Sometimes I think one isn’t reading to one’s full potential unless for every book you finish, another two suggest themselves from the reading. So it was with the Exalted rpg (which is exalted indeed to my mind) for I wished to know its influences, and that’s how I found the demon prince Azharn, Night’s Master, and his creator Tanith Lee.
And let me tell you – it is a wonderful thing to have done so.
Night’s Master is a relatively unusual type of book by the fantasy genre’s standard. It is more a collection of interlinked novelettes than a single story, and it’s telling and style are those of old legends rather than more narratives. In the first aspect, it reminds me of AK Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name, or old Swords & Sorcery collections; in the second, it reminds me only of Dunsany’s Gods of Pegana or Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. It can be an offputting blend; no grand narrative, a mimicry of the style of character depiction that leans more towards known idealised figures with little interiority, rather than more individualistic and richly depicted figures. I know I found it difficult to finish, not helped by a copy with tiny tiny font.
But now I have. And I can really urge Night’s Master on people.
Lee borrows heavily and lovingly from the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, but adds her own grotesque spins (or so it seems to one only passingly familiar with the source material). The central figure, Azharn, is a prince of the underworld, a fickle and amoral being with seemingly no restraint or law to his power but his own ego. He meddles in humanity’s business with casual arrogance, although the greater damage often seems to come from his servants’ attempts to please him. Around him and his shenanigans revolves a world of virtuous poets and ruthless warlords, lovelorn youths and cunning demons, all full of glory and passion.
Passion is very much the name of Night’s Master’s game. The stories are full of magic, but there is little explanation other than that people taken by extraordinary passions can manage supernaturally powerful things. Me, I love that. It makes the story feel like rediscovered myth, full of larger than life characters. That’s my type of entertainment.
Now, I can easily see how my words might have might persuaded some this is not their type of entertainment. I think that’s inevitable for the book it is. But for those intrigued, I tell you, get involved. Tanith Lee wrote this type of fantasy as well as anyone; Azharn might be the eponymous Night’s Master, but Lee is a master in her own right.