Blood 20: Tales Of Vampire Horror by Tanith Lee (book review).

January 2, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘Blood 20: Tales Of Vampire Horror’ is a collection of vampire stories written by Tanith Lee. Having heard of her but never read her work, I looked forward to getting a good sample here.

The first story, ‘On Reflection’, is set in a desert outpost of the diminishing Roman Empire and starts with battalion commander Marcus Scorpius Corbo finding a polished metal mirror by a sabotaged well on the way back to his fort. The mirror seemed to want him to find it. Mirrors are rare things owned only by the rich and there’s an odd sensation when he gazes into it. Vampirism rears its head towards the end. A well-wrought mood piece that realistically portrayed the attitudes of a veteran Roman soldier accustomed to blood and death.

In the castle of the Cursed Duke, besieged by vampires but they can’t get in, there’s a scullery maid of no importance whatsoever but she does bear a remarkable resemblance to the Duke’s daughter. This takes an odd, amoral turn and ends up as an unconventional romance that is still, somehow, touching, thanks to the author’s skill.

There are lords and ladies of a more ordinary kind in ‘The Vampire Lover’, a family tale of two sisters. Mariamme is the apple of her father’s eye and beloved by all, especially those young men who come a-courting. The other is scholarly, plain, of little significance but seems to admire her beautiful sister as much as everyone else so when Mariamme has a frequent, secret night-time visitor to her bedroom and becomes ill, it’s time to act. This is subtle.

Dismissed unpaid by Duke Waif after the siege of Bethelmai, Maurs and his troop of soldiers, vampires all, wander away, hungry and poor. In the snowy mountains, they find a luxurious, deserted castle with food all laid on ready, fire in the hearth and luxurious beds and clothing. Enchanted, surely. A trap? ‘Winter Flowers’ reads like a classic from ‘Weird Tales’ with prose like this: ‘The lamps had all gone out and the changeless fire was sunken low, livid hovering lizard tongues on the remnants of the wood like blackened bones.’ There is, sometimes, more to reading than the story. Films can do a story, sometimes better than text but only prose can give you this special kind of pleasure and this book is full of it.

I’m not sure if I liked ‘The Isle Is Full Of Noises’. It’s a novella about a woman called Yse, pronounced to rhyme with ‘please’. An author, she lives on a partly flooded island and is writing a story about Gregers Vonderjan, a powerful wealthy man who rescued his wife, Antoinelle, from her family after she was disgraced and now has a passionate sexual relationship with her. The tales of Yse and Antoinelle alternate and have some motifs in common. I guess it’s metafiction. It was certainly interesting and the characters, the observation of humanity and the lovely leisurely prose made it readable enough.

Plinta the Parisian painter is fascinated by his friend’s new paramour Israbel, a part-time opera singer in small roles and full-time vampire. She wants Plinta to paint her because although other people can see her reflection, she can’t and wants to know how she looks now, one hundred years after being changed as a sixteen year-old girl. Finding her fascinating, he takes the commission and is paid in more than money and one big surprise. ‘Isarabel’ is strangely sensual.

Inevitably, reading story after story about old-fashioned vampires gets slightly samey, so this collection is best taken in small bites. There’s a minor change of pace with ‘La Vampiresse’, which tells of a reporter interviewing a lady living at the top of a tower under high security. Another with ‘Scarabesque: The Girl Who Broke Dracula’. Here, Sue Wyatt is a shy, plain suburban girl who turns Goth at fourteen and becomes Ruby Sin on her nights out. Her ambition is to meet a real vampire. There’s a sad real-life story under her glamour.

Delightfully winding up the collection are two Science Fiction tales of future vampires, for if they exist now, they will still be around in centuries to come. ‘The Beautiful Biting Machine’ is set in Nightfair, a vast funfair that comes up at night on a far off pleasure planet. Among the leading and most expensive attractions is Malvanda, a beautiful lady. Beldek is the multi-lingual employee who tends to Malvanda and admits humans and aliens to her den. I’ve never read a vampire story like it.

‘Beyond The Sun’ is set in a very far future where humanity is building star systems to suit itself, including suns. A vampire leads a small team of engineers, for the attributes of the undead are useful in space exploration. They can levitate, they don’t need to breathe and they’re extremely tough. I enjoyed these last two stories. Someone should do an anthology of future vampire yarns.

Sadly, Tanith Lee passed away in 2015. She won many awards and was a successful writer, even scripting a couple of episodes for ‘Blake’s 7’. She had a few lean years when her work went out of fashion but, thankfully, the Internet led to a revival. Rightly so. She writes beautifully. Vampires have become somewhat stale through overuse and ill-use in the twilight of our soi-disant civilisation, but there are still a few excellent examples of how they should be done and this is one of the best. Recommended.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2021

(pub: Telos. 266 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84583-909-3)

check out website: www.telos.co.uk

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Category: Books, Horror

About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel reviewer who writes a bit too. See https://www.amazon.co.uk/~/e/B01GEVVV5Q

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