I will preface this by saying that Tanith Lee is my favorite author and I love her young adult literature (i.e. Unicorn Trilogy, East of Midnight, Claidi) as well as some of her adult science fiction offerings (i.e. Biting the Sun, Day by Night); these books are some of my all-time favorites. I was initially excited to learn that Lee has written over 80 novels and counting, but a couple years and numerous Lee novels later, I've found she's written easily half as much dross as real works of genius.
I picked up The Wars of Vis duology hoping it would be the latter, hyped up to read a good, thick royal intrigue ancient world fantasy. I'm beginning to think Tanith Lee can't write a decent ancient world fantasy, because I'm about 130 pages in and the story feels real flat to me. I don't know what it is. Is it the writing? No, can't be, Tanith Lee is capable of some powerful imagery. Is it the subject matter? No, I love mythology and fantasies set in ancient times.
Is it the fact that the women are (as per usual in ancient world fantasies) not strong enough to think for
themselves? Yes, there is that (the notable exception being the evil queen Val Mala, though there's not much depth beneath her cruelty.) Val Mala was quite frankly more interesting than our first heroine Ashne'e, who as usual for Tanith-Lee-at-her-worst did nothing but act like a mentally challenged puppet of those
who pushed her about.
Is it the fact that none of the characters show any real personality? Yes...YES! That's definitely it. A lot
of lush description, a lot of people, a lot of intrigue, and I don't know who I'm rooting for. The bad guys
are vile and the heroes even worse. There's a lot of royal corruption but no emotion to balance it out.
Narrated in such a stiff distant impersonal way that I don't really care about anyone. Not to mention the
main character (a sword-and-sworcery-with-a-royal-past-destined-to-become-a-hero male) is typical of the genre too. And don't get me started on the violence against women that seems to happen in every chapter without any authorial didactic purpose or repercussion--and our hero has a hand in some of the rape too...
In short, then, it's an unholy cross between Flat Earth and Conan the Barbarian. Don't laugh, it's not at all
funny when you're reading the thing. (Well, kind of.) I really had no idea what I was getting into. The Storm Lord was written very early in Tanith Lee's career (70's) when this kind of pulp fiction Sword and Sorcery fantasy was a heady genre all its own. I tend to scoff at fantasy authors who write a genre without at least trying to add anything new to it. Conan the
Barbarian? Fine. Make FUN of the convention or...something. Instead we get glorification of the stereotypical unrealistic muscle man, and hey why not, let him have his women too, that's all they're good for anyway, right?
I never knew why a lot of magazines' cliche lists have something alone the lines of: "We
don't want to see stories where there's a muscle-and-sword hero who is forced, by natural or supernatural
circumstances, to rape a woman, even though he really didn't want to, REALLY." Now I do. Please don't
tell me people READ this stuff as standard fantasy fare in the 70's? And that there are reviewers on Amazon
who say it's written in the good old style of fantasy back when fantasies were just diverting stories with no real psychology or intellect behind them. Umm...substance? Maybe college ruined me.
Author Robin McKinley writes on her webpage that she wrote her strong-heroine fantasies because she was sick of reading the standard fare in the genre where there were no strong females; I assumed she was talking about Lord of the Rings and the like. I didn't know why she always has this rant in her blog posts (and sometimes in her actual books by way of a joke) about the typical muscle-bound sword-wielding Hercules who carries off the woman whether she wants to or not.
I repeat: Now I do.
Okay okay...why am I telling you all this? Maybe to spare you so you don't waste your time on trash that really
isn't entertaining. The book is now out of print and reviews are few and far between. Read the positive ones by all means, read the negative ones, and decide whether you want to expend the time and money tracking this fossil down. Be forewarned, it adds nothing new either to the Sword and Sorcery Pulp Fiction subgenre or to the fantasy genre as a whole, and it is not written in an engaging style that makes you care for the characters.