Mortal Suns

by Tanith Lee

Calistra, also called Cemira
Calistra, Princess of Akhemony

  (out of five)

Published by: Overlook Press
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: August 15, 2003
Page Count: 432 pages (hardcover)
ISBN: 1-585-67207-6
Reviewed: August 2004

           Beautiful Calistra, also called Cemira, "Snake," was born without feet. Eventually, she rises to become queen of Akhemony...where she has a closeup view of its fall.

Mortal Suns, by Tanith Lee - Cover            Mortal Suns, set in a land that is a sort of fantasy Greece, is mediocre Tanith Lee. But mediocre Tanith Lee is better than most authors at their best. Typically Lee, this book is filled with images of striking beauty and horror. There is perhaps a bit more horror than usual; while this story has the expected elements of fairy-tale glamor, it's also a bit grittier than classic Lee.

           The major problem with the book is its heroine, Calistra. Lee's heroines are often very passive, but Calistra is extremely so. Like a beautiful doll, she allows herself to be carried along by events, rather than initiating them. Understandable, perhaps, since she's only a child, but it makes her rather uninteresting, despite her loveliness. Lee's passive heroines are usually forced to learn to be active, and I'm sure that happens with this one, too...but not in this book. Because the story is told in flashback by an elderly Calistra, we know that eventually, she goes on to become renowned in her own right, as a poet and seer, but there's little evidence of her future greatness here. She does show an occasional knack for songwriting, and her struggles to master walking with prosthetic feet crafted of silver are painfully detailed. But like a fairy-tale princess, Calistra exists only to love her prince. And he seems to love her only because she is beautiful and obedient. At first, the story follows the basic outline of a fairy tale, but it doesn't end that way. In fact, the ending is something of a cliffhanger. We know it turns out all right, and that Calistra went on to celebrated achievements without her prince, but that more interesting story isn't covered in this book.

           Perhaps Lee intends to write a sequel or two for this book. If so, I will definitely read them. But I'm not holding my breath. Mortal Suns, with its account of a young girl caught up in great events, reminds me a bit of an earlier Lee work, A Heroine of the World. Like Mortal Suns, that book had a cliffhanger ending that implied a sequel. But no sequel has appeared, and it's been ten years already. I don't know if Heroine didn't sell well enough to justify a sequel, or if the author just lost interest. I wouldn't be surprised if it were the latter; Lee seems to prefer writing about adolescents to writing about adults or older people. So be warned: we may never get the most interesting part of Calistra's story.

           Mortal Suns is currently available only in hardcover. A paperback version is will likely be along eventually.