The 1980 novel KILL THE DEAD is a perfect introduction to Tanith Lee’s writing in the Gothic mode. The short novel has all of her hallmarks: two tortured Byronic anti-heroes, a beautiful witch antagonist and a plot that is full of twists that allude to and subvert literary tropes. The novel concerns the mordantly humored exorcist Parl Dro, and his dealings with a hapless musician and a vengeful female lich (an undead sorceress). The prose is lovely and musical, full of rich imagery that incorporates Tarot symbolism throughout the text. The dialogue is is full of quips and dry humor. Some of Lee’s best work is at the novella length, and KILL THE DEAD, reissued as an ebook by Immanion Press, is an excellent example.
I’d always planned on reading THE DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER but it was out of print by the time I got around to it. Thanks to technology, the novel has a new life. It’s a kind of “gaslight” fantasy, set in an ancient city that has overtones of Belle Epoch Paris and Dickensian London where magic exists alongside steam trains and gas lights. Vienne, with its decadent Great Houses, predatory aristocracy and pockets of ruin, is a character in it’s own right. The master criminal Nicholas Valiardre is the debonair, dashing hero. (I cast Ryan Gosling as Valiardre). The female lead, the actress and amateur sorceress Madeline is a secondary POV–I saw Jennifer Lawrence in this role. The plot of a mix of court intrigue, mystery and penny dreadful. References include Dangerous Liaisons, the works of Dumas and the Gothic fiction of LeFanu or Gaston Leroux.