Raoulin, a young student in 18-century Paradys, the Paris of an alterate world full of complex and twilight mystery, has a flexible mind. When he discovers that his lodgings are haunted by a beautiful, green-eyed woman claiming the name of a girl ten years dead, he is hardly surprised. The surprise comes later, when a tryst with green-eyed Helise leaves him infected with the curse of a monstrous beast, half bird and half lizard, whose possession turns his eyes green and drives him mad. Thus begins the second book of the Paradys Tetralogy, a tale as intricate and dark as its predecessor, and fully as excellent. Unlike others in the tetralogy, "The Book of the Beast" is a full novel unfolding in nine linked story-chapters, further subdivided into "The Green Book: Eyes Like Emerald" and "The Purple Book: From the Amethyst." (Readers who have completed the entire tetralogy may notice that the entire color wheel, primary and secondary colors as well as black and white, are represented in the titles and themes of the stories.) "Eyes Like Emerald" deals with the characters of the present time, including Raoulin's dilemma, Helise's own tragic history, and the efforts of a Jewish scholar and his sorcerous daughter to defeat the beast and save Raoulin. "From The Amethyst" looks back to Paradys' origins as the Roman town of Par Dis, where the centurion Retullus Vusca received from a mysterious courtesan a talisman that would change his life and the lives of his descendants forever. Present in all times is the beast, bird-headed and lizard-scaled, a malevolent demon whom neither steel nor sorcery can destroy.
"The Book of the Beast" deals with the full range of darkness, both personal and atmospheric, and thus much of its story merits the name of true horror. Yet it is never repelling-or, if it is, it is a repulsion that intrigues the reader to look closer. The method in which Tanith Lee chooses to tell her story is involved and works extremely well; she frames the past in the present, almost in flashback style, allowing each chapter to focus on a different character until the various stories coalesce in the final pages. Thus the reader learns of the shadowy origins of the beast before doomed Retullus Vusca does, and knows stories of fruitless defenses against its power before Haninuh the Scholar and his daughter Ruquel attempt to combat it. What makes this style work is that nothing is given away; the stories are braided so tightly that all of the various pieces of information interlock perfectly, finishing in a surprising and stunningly executed conclusion. Although Tanith Lee creates her characters from the outside, allowing them to reveal more about themselves through speech and action than she does by transcribing their thoughts, there is little difficulty in identifying or sympathizing with any of them. Altogether, "The Book of the Beast" is a fascinating read, tantalizing the reader into this tangled world of darkness, and carrying the narrative unflinchingly through the darkness and into the light. Do not let the world of Paradys slip through your fingers. The darkness beckons with emerald in its eyes and amethyst in its hands. Do you answer?