In Delusion’s Master, the third of Tanith Lee’s FLAT EARTH novels, we’re introduced to another Prince of Darkness: Chuz, the Prince of Madness, who is handsome when seen from one side and hideous when seen from the other. Chuz watches humans and uses the opportunities they give him to practice his craft:
There were several doors by which Madness might enter any house; one was rage, one jealousy, one fear.
We first meet Chuz when a jealous queen tries to get rid of the baby she believes has caused the king to stop loving her. When she accidentally kills the child and her husband puts her aside, Chuz shows up to comfort her by helping her descend into madness. When he offers to grant her a wish, she asks that Chuz make her husband, the king, as mad as she is. That’s why the king decides to build a tower to heaven where he will wage war on the gods. Everyone knows that pride comes before the fall so, sure enough, disaster strikes the land. This sets off a string of strange events that have the demons, once again, meddling in the affairs of men.
The beautiful demon Azhrarn, from the first two FLAT EARTH books, continues to be a main character. When he becomes involved in Chuz’s doings on earth, we see Azhrarn get his feelings hurt, seek revenge, fall in love, and have a child. The demons are not like the uncaring gods above — they are passionate creatures. Occasionally they can be tender and compassionate with favored mortals, but their fickle emotions can suddenly turn to vanity, petty jealousy, and hate. And then the humans suffer.
Delusion’s Master is quite a bit shorter than Night’s Master and Death’s Master and Chuz, the title character, isn’t nearly as interesting as Azhrarn, but fortunately we get plenty of Azhrarn here. All of the FLAT EARTH tales have been dark, but Delusion’s Master actually gets uncomfortable because it includes baby killing, rape, and the torture of a mentally disabled girl. The imagery is vivid and I admit that I squirmed. Still, Tanith Lee continues to enchant us with the exotic setting and peerlessly gorgeous writing.
There are several biblical allusions in this installment: the Tower of Babel, the Flood, redemption of humanity through death, and man’s natural hatred of snakes. The most beautiful moment in the book is when Azhrarn goes up to the Earth to find out why men hate snakes and then, as a favor to snakes, sets out to make them more palatable to humans:
Azhrarn went by night to the world to listen to men’s opinion of the snake. “How we abhor his cold scales,” they complained. “And his teeth, which are sometimes venomous, and his forked tongue, which might be. And how allergic we are to his leglessness. He is all tail, and the sound of his hiss causes our hair to rise up like bristles.”
Then Azhrarn smiled, and he went back to the Druhim Vanasta. There he took up a snake and he inquired, “Would it be worthwhile to you, in order to win the affection of mankind, to be a little changed?”
“Of what good is mankind’s affection?” asked the snake.
“Those they love,” said Azhrarn,” fare well. And those they hate they harm.”
The snake had heard reports from his cousins concerning mallets, and after some thought, he agreed.
To find out what happened, read the rest of the story here. It’s one of the best things Tanith Lee has ever written.
I’m still enjoying this series on audio. Susan Duerden’s narration gets even better with each book. Each also has an interesting introduction by Tanith Lee. In this one she talks about how her mother influenced her writing.