It's no surprise that Tanith Lee has won the August Derleth Award and several World Fantasy Awards. She writes elegantly of love and lust, hatred and obsession, in decadent, morally ambiguous, fascinating novels and short stories that owe more to Angela Carter
and Oscar Wilde
than to any established tradition of fantasy.
Lee finds the perfect setting for her rich style and dark visions in Venus, an alternate-history, 18th-century Venice caught up in a fevered Carnival that requires everyone to either wear masks or be killed. When Furian Furiano, searching for bodies in the canals, finds instead a floating mask of Apollo, he becomes entangled in the complex plots and counterplots of warring religions and the secret societies of powerful guilds. And he encounters the beautiful Eurydiche, who has been cursed from birth with silence and an immobile face that make her both a powerful symbol of the historic role of women and an irresistible, inscrutable, and possibly fatal attraction for the hot-blooded young Furian.
This fantasy murder mystery, Faces Under Water, is Book I of the Secret Books of Venus, but its plot is self-contained and complete. This is no fat fantasy; rather, it is a properly proportioned novel of somewhat more than 200 pages, a length that displays Tanith Lee's considerable gift at its finest. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
Lee (the Paradys series, etc.) throws more jeweled prose at the city of Venice than almost any writer since George Sand. People sleep under "rose death sheets" and roam in palazzi where the ceilings are painted with pictures of "cloud blown Gods." Except this isn't quite Venice. The canals are still there and Carnival is still that famous time of desire and revenge, but in Lee's alternate 15th century, Titian's Venice is combined with haunting references to Venusberg, where Tannhauser was tempted. The young man being tempted here is Furian, who from disgust has forsaken his wealthy parents and now plies various trades for the alchemist Schaachen. While trolling for corpses in the canal during Carnival, he comes upon an odd mask of Apollo. The mask, it turns out, belonged to a young musician who has drowned. Furian brings the mask back to Schaachen and, suddenly, Furian is a marked man. His wandelier (gondolier) is cut up into 11 pieces, like Osiris, and Schaachen is attacked. Furian seeks a motive, which leads him to Eurydiche, a woman whose face is frozen into statue-like beauty. Everything starts to fall in place for him when he meets her father, Lepidus, a traveler in the Marco Polo mode. Lepidus is the head of the Guild of Mask Makers and as such has assumed an occult power for himself, employing the magical arts of the distant peoples among whom he has traveled. But what does he want with Furian? And is Eurydiche simply a lure, or does she love Furian? This is a fast start to what promises to be an exciting, innovative fantasy series.
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