be locked in the garden for a number of years (again, I forget how many). He breaks the seals on the water by changing to a man at night and ‘breaking the seals’ of the virgin girls, and manages to steal the water. Ingenious.

All in all I’m not sure how much of her work I have actually read. I’ve read the Storm Lord trilogy, and the Birthgrave books, neither of which I remember a whole lot of. It’s probably time to re-read them sometime soon. I have read Biting the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine, which is an interesting duo. It is written in first person, and you never find out the protagonist’s name. I’ve always found it a little different from her other work, but I do still like it a lot.

The last book I want to touch on is Cyrion, because it’s rare that Fantasy delivers a mystery/detective series. In Cyrion’s case it is not really a series, it’s a number of short stories presented as a frame tale, in which a desperate person is looking for the fabled solver of mysteries, Cyrion, so he can resolve his problem. The frame tale dissolves into a novella which is only so-so, but the mysteries themselves I always enjoyed very much.

The last book of hers I got was The Blood of Roses, and I stopped it halfway through. It veered towards horror, if I recall correctly, and horror isn’t my thing. After that I sort of lost interest, but all those early books were imprinted into my soft, impressionable brain, and I can truly say that she is one of my earliest influences as a writer. If anyone knows of any other books she has written that you think I might like, based on the list above, I’d be very glad to hear of them.


6 thoughts on “Likes, Loves and Influences: Tanith Lee

  1. Marysia Kosowski

    Yay! I’m a big Tanith Lee fan and a writer myself. She has definitely influenced my writing and I’m glad to hear the same of someone else. The problem for me is, she’s written so much that a lot of it feels a little rushed, as if it needs another draft, or maybe just isn’t my thing. The books I’ve read so far by her that I truly loved include: The Birthgrave, Day By Night, Biting the Sun, The Silver Metal Lover, the Claidi Journals, the Unicorn Trilogy (Black/Gold/Red Unicorn), Shon the Taken, Electric Forest, Red as Blood, Women as Demons…there’s one I’m forgetting, I know it. πŸ˜› Anyway, the Unicorn trilogy, Claidi, Day By Night, and Biting the Sun rank in my top tier, but the one that really made my jaw drop was The Birthgrave. At first I thought I didn’t like it, but by the time I reached the end I was stunned. It’s a powerful, psychological character study. If you’re going to re-read it, I would personally avoid the sequels though. I read Quest for the White Witch and found it vastly inferior, boasting an arrogant Conan-type hero full of Oedipal angst, not to mention the derailment of Birthgrave’s heroine. The ending just killed it for me.

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      You actually mention a lot of books I haven’t read! I love Biting the Sun and I remember loving the Birthgrave, though it’s a long, long time since I read that one. Red as Blood didn’t do much for me, it veered a bit too much into vampire/horror territory, if I remember right (though that one too is a long time ago!). My personal favourites are the ones I mention in the post, Volkhavaar especially, but if you liked the Birthgrave you might also like the Storm Lord trilogy (Storm Lord, Anackire and The White Serpent). I’ll have to check out the ones you mention that I haven’t read yet!

      1. Erica Dakin Post author

        No, wait, I’m confusing Red as Blood with Blood of Roses. Red as Blood is the retelling of Snow White from the stepmother’s pov, right? I actually did like that one, it was an interesting twist on the classic fairy tale.

  2. Magda

    You know; I thought at first you called your silver colored kitty on the right Sivesh which would be funny, given that the term “siwy” (pronounced something like as see-vih) means as much as “white haired”, “grey haired” in Polish – so it would certainly fit πŸ™‚ If I called my pet like that after the color of the fur, everybody would think that “oh, it’s just a funny name that fit so much; he is indeed “siwy” ” πŸ™‚ I just wanted you to know πŸ™‚

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      Thanks, I’m always interested in that sort of thing, and I would actually consider giving my pet a name like that! The silver cat is actually called Loki, and poor Sivesh unfortunately died nearly two years ago…

      1. Magda

        Sad to hear it. But… you know what? πŸ™‚ You won’t believe me but loki IS actually a Polish word too! πŸ™‚ It means “curls” πŸ™‚ Really. You could give this name to a fluffy, curly haired pet.

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