Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Night’s Sorceries by Tanith Lee. And, hey, check out that typo in the book title on the cover image! On the same cover it appears correctly in the pull quote. Did that make it into the print run?! It’s even on the Penguin Random House page for the book, as I write this. And this book was published in 2017! Has no one noticed in the interim? Oh no!
This last of Tanith Lee’s Tales of the Flat Earth books consists of seven distinct stories, set mostly in chronological parallel to the novel Delirium’s Mistress that preceded it. Thus it returns to the looser form of the earliest books of the series. The Lords of Darkness and their ladies make occasional cameos among the first five tales of this book, but there is no development of their larger biographies. Lee does expand her fantasy cosmography a little, notably with an adventure on the moon. Among these stories, the ones I found most enjoyable (and which would probably best stand on their own as examples of Lee’s work in this series) were “The Prodigal” and “Black as a Rose.”
Only with the final two stories does Lee take up and extend the ending of the story of Atmeh that she had reached at the conclusion of Delerium’s Mistress. Accordingly, in both form and content, this book feels like a relaxation and a winding down from the climactic antepenultimate volume of the series, but there is no slackening of quality. The human protagonists are a robust mix of types, and the story resolutions vary widely from happily-ever-afters to catastrophic demises. The prose is measured and beautiful, and the plots satisfyingly exercise deep tropes of traditional storytelling without becoming predictable.
The final story of the book is “The Magician’s Daughter,” and the first of its five chapters involved magical eugenics in a way that reminded me of Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild. Where these books generally seem to occupy a somewhat eroticized band of the Dunsanian part of the fantasy spectrum, this story added some of the the style and substance favored by Clark Ashton Smith. Witness the sentence: “None of the windows or doors would give save at the recitation of a particular vernacular rhomb” (240).
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who had enjoyed its predecessor volumes. Although composed of short stories and novellas with their own plot arcs, it relies on the prior mythopoeia of the other books, and I’m not sure it would serve so well as a starting point. It does bring the full series to an over-brimming richness of super-completion.