Review by Cynthia Ward
Long ago, the earth was flat, the gods were indifferent, and the demons were anything but. Chief among humanity’s tormenters is Azhrarn, Prince of Demons. Handsome as night, sharp as obsidian, the Lord of Darkness is cruel and capricious, and at his most dangerous when caprice makes him kind.
Azhrarn takes a dying woman’s baby to be raised by demons in his Underearth palace; and within an eyeblink of time, baby Sivesh is a beautiful youth, and Azhrarn his generous lover. But, as Sivesh learns, it is unwise to anger the Prince of Demons. And when a disfigured human princess summons Azhrarn, he grants her the one boon guaranteed to destroy her: beauty.
Azhrarn’s demonic gifts are the kind that keep on giving, so each mortal’s suffering spreads to others. Eventually, one afflicted man’s hatred grows to threaten the entire human world with destruction. The gods don’t care if the mortals of the Flat Earth perish; indeed, they might prefer it. But what reason has Azhrarn to exist, if there are no more humans?
Night’s Master (originally published in 1978) runs an inevitably episodic course. One story of its complex cycle flows into another as Tanith Lee blends the influences of The Thousand and One Nights and Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales to create her standard fare: unpredictable, disturbing fiction possessed of neither propriety nor political correctness, rendered with a beauty and insight that can pierce your heart and shatter your expectations as thoroughly as Azhrarn destroys humans.
Even a brilliant classic has its flaws. The frequent imposition upon “Arabian Nights”-inspired characters of European looks (especially of white skin, repeatedly referenced as an element of beauty) hasn’t aged very well. Too, some readers will dislike Night’s Master’s Orientalism. But its story cycle transcends these weaknesses. Night’s Master is one Tanith Lee’s finest, and she is one of fantasy’s finest writers. Norilana Books deserves credit for reissuing this hard-to-find title in lovely new hardcover and trade paperback editions.
Night’s Master: Tales from the Flat Earth: Book One
By Tanith Lee
TaLeKa/Norilana Books (Reprint, 9/09)
Trade Hardcover, 978-1-60762-043-3
$24.95 US / £16.80 UK
Trade Paperback, 978-1-60762-044-0
$12.95 US / £8.50 UK
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Red as Blood, or, Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee