by Tanith Lee
Cover Artist: John Kaiine
Review by Carolyn Frank
TaLeKa ISBN/ITEM#: 9781607620433
Date: 13 July 2009
Azhrarn, Lord of Demons and the Darkness, is Night's Master, in this initial set of tales from the Flat Earth. In this era, a very long time ago, mortal humans live on a flat earth, located midway between the indifferent gods in the airy upper-earth and the demons in the under-earth below. This set of loosely interconnected tales describe and define Azhrarn, as he cruelly but capriciously rules the Night, impacting mortal lives. Each of the three sets of six self-contained stories is gathered into a Book: Light Underground, Tricksters, and the World's Lure. Within each Book, the set of six stories is divided into two Parts of three stories apiece. Each group of three stories focuses on a single person or object, but Azhrarn looms over each tale.
As a demon, Azhrarn can take any shape he wishes, but on the Flat Earth he mostly appears as either a gorgeous man with long black hair or as a large black eagle. He is first introduced on a mountainside debating human will with a woman dying in childbirth. Because he sees that the baby will be beautiful, and he values beauty, he takes the baby boy, turns himself into a black eagle and flies them to the demon city of Druhim Vanashta. The first set of three stories in Book One: Light Underground focus on this boy, named Sivesh, who grows up in the under-earth and eventually becomes Azhrarn's companion. Eventually Sivesh wants to see the sun, whose light would kill any demon that stays upon the flat earth during the day. Azhrarn grants this wish but the complications drive the remaining tales.
This flat earth is a recognizable version of an ancient middle east, with small cities and kingdoms linked together by trade and war. People work as farmers, as fishers, as goatherds, as artisans in an area that contains temperate zones, mountains, deserts and oceans. Magicians and sorcerers are able to call up demons and other elementals, but not always able to control them. The airy upper-earth, home of the gods, is not specifically described, simply due to the gods not interacting much with the mortals of the Flat Earth. The under-earth is shown to be mostly emptiness centered by the huge demon city of Druhim Vanashta. Druhim Vanashta is coldly, massively and darkly beautiful.
Apparently loosely derived from Babylonian myths, these adult fantasies combine darkly magical and passionate elements. Time and space are altered at a whim, this is a place of imagination and subconscious. If you enjoy being drawn out of reality by one of our world's masters of fantasy writing, you will spend marvelous moments vicariously living in the world of the Night's Master.