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Where do you start with Tanith Lee? The highly prolific writer wrote 90 novels and more than 300 short stories — so jumping in just anywhere can seem pretty intimidating to most readers, possibly causing some to give up all together. But, if you're a true lover of science fiction and fantasy literature, many of her stories should be required reading and are not to be missed.
As far as women in literature go, Tanith Lee is among the best to ever tackle the blank page. Now, she shouldn't be pigeonholed as just a great woman writer, some of her work is included with the best fantasy writing regardless of sex, and she is one of the main reasons genre literature deserves more respect.
While you can't go wrong with pretty much anything she's ever written, you might find it helpful to get a primer on the best Tanith Lee books. Sadly, she recently passed, so we will be getting no more of her amazing fantasy realms. Pick up any of these fine works of art, and be transported to another time and place at any time you'd like.
The Birthgrave is a fantasy novel by Tanith Lee — her first published novel. It would later go to become a trilogy of books, but the one that started it all is one of the best Tanith Lee books. A mysterious woman awakens in the heart of a volcano. She then comes into a brutal ancient world that's been transformed by genocidal pestilence and cultural devastation.
She has no memory of herself and somehow she has to survive in the cruel new landscape. Based on some strange dreams Lee had in her youth, the story follows a nameless protagonist through various cities and towns on a journey to discover who she really is and what she is capable of becoming. The novel was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1975.
Red as Blood
Red as Blood is a short story collection of dark fantasy retellings of popular children's fairytales. It's one of the best Tanith Lee books, and likely one of the best dark fantasy books you've never heard of.
It includes popular tales from the Brother's Grimm, and the title story "Red as Blood" is told from the point of view of the hated Wicked Witch. In this tale, she is the one who has been wronged, and the real, heartless villain is actually the beloved Snow White.
Hunting the White Witch
Hunting the White Witch is the final book to The Birthgrave Trilogy. Rediscover the realm of brilliant and cruel beauty, savage war, and bitter conquest. It's the final book in the series, so it's definitely one of the best Tanith Lee books.
Many new characters are introduced throughout the three books, so it's crucial that you read the other books before dipping into this one. The nameless woman is still one of the leads, but now a man has sworn to kill her, to avenge his father, and all the humans who had suffered at the hands of the witch.
Death's Master is the second novel in the Tales from the Flat Earth series, and it won the British Fantasy Award in 1979. Lee became the first woman to ever win the award, and she became widely recognized as a master in her genre.
In the book, the lesbian queen Narasen is forced by a curse to become pregnant in order to save her city. After fruitless sex with many men, she realizes that she can't lift the curse till she has sex with a dead man. She makes a path with the Lord of Death, and she has a son. It gets crazier from there on out — making it one of the best Tanith Lee books ever.
Nominated for a World Fantasy Award, Night's Master is the first entry in the Tales from the Flat Earth series. Visit the Upperearth, where the gods dwell, the Underearth, the realm of nightmarish demons, and the Innerearth, domain of the dead, and finally, the Flat Earth itself, the home of human mortals.
The demon god, or Night’s Master, whose deadly urges could change the lives of those in the Flat Earth, holds a mystery which could alter the very existence of the Flat Earth forever. You have to read it for yourself, as it's one of the best Tanith Lee books.
Biting the Sun
Set in a hedonistic utopia, Biting the Sun is clearly one of the best Tanith Lee books. It's a perfect existence, a world in which no pleasure is off-limits, no risk is ever too dangerous, and pretty much anything goes.
You can even kill yourself on a whim and return in another body, and you're encouraged to change genders at will and experience whatever you desire. It's a strange and winding book, as you can have everything you want in your life, except a meaningful life. It's an interesting fantasy satire focusing on modern, capitalistic society.
The Silver Metal Lover
The Silver Metal Lover is a poignant novel about 16-year-old Jane, whose life is a mystery and she despairs anything and everything. She and her friends are the idle, pampered children of the privileged class, living in luxury on earth which has been remade by natural horrible disaster.
Jane's life is changed when she meets a robot. Robots were built for the upper-classes pleasure, whatever that may be. However, Jane is certain that her robot is more than just a machine built to please — and she will give up everything to prove it. She escapes into the city's violent, decaying slums to attempt a love that seems crazy to everyone in her world. The Silver Metal Lover is an interesting take on an old story, easily one of the best Tanith Lee books.
Wolf Star: The Claidi Journals II
Wolf Star is the follow up to Wolf Tower, Lee's great works of children's literature. The day before Claidi's wedding, she is kidnapped and taken to a mountaintop palace in the shadow of an unearthly star. Wolf Star's rise is the stuff of horrible nightmares, with rooms that change and move for no reason at all.
The only other human there is Prince Venn. Neither Claidi or Venn knows why they have been kidnapped. Can the two escape from the maze of repression and mystery, and make it back to their long lost families? Read one of the best Tanith Lee books to find out what happens.