The Books of Paradys are a set of four collections of novellas all set in a dark and hallucinatory version of a former Paris. In part, they’re an homage to various 19th-century authors, especially the French symbolists, but they showcase Tanith Lee’s unique and strikingly original vision to perfection. Some of the best writing, by one of my favorite authors. They can be read in any order, but The Book of the Damned was first published… and as the title suggests, it gives us a collection of characters who will find no redemption.
Stained with Crimson
A dissipated young man develops an obsession with a cold and enigmatic woman – a newcomer to Paradys, a foreigner who has quickly become known for running a salon. But his interest is unrequited, and it seems that there may be something unsavory and ominous about her household. After a death, and a fateful duel, there is an inexplicable/supernatural, but neatly balanced, reversal of the situation.
Lush yet subtle, the gender-twisting vampire tale brings to mind both Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker.
Malice in Saffron
This is the ‘pilgrim’s progress’ of Jehanine, a young farm girl. Assaulted by her stepfather, she flees to the city to find her beloved brother – who repudiates her as a harlot. From there, her journey will take her through the extremes of sin and saintliness, theft and sacrifice. She will act as male and female, depraved murderer and holy nun, until she and her brother come full circle and around again. If you try to extract a moral message from the tale, you are likely to be stymied – and that’s exactly the point.
Empires of Azure
A multilayered ghost story, with similar themes echoing through different lives.
A journalist who writes under a male pseudonym is approached by a man who makes his living as a cross-dressing performer. He tells her that soon he will die. Investigating, she finds him missing, and discovers that he was living in a notorious house of scandal, scene of the death of a wild young woman. Both of them were obsessed with an ancient Egyptian princess, whose Cleopatra-like life story ended in tragedy… but the story stretches back even further, to an ancient sorcerer (or sorceress?) whose influence has stretched through the ages.
I read in this one a mirrored acknowledgement of how we might romanticize the Paris of the past (as Lee blatantly does in the books of Paradys) just as her 19th-century-esque characters (and those they’re based on) romanticize ancient Egypt…
I’ve read this volume before, but many thanks to Open Road Media and NetGalley for providing an eBook copy. As always, my opinions are solely my own.