The Flat Earth books are set in a fantasy world with a Greek-like pantheon. The origin stories meld into each other, and the whimsical (and yet sinister) magic system kind of reminded me of the Oz books, especially because of the many cruel ironies of the plot (Tanith Lee is a firm believer in Chekhov's Gun). I also didn't enjoy all of the stories equally, although I liked the part about the Golden Garden with Kassafeh, the opening sequence with Narasen, and the ending when spurned Zhirek got his revenge on Simmu. One thing I will say about Tanith Lee is that her characters were lightyears ahead of their time. Tanith Lee is a truly exceptional author and I'm really glad Elena agreed to read this one with me because my omnibus edition of the three books is intimidatingly long, and I probably would have procrastinated on reading it otherwise.
On Tanith Lees Flat Earth, humans live in the space between apathetic gods and vain and meddlesome demons. In the first FLAT EARTH book, Nights Master, we met Azhrarn, prince of demons and ruler of the night who found and loved a human orphan. I loved that book for its exotic setting and gorgeous fairytale quality, but Deaths Master, the second FLAT EARTH book, is even more enchanting. This time we meet a second Lord of Darkness, Uhlume, Lord Death, when he makes a deal with Narasen, a human warrior queen. Uhlume, the Lord of Death, gives Narasen a child, but the price she must pay is heavy: after giving birth, she must remain under the Earth with Uhlume for 1000 years. The rest of the story follows Simmu, Narasens hermaphrodite child; his friend Zhirem, whose mother also made a deal with Death; Lylas, who assigns nine virgins to guard the waters of immortality; the demon Azhrarn, who cant help but meddle in human affairs; and other characters thatve unfortunately come to the attention of demons. Lee uses this unfamiliar world to explore familiar human nature in a way that isnt possible outside a fantasy setting. to die is a fear, but to live is a fear, also." These ideas are so beautifully examined in Deaths Master, but Tanith Lees writing isnt unrelievedly heavy. Nor was it any use to seek his own medicine for dispelling such emotion since it was made of water, spirit, and mules urine." Here, and in all of her writing, you can clearly see the influence of Jack Vance, who Tanith Lee calls one of the literary gods in her afterword to her story in the anthology Songs of the Dying Earth. If youre not into the twisted dark fairytales found in FLAT EARTH, you should at least try some of her short fiction, which is easily found in the best anthologies.
This book does not care what you think, and bears no moral and no internal meaning other than itself. The Lord of Death is neither capricious nor vicious, but mostly bored. That this final act is taken from him by Azhrarn's incidental activity makes it all more poignant, ironically flipping the millennia-long suffering from Simmu back to Zhirek.
There are horrors in the stories, but there is also tenderness.
The second book in Tanith Lees Flat Earth series is again very interesting like the previous one but it is also a very different one in the manner the story is told. There are two characters who are priests, Simmu and Zherim, who both being friends separate at a pivotal point in the plotline and then for the rest of the book you get to see them greatly grow and change and become incredibly powerful. Im hard pressed to say which book in the series Ive enjoyed more so far. If I enjoy the next book as much as the previous ones then this is shaping up to be one of the best fantasy series Ive read. Tanith Lee is such a well liked author among people in the industry its surprising she isnt read more by fantasy fans. In an interview I read she said that she doesnt write what people want to read and thats obviously been her problem as far as breaking out into the mainstream is concerned. Ive heard people compare this series to the Dying Earth and although I can see the similarities and I dont doubt the influence there is one particular author that was in my mind when I read this book, one whom has influenced many fantasy authors.
And there's no real protagonist or main character in Book 1. Each tale has its own main character but the book as book as a whole doesn't. But for Book 2, which is supposed to be revolving around Death with other characters. Although Death is supposedly to be the demon of the book, he doesn't seem like it. And Book 2 actually feels like there is a protagonist. Because Tanith Lee oriented Book 2, Death's Master, mainly around Zhirem and Simmu, there's a lot more character development and basis for them than any other characters in Book 1 and 2 (other than Azhrarn). She knows her land is cursed. She knows the curse says that sleeping with men is useless.
Tanith Lee was a British writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She was the author of 77 novels, 14 collections, and almost 300 short stories.