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Today I’m delighted to have a guest post by fantasy author Sarah Ash to share with you! Her novels include The Tears of Artamon trilogy (Lord of Snow and Shadows, Prisoner of the Iron Tower, and Children of the Serpent Gate), Songspinners, the Tide Dragons series (The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice, Emperor of the Fireflies), and more. In addition to writing books, she’s an editor and reviewer for Anime UK News, and she hosts the ‘Nobody Knew She Was There’ blog series in which women who pen science fiction and fantasy discuss writing and the genre (it features some wonderful guest posts by some fantastic authors!).

The Flood Dragon's Sacrifice by Sarah Ash Songspinners by Sarah Ash

Liberating Grandmothers

I never really knew my paternal grandmother. But my maternal grandmother, Sarah Jessie Maude, was a great influence on me in so many ways. Obliged to finish her schooling early in her teens to work in her father’s grocery and wine shop, but always resourceful and imaginative, she was a source of captivating stories of her childhood—and an inspiration for me and my sister, fantasy writer Jessica Rydill. So it’s no surprise that many older women feature in my stories, although the antiquarian Jolaine Tredescar in Songspinners, Orial’s eccentric mentor and soul-guardian, and the intrepid Doctor Frieda Hildegarde from The Tears of Artamon who uncovers a highly significant lost text in a remote monastery are, I now see, a respectful nod to some of my teachers at school, formidable scholarly women who studied at Oxford in the early 1930s.

So, grandmothers…

The archetype in western legends and fairy tales is often not a proactive figure: in Red Riding Hood, bedridden and frail, Granny is used by the Wolf to deceive and entrap the heroine. Too often portrayed as gray-haired, stooped and very elderly, the stereotypes have been perpetuated in fiction, even though many of today’s grandmothers (myself included) are far from being in their dotage.

Or there’s the assumption over the ages that when a women becomes old, she also gains wisdom, that has somehow been warped in the depiction of the witch—the term rarely being used as a compliment and often as the excuse for inhuman treatment of an elderly person. Baba Yaga in Russian folklore is depicted as a predatory witch in some tales, while in others, she aids the protagonist. But she’s always described as hideous and skeletal, in spite of her considerable powers (and a flying mortar to take her wherever she wants to go!). Fast-forward to the 20th century where much-lauded children’s writer Roald Dahl obviously had issues with older women, although Grandmamma in The Witches is a rare example in his fiction of an older woman painted in a sympathetic light (although she’s 86, so surely a Great-Grandmamma?); the hideous cackling monster in George’s Marvellous Medicine is much closer to the typical Dahl caricature.

The Witches by Roald Dahl Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Two notable exceptions (because of the depth of characterization) are Terry Pratchett’s hard-headed, stern, no-nonsense (yet infinitely wise) Granny Weatherwax—and her jovial companion-in-witchcraft, Nanny Ogg. (I’m only omitting Magrat from the trio of three witches because she’s the youngest, and the Maiden in the triumvirate, so definitely not a grandmother.) From the glorious anarchy of Wyrd Sisters, through Equal Rites to the Tiffany Aching stories, Granny Weatherwax is not portrayed as having any grandchildren of her own, but her place in the Ramtops is that of the admired and respected older wise woman. Granny Weatherwax brought out some of Pratchett’s best writing and one can’t help but read significance into the fact that he gave her a good encounter with Death not long before he came to the far-too-soon end of his own life.

I never made a conscious decision that I was going to have a grandmother character in my fiction because I had ‘stuff to say about the role of the older woman in that particular society’; that’s just not the way I work. Characters present themselves, already fully-formed, and I take things on from there. (I have no agenda—except to tell a tale that demands to be told in the best way I possibly can.) So when (in Lord of Snow and Shadows) servant girl Kiukiu is turned out onto the snowy moors by acting mistress of the household, Lilias Arbelian, I was as surprised as she was when the wild-haired woman in the sleigh who comes to her rescue turns out to be her grandmother. Kiukiu’s family background is complicated, as she’s the lovechild of a forbidden relationship between members of two warring clans, so she’s never met her father’s mother, Malusha. And Malusha, the only surviving member of the rival clan lord’s household, has been living alone in the moors, mourning her lord and her dead son. It turns out that meeting her grandmother is the best—yet perhaps also the worst—thing that could happen to Kiukiu. At last she has an explanation for her troubling tendency to hear and see ghosts. For Malusha is a Spirit Singer, one who can summon the spirits of the dead through her singing and playing—and, if need be, lay them to rest—and Kiukiu has inherited her abilities. But when she takes Kiukiu into the Ways Beyond to meet her dead lord and master, Kiukiu realizes that she is being steered away from her mother’s clan and the man she has come to love, Gavril Nagarian. As Malusha learns more about her granddaughter and teaches her the skills of a Spirit Singer, the relationship between the older and the younger woman deepens and matures, even as the clash of conflicting clan loyalties threatens to drag them apart.

Lord of Snow and Shadows by Sarah Ash Prisoner of the Iron Tower by Sarah Ash Children of the Serpent Gate by Sarah Ash

I didn’t set out with an ‘Agenda’ to deliberately insert older women into my stories. It was inevitable, I suppose, that they would figure in my fiction—and, as I gain new perspectives from becoming an ‘older woman’ myself, that I would wish to portray believable older characters that are not one-dimensional stereotypes: grandmothers with rich lives of their own who are not merely plot devices to help—or hinder—the main protagonist on their journey.

(A little disclaimer by way of apology. I don’t read as much in the SFF fiction field as I used to five, ten, fifteen years ago. Why? First of all because I find it hard to read fiction and write at the same time; like many other writers, I just end up mentally editing the novel I’m reading and that’s no fun e.g. ‘Why must he use the word “smirked”? How could they have missed that glaring typo!’ etc. etc. Secondly, because I’m getting on a bit. And I’ve already read a great deal of SFF, good, bad and indifferent. So, if I’m going to spend time reading something new, it has to be rather special. And different. To be honest, I’ve never had the appetite for many of the long epic fantasy sagas—apart from Tolkien; I like quirky, unusual, even eccentric… But you, dear readers, will probably be able to think of SFF novels or stories that you’ve read recently which depict grandmothers—or older women—in a non-clichéd, relatable way. Please share your recommendations!)

Sarah AshSarah Ash has been writing since she was a child—but also spent many years teaching music. Creating fantasy novels has allowed her to explore her fascination with the way mythology and history overlap and interact (her second published novel Songspinners is set in an ‘alternate’ eighteenth century Bath, her home city). The five novels in the popular epic fantasy Artamon sequence (Penguin Random House) are also set in an alternate eighteenth century world—with daemons and dragons. Emperor of the Fireflies, the second book of the new Tide Dragons series, is now available as an e-book and was inspired by her love of all things Japanese (especially manga and anime which she regularly reviews). It’s an historical fantasy that draws on the ancient legend of the Tide Jewels and the lifestyle of the Heian imperial court. And of course, there are also secretive shinobi, wily fox spirits—and Tide Dragons.


Tide Dragon Cover/Graphic Credit: Marcelle Natisin

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Today I’m excited to welcome young adult fantasy and horror writer Rin Chupeco! She is the author of The Girl from the Well and its sequel, The Suffering. The Bone Witch, her latest novel and the first book in a new series, was just released in March (and has one of the most striking covers I’ve seen lately!). You can read more about The Bone Witch, including a sample from the book, on her website and you can also follow her on Twitter.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

I was always the tomboy of the family. My younger sister was tall, pretty, and enjoyed fashion and other girly things. My earliest memories of play involved invading her Barbie dollhouse with various Ninja Turtle and Ghostbuster action figures and declaring hostile takeovers. I wore baggy pants and oversized shirts for irony. I didn’t pay attention to what I wore so long as it was comfy.

That changed as I grew older. I played basketball and took up taekwondo and arnis. I also started wearing skirts and dresses, and fell in love with mascara. I love long dresses and dangling earrings. I enjoyed watching wrestling and had a Boyzone phase. I have a small obsession with kimono. I didn’t have to let go of my “tomboyish” tendencies to be more feminine, and I never felt like I had to give one up in order to become the other.

And that’s why I feel it’s about time we need to retire all these definitions of “strong” heroine, or at least change people’s perspectives of what it should mean. All too often “strong” is associated with girls who exhibit generally masculine characteristics: girls who dress like boys and fight like boys.

What’s so wrong about fighting like a girl? Femininity doesn’t have to take a backseat if it’s about heroines kicking ass.

I wrote Tea, my protagonist from The Bone Witch, with this in mind. Tea is exceedingly feminine. She likes pretty things, fancy dresses, and dancing. That doesn’t stop her from embracing her taboo abilities of summoning and controlling the dead, from learning to fight with a sword, and from being a rebellious teenager constantly trying to push back at a society that wants her to conform. She’s also extremely stubborn, more than willing to push against the boundaries set in place by the society of asha that she finds herself living in. As the only healthy bone witch left in the land, Tea is frequently forgiven for reckless behavior that any other asha would have been severely punished for. Rather than striving to meet them halfway, Tea often responds by pushing back harder in her desire to explore the fullest extent of her abilities beyond the safety restrictions set in place by bone witches before her. One could argue that her complete disregard for the rules is the very reason Tea finds herself an exile at the start of the novel. But what other asha consider a serious flaw is actually what makes her compelling—bone witches do not live long, and it is that fear of dying that motivates her to seek out other alternatives beyond the fate other asha have determined for her.

Just as important as a feminine kick-ass heroine is also a flawed kick-ass heroine, which might not be as rare, but is more commonly disliked. There’s still a general fear that all characters in teen novels must be perfect with as little fault as possible, perhaps to serve as a role model for girls to look up to.

I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent as a teenager, but I had my dumb moments. I never got into trouble with the law, but I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, a few of them rather publicly and rather stupidly. I’ve never met a perfect teenager—heck, I’ve never met a perfect adult. It’s important to write about girls who might have impressive and noteworthy traits, but nonetheless have stupid crushes and get into inappropriate situations and make choices you know they’re going to regret later on. It’s very important for girls to read stories about girls who aren’t perfect.

Flawed heroines in fiction can be and are interesting—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said that well-behaved women seldom make history. Scarlett O’Hara was selfish and rather foolish at times, but that’s part of what made her such a compelling character. She is exceptionally intense and passionate, and throws all of herself into every project she endeavors to scheme at, and you come away with the impression that for all her faults, she believes wholeheartedly in what she does, even if you don’t agree with her. Frieda from Only Ever Yours responds to her inability to dictate her life in a dystopian boarding school by embracing it; she was, after all, raised in a misogynistic society where girls are bred solely to reproduce and pander to men—so what’s everyone else’s excuse? And people like Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf exist to remind us that happy endings are never straight lines. Sometimes it takes fighting for social dominance against your rival/best friend, sleeping with said best friend’s boyfriend, bulimia, and learning to stay true to yourself in the face of peer pressure, even if being true to yourself means going against the crowd.

Write girls who can be brave, but who sometimes aren’t. Write girls who fall in love with the wrong boys, and write how those relationships aren’t the sum of who they are. Write girls who won’t let the occasional bloodshed get in the way of an exquisitely made dress. Female protagonists are constantly reaching for the moon, but crashing and burning makes them even more heroic if they can find the courage to stand up and dust themselves off. Bouncing back from tragedies and mistakes is what makes them strong, no matter their flaws. There is no formula for writing girls like these, and it can be a harder road than most—but when has writing ever been an easy path?

 Rin Chupeco Rin Chupeco wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. She now writes about ghosts and fairy tales but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. She wrote The Girl from the Well, its sequel, The Suffering, and The Bone Witch, the first book of a new YA Fantasy trilogy. Find her at rinchupeco.com.

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For the second day of Women in SF&F Month, I’m excited to welcome back T. Frohock! Her excellent debut novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale, is a character-driven, dark—though not completely devoid of light!—fantasy with a unique take on battling demons and compelling protagonists. Los Nefilim, her latest book, is a collection of three novellas set in Spain during the 1930s, and like Miserere, it features a world that breathes new life into the familiar with its angels and daimons. You can read more about her work (as well as a couple of her short stories) on her website.

Los Nefilim by T. Frohock Miserere: An Autumn Tale by T. Frohock

Requiem – Tanith Lee

She looks through water,
She looks through air,
She leaps at the moon
And she looks in.
Give her silver, Give her gold,
And bind her eyes
With a brick and a pin.
Tanith Lee, “Where All Things Perish”

This post was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be, but then again, it’s always that way with things that I love. It’s even more difficult to describe the influence that an author such as Tanith Lee had on my rural upbringing, but the short answer is that she changed the way I saw the world. Because of her, and authors like her, I learned about diversity and acceptance of both myself and others. I felt less alone after reading her works. It seemed there was, after all, someone out there like me.

Lee was a prolific writer, and while her novels did well, it was always her short stories that I craved the most. She had Poe’s talent for creating characters and worlds that were simultaneously poetic and horrific in the true gothic fashion. Utilizing what the poet Gwendolyn MacEwen called a language both beautiful and lethal, Lee could describe the sun as a “pale yellow wound in the sky,” and then later liken it to a blade (“Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur”) in order to evoke a vampire’s pain without the prose seeming either purple or effuse. Likewise, she was the mistress of allusion, such as when she uses the orchid, flower of death, in “Elle est Trois, (La Mort)” to describe La Belle Dame sans Merci on the street “dressed in a wave of black velvet. It was a cloak such as those worn by the rich and the fashionable to the Opéra. But it wrapped her within itself as if it, too, were alive, some organic creature, folding her as if in the petals of a black orchid.”

Lee’s works are rife with these small elegant touches—the turn of a word, the touch of a phrase.

She twisted fairytales in her brutal retelling of “Cinderella” with “When the Clock Strikes,” a story of revenge. Her variation on “Little Red Riding Hood” became “Wolfland,” where a young girl finds her own myth amidst werewolves and malicious grandmothers and wolf goddesses in the north.

Sword and sorcery are the tools she uses like flash and glamor to lead the reader into tales about choices and consequences. But shining above it all is her wit. She gives a sly wink and a nudge to ecclesiastical themes, such as when she tells of the vampires’ ancestry in “Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur.” Here the vampires are a different species with little understanding of the people they haunt. “They sense they are attributed to some sin, reckoned a punishing curse, a penance, and this amuses them …”

“Written in Water” is a very short science fiction story with a feminist twist. A woman has lived her whole life in loneliness, which leaves her well-equipped to be the last survivor of a pandemic. Then one day, a snow white star falls from the sky and brings her a mate with eyes golden like the sun.

Dreams of Dark and Light by Tanith Lee

Lee has proved time and again that gothic tales still have the power to thrill, whether they are set on fallen worlds, or in fairytales, or on a cold spring day in France. And even though Tanith Lee is no longer with us, her stories are. I managed to find a good copy of her short story collection Dreams of Dark and Light, which is all of her best short stories gathered in one place. If you ever happen across it, buy it. You’re in for a treat, because while all things might perish, stories are forever, and I hope you have the chance to discover hers.

T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and history into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale, and Los Nefilim, an omnibus of three novellas: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death in addition to numerous short stories.

She lives in North Carolina, where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.

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As has been tradition for the last few years, Renay is kicking off this year’s Women in SF&F Month series! In addition to being an editor for the excellent Hugo-nominated site Lady Business, she also co-hosts the Fangirl Happy Hour podcast and writes for the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog. Renay also came up with the idea for the Favorite SF&F Books by Women Project that has grown each April since we first instituted it in 2013, and she has both a great discussion and the latest on that to share with us today!

Lady Business

A few years ago, I acquired a copy of How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ, which was an adventure. It was only available via print on demand, and for a slim paperback, it was $20. I had been hearing about it, though, so I forked over the cash and waited, and finally it arrived at my door, shiny and new and full of patterns I would recognize as well as some I would be introduced to for the first time.

How to Suppress Women’s Writing isn’t specifically about the science fiction and fantasy field, even though Russ wrote there and no doubt experienced massive amounts of microaggressions as well as outright aggression, too. She uses each section to drill down into the different ways women are prevented from publishing, or if they publish, the different ways they’re prevented from flourishing. It’s an eye-opening book that still applies across publishing even to this day. It can also be applied to creative endeavors in other fields, as well. It’s depressing that it’s still so relevant and that as relevant as it is, it’s also still very inaccessible. There’s no ebook, for example, and new copies are still expensive, prohibitively so, for some readers. The irony around this book being hard to get isn’t lost on me.

The book sat on my shelf for awhile after I finished it the first time. Then once, on my way to a book event, I pulled it down on a whim and took it with me. Suddenly I wanted every woman I met who wrote to sign my copy of this book. I wanted to fill the empty spaces between Russ’s words with the names of all the women who pushed back against the eleven ways she outlines that women were and are silenced, and the myriad of new ways culture keeps inventing to ensure women’s work is lost to history, not remembered, or remembered but derided.

I took the book with me to Worldcon in Kansas City in 2016 and asked women writers I knew to sign the book. The reactions were both gleeful with a touch of bitterness across the board, and a lot of people started writing their own little messages on the pages, expressing their own frustrations, some sad and some comedic. When I explained why I wanted them to sign it, they understood, even when my explanation was probably lackluster. Something about the act of putting their name in that specific book was immediately understandable.

What difference does it make if one copy of this book is filled with the signatures of women writers? It is, after all, just one copy, that belongs to me. But I grew up wanting a certain type of fiction that I couldn’t find, because the tactics Russ outlines in the book kept the books I would have loved hidden from me. So I missed out due to slim library budgets, rural life with bookstores already starting to slim down their pickings in genre, and shelves and shelves of men when they were available at all.

I picked up the book recently to flip through it, after I noticed that my favorite science fiction in the early and mid 2000s was largely by men. Plus, the books I had on the deck to read from that time period were also by men. I couldn’t figure out why science fiction by women from this time period was missing from my goals sheet, given the fact that I’m deliberately doing a space opera reading challenge for 2017. I have no clue why the previous decade has swallowed women writers writing science fiction whole in a way that makes it hard for new people to research and find them, but it’s a good example of the type of suppression that often plagues me, the New Kid. Books sink due to the constant churn of the 21st century publishing industry, women writers get dropped even as their more mediocre male counterparts are given more chances, and history is written, as they say, by the victors.

This is why I’ve been so grateful to Women in SFF Month. Each year it crops up and I get a chance to celebrate women writers I love and also think critically about my own reading, and whose voices I’m taking the time to listen to. It’s also a chance to crowdsource books by women writers so each year we add new writers and older writers who are being rediscovered as we search for our literary foremothers. It’s hard to keep women writers from getting left behind, but through this list, we hope we can capture as many as possible, in all their diversity and creativity, so they don’t get lost or forgotten.

Now, as in years before, we absolutely want your contributions for ten books you’ve read and loved by women writers in the last year. They can be old or new, standalone, or a part of a series. Help us build a resource so everyone, long time members of SFF fandom, as well as newcomers, can continue to find the women creating excellent and entertaining work.

(And if you get a chance, definitely read How to Suppress Women’s Writing. It’s life-changing.)

How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ

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It’s April, spring is in the air (or soon to be in the air, I hope, for those of us who just had another snowstorm this weekend)—and the sixth annual Women in SF&F Month is here! Since 2012, April has been dedicated to highlighting wonderful speculative fiction by women at Fantasy Cafe, and this month will once again feature a series of guest posts by authors and reviewers, beginning tomorrow.

The schedule for this week is below, but first, here is some background on the event in case this is the first time you’re joining us (if so, welcome!):

For the last few years, I’ve set aside reviews and other book coverage during the month of April and instead held a month-long series of guest posts highlighting some of the women doing amazing work in speculative fiction. Throughout the month, guests will discuss a variety of topics—many of which will be related to women in science fiction and fantasy but not necessarily all since the goal is simply to gather a group of women invested in the genre in one place for a month and showcase the wonderful work they are doing. Past contributions have ranged from women discussing their own work and process to what they find best about the works of other women to issues of representation and equity in fandom.

Before the first Women in SF&F Month, I had been making an effort to read and review a lot of speculative fiction books by women on this blog—but it wasn’t always that way. After I started reading fantasy and seeking more book recommendations online, I found that very few of the books I heard about the most were written by women. I didn’t actually notice this for quite awhile since I just read the books that were supposed to be good without giving much thought to who wrote them beyond whether or not I considered them an author worth reading.

It wasn’t until I saw an online discussion about women writing science fiction and fantasy that I realized I found it a lot easier to name men writing books in these genres than women. After that, I started paying more attention to women’s names when they were mentioned (which was usually here and there instead of everywhere like a lot of well-known fantasy and science fiction authors). I discovered there were all kinds of women writing speculative fiction that I’d missed out on since I read a lot of the (mostly male) authors praised all over the Internet. While many of these recommended authors do write books I enjoy, there are also many women who deserve to be read and lauded just as often.

Once I realized women’s books did not seem to be discussed as much, I turned to reading and reviewing more books by women to try to make my small corner of the Internet a place where some of these books were featured. Then, in 2012, there were a couple of discussions on the Internet about both review coverage of books by women and the lack of blogs by women suggested for Hugo Awards in the fan categories. After these discussions and some of the responses to them (one of which was that women weren’t being reviewed or mentioned because they weren’t writing and reviewing science fiction and fantasy), I wanted to show that there were lots of women writing, reviewing, and discussing speculative fiction whose work should be recognized. I decided to see if I could pull together enough guest posts to spend about a month highlighting women in science fiction and fantasy. At the time this decision was made, it seemed most reasonable to aim for an April event—and that’s how April became Women in SF&F Month on Fantasy Cafe!

And now, I’m excited to announce this week’s guests:

April 3: Renay (Lady Business, Fangirl Happy Hour, B&N SF&F Blog)
April 4: T. Frohock (Los Nefilim, Miserere: An Autumn Tale, “La Santisima“)
April 5: Rin Chupeco (The Bone Witch, The Girl from the Well, The Suffering)
April 6: Sarah Ash (The Tears of Artamon, The Tide Dragons, The Alchymist’s Legacy)
April 7: Cassandra Rose Clarke (Star’s End, Magic of Blood & Sea, Our Lady of the Ice)

Night's Master
by Tanith Lee
243pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.94/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.19/5

Tanith Lee was an extraordinarily accomplished writer: a prolific author of fantasy, science fiction, and horror for both adults and young adults; a two-time recipient of the World Fantasy Award for her short fiction; a winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement; a Grand Master of Horror; the first woman to win a British Fantasy Award for Best Novel; and a finalist for numerous prestigious awards. Sadly, many of her renowned books have been difficult to find in recent years; however, DAW books has begun republishing several of these including her Tales from the Flat Earth series beginning with Night’s Master, a World Fantasy and Mythopoeic Award nominee first published nearly forty years ago.

In her introduction to Night’s Master, Lee describes its ambiance as “Arabian-Nights-Meets-Every-Myth-Under-the-Sun.” It is an unusually structured novel comprised of three books with two parts containing three stories each. The two parts in each book are at least loosely connected, and the three stories in each part tend to be more closely connected even though they may not always continue to follow the same character. Despite being a collection of somewhat disparate tales, the end does tie into the first book, and the overarching sub-stories within the novel are connected through the titular character: Azhrarn Prince of Demons, who has a role in each.

As such, it’s not a novel with a clear cut plot or a central main character (though prominent throughout the entire book, the tales are not generally focused on Azhrarn). These stories are fairy-tale-like, filled with sorcerers and magic, kings and queens, priests and priestesses, quests and bargains, and recurring instances of threes and sevens. The characters and their goals are rather straightforward, and not all stories end happily: sometimes perseverance is rewarded, but other times the endings are bittersweet or tragic.

Azhrarn and the other demons reside in the Underearth, but they often visit the Flat Earth while the sun is down to make mischief among the mortals. In Book One, Azhrarn takes on the form of a bird and flies over the earth until his curiosity is piqued by the sound of crying. He discovers a woman, distressed because she is dying and leaving behind her newborn son—although, she may be a little relieved to pass on after Azhrarn shows up and angers her by Immortalsplaining how she should be glad to leave behind the cruel existence of which she speaks and spare her own child the misery of living. However, her son is spared because Azhrarn, struck by his beauty, decides to bring him to his kingdom in Underearth. Once the boy is grown, Azhrarn promises him his love and bestows upon him gifts: the name ‘Sivesh,’ the ability to understand the languages of demons and men, superior skill with the bow and the sword, and protection from death by almost anything—except water, over which the Prince of Demons has no power. The only catch is that if Sivesh ever becomes Azhrarn’s enemy, he will destroy him, as demons are wont to do.

The finely-crafted, beautiful language and the promise of meddling god-like characters drew me in immediately, and I loved Book One. The first part does end rather predictably, but it’s still enchanting due to precisely how it unfolds and the aforementioned gorgeous prose style. The second part of Book One, about a necklace forged from the tears of a flower-born woman Azhrarn created just for Sivesh and the havoc it wreaks among mortals, follows a more original path and is just as captivating (although I could have done without the one or two paragraphs of dwarf/spider sex—yes, you read that correctly).

Book Two begins with a king who fancies himself a god until Azhrarn decides to disabuse him of that notion, but it mainly follows his thirteenth daughter, Zorayas. She’s a gentle girl until three tribulations (warning at the end about these trials for those who may want spoilers*) cause her to turn to the darker arts and she becomes vengeful and dangerous. This book is titled “Tricksters,” and though I preferred Book One overall, I quite liked reading about various characters trying to out-maneuver others: the tale of Azhrarn and the king, Zorayas’ rise to power and cleverness when facing Azhrarn, and the story of Zorayas vying with a man in possession of a giant cache of diamonds.

The third and final book was my least favorite, although it had the advantage of containing the most character development since Azhrarn shows more depth and proves he can be more than a mere troublemaker (but never fear if you’re a fan of devilry—he still manages to cause plenty of destruction!). Azhrarn sets his sights on a lovely mortal woman but makes her life hell after she refuses him three times, and in the process, causes a far bigger problem than he intended…

The biggest technical problem with Night’s Master, in my opinion, is that Lee didn’t seem to trust readers to draw obvious conclusions. She repeated information that had already stood out as important when it was mentioned the first time, and she also spelled out aspects that were quite clear. Perhaps this is just the storytelling style, but I found it jarring since there were several explanations so completely unnecessary that they seemed odd.

Considering it’s not a book with in-depth character development, I was surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed reading Night’s Master. It’s dark with rich prose, absorbing stories, and tales of trickery, and it features a recurring character who contained more dimension than expected at first glance. Though not without its flaws, I loved it and look forward to more Tales from Flat Earth.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is March’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

* Warning for anyone who wants spoilers about the more traumatic of these tribulations:
The first of these trials is being abused for her scars and disfigurement and the final one is rape.