Book Reviews
Vivia: Tanith Lee
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on Vivia: Tanith Lee
Vivia: Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee is a sorceress. The first sentence and you’re well and truly snagged, caught in her net and swept along on a torrent of dark water. I’ve never before read a novel with such filmic action and imagery on every page, and her scope and imagination seem limitless: extraordinary battles, plague scenes, rape, pillage, alchemy, magic and vampirism all set in some strange yet familiar terrain, peopled with characters all too human, all too flawed, that might almost exist in a parallel universe to our own, medieval in feel – and yes, I think I might have said in a different review that I didn’t like medieval-type fantasies but…

Vivia is the fifteen-year-old daughter of Lord Vaddix, cruel overlord of the land around about the castle. When plague arrives she retreats to a grotto deep beneath it, a place of sanctuary she has used before to escape his violence. Having in the past made offerings of wine and food to the image of a bat-like god concealed in one of the walls, she now offers herself in return for safety, and experiences a sublime union with the being, in which she becomes, like the god himself, a vampire, and thus immortal. The novel is the story of her journey – possession by the golden prince who finds her, the only survivor in her father’s castle, and through strange lands and stranger adventures until she comes into a power of her own. Beware, though, this is not an easy ride. This author is fearless in where she’ll take you, ruthless with the characters she creates, and you’ll run a gamut of emotion before the final page, both loving and hating Vivia by turns.

I have a habit of looking at the cover illustration of any book I’m reading pretty frequently throughout, and it was same with this one. Charles August Mengin’s painting of Sappho decorates the front, and it seems (although I didn’t find out until almost the end of the book) that Tanith Lee may have actually started the story with this painting in mind, which gives one the rather amazing sensation of thinking you know what Vivia looks like throughout the book, then knowing you know, and making her even more real than she already is.

A small doubt, maybe a flaw that stops this being as brilliant as it might be? I honestly don’t know how valid the following comments are. But I had a sense as the novel progressed that this was a journey for the author too, and that the journey was the novel, the destination somewhere unknown that would hopefully appear when enough pages had been written. That feeling was coupled with an uneasy niggle that teasing the darker and hidden desires of her readers, keeping those pages turning, was more important than the novel as a whole. The feeling that the imagery and action on every page, unrolling like some bolt of exotic and shimmering fabric, was dazzling me to the lack of form or plot, that things were happening for sensation’s sake (and to give value for money), as they rose from imagination to be crafted into sentences, paragraphs, pages. I’d be interested to know what others think. I hope I’m not being unfair. Tanith Lee makes it look easy, yet she’s given so much. I can imagine her saying: What do you want, blood?

But in spite of this, the ending arrived at last, brief and rather beautiful in a dark and dreadful way. Vivia. I hope she rests in peace.

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