I’ve been slowly working my way through Tanith Lee’s fantasy oeuvre, reading first The Birthgrave and its sequels, mixing in the Wars of Vis (of which I’ve not yet read the last), then Volkhavaar, and now the first of the Flat Earth books: Night’s Master. The style here was most similar to Volkhavaar, which could very well be a Tale of the Flat Earth itself, for all that it fails to insist on any particular larger continuity. But I was most pleasantly surprised by the insanely high story-to-word ratio in Night’s Master. In less than two hundred pages, Lee executes six major plot arcs, all realized with efficient but beautiful language, and still finds time to linger on terrific images.
The title refers to the character who provides the book’s continuity over “many thousand mortal years,” Azhrarn Prince of Demons. He is “one of the Lords of Darkness,” but we never meet his peer or his superior in the course of the many tales in which he figures here. He is amoral, capricious, and cosmically charismatic, ruling over three sub-races of demons from his splendid capital of Druhim Vanashta in the center of Underearth. Often, he fades from view for much of a given story, while the events that he has set in motion work themselves out in the world of humanity. But he is not just a linking device; the book culminates in his special fate, which draws on the full fabric that is woven to that point.
I read the original DAW paperback edition, which features wonderful art by George Barr on the cover and in four or five interior illustrations. There are four more Flat Earth volumes to follow this one, and if Lee was able to keep up this prodigious level of imagination and elegant writing throughout, I will be hugely pleased. I know there was a book club omnibus edition, but this sort of work deserves to be housed in an abundantly illustrated, leather-bound tome. [via]