This might sound strange, but sometimes I like to read just for fun. There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a good book – or for that matter even a bad one when the mood takes you – and not everything in the world needs to inform, educate and entertain. Sometimes entertainment is enough.
And Tanith Lee’s stories of the mysterious swordsman Cyrion are as entertaining as they come. Now, this is not to say that the stories are superficial or one-dimensional or even – heaven forbid – lightweight in any way, but rather that they obey those laws of fiction that insist first and foremost on the reader, rather than the writer, having a good time.
Angelically handsome, devilishly clever and with a past shrouded in mystery, Cyrion could be likened to a quasi-medieval James Bond or, perhaps more accurately, like a medieval cross between James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Never stuck for a solution to a problem, no matter how thorny or potentially fatal, always more willing to fight with his wits than his sword (although a deadly swordsman for all that) Cyrion bestrides a world modelled on the Middle East in a time roughly parallel to the crusades. A supercharged version of the Arabian Nights, if you will.
It is a time of magic and danger, when the veil between the natural and the supernatural is gossamer-thin and ghosts, monsters and sorcery stalk the land. Cyrion takes it all in his cool, handsome stride – from the demonic vampires of A Hero At The Gates to the black necromancy of Cyrion in Wax and Cyrion in Bronze or the vengeful ghosts of One Night of the Year there is no threat he cannot meet and no enemy he cannot conquer. And he’s a real hit with the ladies, too.
Of course, this makes the stories sound flippant, which they most certainly are not, and at times there is a real sense of menace in the tales – time and time again Cyrion finds himself in impossible situations and part of the pleasure of reading these stories is exactly how he extricates himself from or solves these problems.
Best read in short sittings rather than at the gallop, these tales of high-fantasy make a refreshing change from the Euro-centric/ cod Norse/ Conan simulacrum dominance of much commercial fantasy and in many ways Tanith Lee pre-empted the current trend towards newer, more exotic settings in fantasy fiction (the collected edition of the stories came out in the early eighties).
But most of all, the Cyrion stories are great entertainment and that can be rare enough these days.