Sunday, June 27, 2010

Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee

faces under water cover

After eight years, two continents, five countries, and countless states, I have finally read this book.  And it was good--actually, really great!

Furian is a mysterious figure on the Isle of Venus, an alternate world obviously modeled after 18th-century Venice.  Although Furian is an educated gentleman, he lives in the gutters of Venus and makes money through odd jobs such as collecting bodies from the canals for the mad scientist, Doctor Shaachen, to experiment on.  One night during Carnival, he spies an elegant and expensive mask floating in the canal.  Not having found any bodies that night, he takes the mask to Shaachen and unknowingly sets himself on the path of searching for a group of killers in Venus who use magic to ensnare their victims.

This is not the type of book where things are laid out clearly at all.  At first you have no idea what's going on.  Then Lee lays a trail of breadcrumbs, promising that eventually you'll find out.  Things are never what they seem in this world or in the words used to describe it, which are lyrical and beautiful and obfuscating, most especially when describing the basest actions.  There is also tons of symbolism in the novel, which I'm not even going to attempt to unravel at this point.  But color, statues, and masks obviously have some sort of iconic meaning.

This is the first book in a series that is themed after the elements--fire, water, earth, and air.  As you can probably guess by the title, this one is dedicated to water--and there is a lot of water, as well as the color blue and green, in the world of Furian.  However, I think blue represents much more than just water--it's indicative of magic, divinity, love.  Green hides vast secrets.  Still waters definitely run deep in this novel, as the reader discovers.

The more I think about this book, the more it reminds me of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell--not because the plots are similar at all, but because they both death with themes of magic, lust for power, hidden worlds and dangers, and love.  However, I think Faces Under Water is by far the better book--not just because it's about 600 pages shorter, but because the writing style is much more lyrical and beautiful, the story is told in a more interesting way, and it makes a bigger impact on the reader.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating that Tanith Lee is one of the most underrated authors out there.  I honestly think she is one of the greatest fantasy writers of our generation, and this book only confirmed my opinion.  The first fifty pages of Faces Under Water are hard going simply because everything feels so impenetrable, and I didn't think the reveal at the end of the book came together as smoothly as it could have; but overall this is a great, enthralling, and very quick read.  I know the cover is terrible, but I would recommend Lee's novels to anyone who enjoys fantasy.

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Venice Challenge: 2/6 books read

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