Tanith Lee, who died in 2015, is my favorite author. She wrote The Silver Metal Lover, which I recommend to anyone who holds still long enough, and her short story “The Beast” is perhaps my favorite thing in the English language. Since DAW started rereleasing her works, I’ve received many of them as gifts and to my shame, many of those remain unread by me. So I’ve decided to fix that. Welcome to the month of Tan-uary (shut up; it’s brilliant) wherein I shall tackle my stack and see what treasures I may find.
My journey begins with Companions on the Road, a volume comprising the titular novella and another called The Winter Players. They were originally published in 1975 and 1976, respectively. I picked this volume to start because, well, it’s pretty short, but I was wary. Tanith’s high fantasy from the seventies can be hit-or-miss. In ’75 she gave us The Birthgrave, first of a trilogy which I enjoyed overall. But in ’76 she published The Storm Lord. I did not finish, nor will I finish that trilogy. The attitudes about gender and race in the first book were problematic, and I found the whole thing tiresome.
Companions on the Road
Three men, two soldiers and a thief, meet during the sack and destruction of the city of Avillis. The thief leads them to a treasure trove, from which they steal a cursed chalice, and one by one they are picked off by the cup’s owners.
I wasn’t sure about the beginning of this one. Lots of description, made-up place names, the kind of thing that can get boring and which The Birthgrave and The Storm Lord took to logical extremes. But I was drawn to the character of Havor, an upright soldier who promises a young member of his army that he will take money to the boy’s family if the latter dies. He does die, the money is stolen by the thief, and from there I just had to know what happened next. The novella has elements of fairy tale and horror in it, but not as prominently as in some of her other works.
The Winter Players
I’ll get right to it: the plot of this hinges on a Bootstrap Paradox. I find that if a story leans on the paradox part of that, then it gets tedious fast. I mean, if everything you do has to be done so that you can start the cycle over again, then what’s the point of doing anything? And if you don’t do whatever you did, does the universe explode or something? I don’t know and I try not to think about it. The novella is happy enough that I don’t.
For all that, I was pleasantly surprised to find time travel in a high fantasy novel. Maybe it’s more common than I realize, but I haven’t read much of it. I liked the way the plot bound the fates of its three main characters: the villain, the sorceress, and the man.
I enjoyed this book, but it’s time for the next one. I choose… Redder Than Blood. I honestly can’t remember if I read this when I got it last year, but it’s Tanith’s fairy tales, and I am here for them.