Faces Under Water (The Secret Books of Venus 01) by Tanith Lee

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the hedonistic atmosphere of an eighteenth-century Venice Carnival, gaiety turns deadly when Furian Furiano happens upon a beautiful mask of Apollo floating in the murky waters of the canals. The mask hides a sinister art, and Furian finds himself trapped in a bizarre tangle of love, obsession, and evil, stumbling upon a macabre society of murderers. The beautiful but elusive Eurydiche holds the key to these murders and leads him further into a labyrinth of black magic and ancient alchemy.

My impressions:

It was a very atmospheric fantasy version of the myth about Orpheus and Eurydice so, basically, about finding again and losing again love during a nice trip to Hell. The setting was a fantasy Venice where Catholic churches coexist with the pagan cult of Neptune and Venus and people have to go out masked for two months of the year or they could be hanged. Overall the masks and the Mask Guild played very important role in the plot – something I truly enjoyed. Add to that a bit of alchemy and a no-nonsense hero who still falls in slightly obsessive love and it seems it’s not difficult to please me.

Furian is a young lordling who, at eighteen, abandoned his family in order to lead a life of poverty, ostensibly for no reason at all. Currently he is working around the canals of Venus (Venice), looking for fresh cadavers thrown into water. One evening he comes upon a floating mask. Furian takes it to his employer, a doctor who likes experimenting with life and death. Soon afterwards a couple of hitmen start hunting him and he falls for a lovely maiden in an exquisite butterfly mask. That’s how Furian finds himself enveloped in a giant conspiracy run by some fairly prominent members of Venus and it is only with the help of Doctor Shaachen’s magic and his newly found love that he has a chance to survive.

If I had to point out something I wasn’t entirely pleased with I would criticize the main story arc a bit. It all went well until Furian met the main baddie (not saying who for obvious reasons, go and find out on your own); then I got a feeling the narrative was too rushed, the weird world, so carefully constructed before, was folding before my own eyes at double speed like a bit of tapestry falling from the wall. And I wish the main heroine was a bit more communicative. And I wish there were no incest hints. Oh well.

Final verdict:

Exotic world of fantasy Venice, alchemy, doomed love and fantastic creatures out of your weirdest dreams – could you ask for more? Well, if only the main female lead was a more interesting creation…

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6 Responses to Faces Under Water (The Secret Books of Venus 01) by Tanith Lee

  1. Carole Rae says:

    Very….different. I am unsure.

  2. Melfka says:

    I’ve read only one book by Tanith Lee and even though she’s considered a part of fantasy/sci-fi canon, even though I was young back then, I still had mixed feelings about the book. I’d say I feel tempted, but I don’t think I’m tempted enough. 😉

    • This one wasn’t actually bad but I know what you mean – mixed feelings and all – because I managed to get another Tanith Lee from my library and DNFed it after a while. I wasn’t even tempted to write a review.

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