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Old School Wednesdays: Night’s Master by Tanith Lee

Old School Wednesdays is a regular Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

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Title: Night’s Master

Author: Tanith Lee

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Daw
Publication date: First published 1978
Paperback: 208 pages

NIGHT’S MASTER is the first book of the stunning arabesque high fantasy series Tales from the Flat Earth, which, in the manner of The One Thousand and One Nights, portrays an ancient world in mythic grandeur via connected tales.

Long time ago when the Earth was Flat, beautiful indifferent Gods lived in the airy Upperearth realm above, curious passionate demons lived in the exotic Underearth realm below, and mortals were relegated to exist in the middle. Azhrarn, Lord of the Demons and the Darkness, was the one who ruled the Night, and many mortal lives were changed because of his cruel whimsy. And yet, Azhrarn held inside his demon heart a profound mystery which would change the very fabric of the Flat Earth forever…

Come within this ancient world of brilliant darkness and beauty, of glittering palaces and wondrous elegant beings, of cruel passions and undying love.

Discover the exotic wonder that is the Flat Earth.

Stand alone or series: First in the Flat Earth series

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): print


This is another entry in a series of Old School Wednesdays posts, brought to you by the amazing folks who supported us on Kickstarter. As one reward level, backers were given the opportunity to pick an Old School title for one of us to read and review online.

Trigger warning: rape, paedophilia, queers as villains.

Hello. My name is Ana Grilo and I did not like this book.

This is my first Tanith Lee novel and I am so sad it didn’t work out that well.  I am all for reading older works by masters of Fantasy, especially when they are written by non-white dudes. But jfc, was this… not… for me. I couldn’t even finish it.

Night’s Master was first published in 1978 and is the first in the Tales from the Flat Earth series. It is my understanding that much like this first book, each book is composed by interconnected stories, creating a wider world, expanding on it with every subsequent tale. The prose here is very much reminiscent of myth-creating, fable-spinning writing, the type often focused on world-building rather than character development (first red flag – granted, this first one is at least a personal taste one). In many ways, characters’ actions are presented as factual announcements rather than as a progression, an arc. For example: “he looked at her and fell in love” (that… happens a lot here. Second red flag).

There are three parts – or three stories – in Night’s Master and the main thread that connects them is the presence of Azhram, Prince of Demons in all of them. Azhram is sort of like an anti-hero, a demon that often messes with the lives of humans in a love-hate relationship. I get the feeling we are supposed to be sort of amused by Azhram while he finds out that he in fact, loves mankind?

In the first story, Azhram, witnesses the birth of a human boy and upon the mother’s death, decides to raise the boy – Sivesh – in the Underearth. Sivesh grows up and turns into a beautiful young man and upon turning sixteen is seduced by Azhram and becomes his lover (on the one hand, yay bisexual characters. On the other hand, uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh, paedophilia. Hello HUGE RED FLAG NUMBER THREE)  Yes, Azhram groomed the boy since he was a baby to become his lover (red flag number four). And ok, Azhram is a demon – I get that. BUT do I need to go through the reasons why conflating queer characters with villainy and paedophilia is a bad thing?

Anyways, eventually, Sivesh falls in love with Earth and longs for its sunny surface so Azhram creates a beautiful woman – Ferazhin – to be Sivesh’s wife (red flag number five) but Sivesh eventually decides to remain on Earth, leaving both Azhram and Ferazhin behind. Ferazhin then spends her time crying until a time comes when some dude falls in love with her and she becomes his wife, then she dies as part of Azhram’s vengeance to cause the dude pain.

(It’s only the first story and I am already starting to lose track of the number of red flags.)

(Even the original cover is a red flag.)

At this point though it was still my hope that things would get better – maybe this one was the odd story out?

Story number two starts Azhrarn overthrowing a vain King and killing his children. One child, the youngest daughter – Zorayas  – survives but is horribly disfigured and disabled by an attack. She is found by a kind magician who adopts her and the two live a lovely life in a cave away from the world.

Zorayas grows up as the Ugly Innocent until one day a dude comes over and horribly rapes her in a graphic, triggering scene.

She is then moved to become a powerful sorcerer to avenge herself, is made into a Beauty and becomes a villain worse than you can imagine then she dies a horrible death when she annihilates herself by falling in love with her own image.

And that’s when I threw the book against the wall and decided not to read the rest. Life is too short, the world is a dumpster fire and I do not have the time or the spoons for this.

Dear readers: did I start with the wrong Tanith Lee novel?



  • Paul Weimer
    June 27, 2018 at 7:14 am

    It’s been too long since I’ve read a Lee novel. So clearly you read the wrong one…but is there a RIGHT one? That one I don’t know and it’s something that worries me.

  • Old School Wednesdays: Night’s Master by Tanith Lee – Headlines
    June 27, 2018 at 7:59 am

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  • Jen
    June 27, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    I really liked her “The Silver Metal Lover” but it’s sci-fi rather than fantasy. That’s the only of her books I’ve read, though, so I’m not sure how indicative it is of her other works.

  • Crystal @ Lost in Storyland
    June 28, 2018 at 11:32 am

    It definitely sounds like there were a lot of things wrong with this novel. I haven’t read a Tanith Lee novel before, but this doesn’t sound like a series to read! I hope to hear about another older fantasy that does work for you!

  • filkferengi
    June 30, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    You should read _The Dragon Hoard_. It’s a kid’s book. While not entirely light and fluffy, it is lots of fun, has likable main characters, and no rape or pedophilia.

  • IgnoranceIsNotBliss
    February 7, 2019 at 1:28 am

    Really? Tanith Lee’s characters are *always* LGBTQ because she has been a proponent of the LGBTQ community her entire writing career. Villains, heroes, main characters, side characters, ALL OF THEM. Saying that someone can’t make a villain bisexual because it misrepresents the community is so ignorant and just plain stupid.
    We are people.
    We are good AND bad. We are heroes and villains and everything in between.
    And if you don’t like books that contain adult elements, including the less savory, real-life ones, then stay in your house and only venture out in a bubble.

    Then again, I just reread what you wrote and saw that you mentioned that you enjoyed reading things by “non-white” dudes which tells me just how backwards this page is. I’m betting you’ll delete this because it’s not a nice message, so this is just for you: as a reader, you are close-minded in your attempt to be open-minded.

    With comments like those made here, you are being more divisive. You are heading *backwards*.

    Sincerely, a POC/member of the LGBTQ community that doesn’t make it their identity (except when addressing ignorant comments like those you made) or mission to elevate those of my community above white straight people.

  • Len
    December 5, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    So I recently read this and want to put in my two cents.

    Things I agreed with:

    1. Yeah, the rape scene was unnecessarily graphic. I get that it’s supposed to be realistic, but I was horrified. There was no warning either, which would have been very welcome.

    2. Those covers are atrocious, but I thought that authors had no say on what their book covers are going to be.

    Things I didn’t agree with:

    1. To me, the writing style was a purposeful choice – like, in the way of Grimm’s fairy tales and ancient mythology. and very much not modern.

    2. Azhrarn is a demon – a literal embodiment of evil. For one thing, I didn’t see him as a symbol of queer villainy. Evil takes any and every form, which Azhrarn does – every gender, every sexuality, every form, because everything is free game. The most specificity I’d assign him would be genderfluid and pansexual.

    Queer characters have a notorious history of being done dirty, and I agree that they need to have better representation in larger masses. But that doesn’t mean that they should solely be portrayed that way, just as heteronormativity should also run the gamut of heroism and villainy. Good has a bias; no one should be exempted. Evil has no bias; there are no exemptions.

    3. I don’t think Azhrarn is an anti-hero. I think he’s just something that lost its impassivity to humanity solely because he realizes he needs them as entertainment. From “y’all can die out for all I care” to “what would my existence mean if I didn’t have beings to manipulate as I wish”. He’s selfish, not heroic. Amusement would be subjective, not intentional in this case.

    4. On pedophilia and other morally decrepit things: yes, disgusting. Also yes: Azhrarn being a demon is relevant. (Honestly, I think ‘it’ is a better way to address Azhrarn rather than pronouns.) By definition, he is not a person. I don’t understand why you’d apply any humanity to something inhuman. Of course he’s capable and enthusiastic doing all those reprehensible things, he is a demon. Concepts of morality are nothing to him. Sure, it’s now common to make inhuman things more human – but that is a uniquely human invention, not an actuality (if inhuman existences existed).

    The thing that deserves this level of outrage is Jacob from Twilight raising Bella’s daughter from infancy to be his lover. As well as all the other shapeshifters that met their mates when they were babies/children. And Edward being with Bella. Jacob and Edward were human until they became a vampire/shapeshifter, which is why they can be held to human standards. Now that I think about it, there’s tons of media that portrays straight male pedophiles. I haven’t read or seen many portrayals of queer pedophiles, though that’s most likely a lack on my part.

    5. Zorayas was a big bag of y i k e s. Would it have been better if she was a man? The story was horrific – should those kind of storylines be erased completely? Or just an equal amount of straight/lgbtqia+/white/non-white protagonists in these plots? (This is less a disagreement than an actual question about censorship. Where do we draw the line? Should there be?)

    Tanith Lee is a white woman, not a non-white dude.

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