Published: 1980 by DAW
Genres: Science Fiction, Horror/Gothic
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Sabella is a science fiction vampire novel written by Tanith Lee. Sabella is your stereotypical vampire: she drinks blood, is sensitive to sunlight, and is beautiful and seductive. Much like Anne Rice’s vampires, Sabella struggles with regret because she is a predator by nature. She doesn’t want to kill people, but finds it difficult to stop herself. And yet, she’s also motivated by survival, and does what she has to in order to get by.
Near the beginning of the novel, Sabella travels to her aunt’s funeral, only to receive a cryptic note from her aunt’s will stating that she knows what Sabella is, and that God will judge her. Sabella is emotionally thrown off by the note, and as she’s trying to work through her thoughts and feelings, she stumbles upon the handsome Sand Vincent, upon whom she feeds. She tries and tries to get rid of Sand, but he keeps coming back to her for more orgasmic blood-sucking, until finally she accidentally bleeds him dry and he dies as she’s trying to save him. She hides the body and moves on with her life, until Sand’s brother Jace comes knocking on her door. Jace is the first man who doesn’t fall under Sabella’s spell, and is incredibly handsome. Sabella sees Jace as more than just prey. She runs from him, and he follows.
I grew up on Tanith Lee’s Claidi Journals, but have only recently started exploring her adult writing. I had mixed feelings on The Birthgrave, but am happy to report that Sabella is a vast improvement. Sabella had a sense of agency that the protagonist in The Birthgrave did not. But as in The Birthgrave, I found with Sabella’s ending a compelling twist that made me see everything that came before it in a different light.
Tanith Lee is one of the few writers I know whose writing always seems to evoke a particular atmosphere. (Patricia McKillip is another, with her knack for ethereal and lyrical prose.) Lee evokes a raw sensuality, an alien seductiveness, which draws you in and haunts you and makes you want her books to never end. Her words are dark and beautiful and lovely, and tease you on an intellectual level.