Monday, April 16, 2012

The Blood of Roses – review

Author: Tanith Lee

First published: 1990

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Love, history or blood… which is the strongest?

In childhood something black settled on Mechail Korhlen and drank from his throat. And later somebody pitied him enough to kill his poor deformed body when he became an adult. But then Mechail chose to return from beyond the veil to enact revenge - and to follow Anjelen, ruler of the sinister monastery sited deep in the forest.

The fulfilment of his detiny had begun.

In Blood of Roses, Tanith Lee, winner of the World Fantasy Award, has written a novel of glittering wonders, of strange and powerful magic and vampiric desires…

The review: I like Tanith Lee. I must admit I haven’t read too much of her work (this is the 6th book I have read by her) but, whenever I read her work, I am always struck by the beauty of her prose and her unique perspective. Sometimes that can be a little too much, however, and the Blood of Roses strayed terribly close to that.

However I must first say that this is not the normal vampire fare that you might be used to. Lee does add in some interesting, almost antique concepts. When we see the attack on central character Mechail Korhlen, the vampiric creature attacking him is a giant black moth. This brings to mind the idea from one tradition that the vampire's soul manifests as a moth or butterfly. This was explored in the film Leptirica. At another point Lee really builds the traditional connection between vampiric activity and werewolves, that perhaps modern writers have lost sight of.

However the book doesn’t follow a traditional structure, presenting a story, jumping back in time and presenting a further story intimately connected to the last, yet previously unseen, which might stretch out ahead of the last in scope and will certainly add to the reader's understanding of events. In this way Lee builds up layers of story that reveal the plot and premise.

Essentially this is an alchemical story – alchemy in terms of the spiritual rather than base metals – it explores the intimate and yet distant relationship between paganism and Christianity and the usurpation of paganic rites by the cult of the Christus. It explores the meaning of the anima and the animus, extoling a feminism that riles against the misogynist and yet can only be resolved within a balance of the genders. If all that sounds heavy… it is.

It is explored within a prose that is so rich it is like wading through molasses. It is beautiful but, perhaps, somewhat heavy going over the novel’s immense 678 pages. It is here that perhaps it was in danger of being a little too much. The underlying story themes and heavy prose will switch a lot off, and I found I had to be in the right mood to appreciate the work. However it is a work of beauty and worth the effort. 7 out of 10.

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