Published: July 19th 1977 by DAW Books
Genres: Fantasy, Horror/Gothic
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My paperback of Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee is so old and battered that even my cell phone Instagram picture is higher resolution that anything I can find on the internet. This tells me two things–(A) Volkhavaar is not one of Tanith Lee’s best known books, and (B) I got hella lucky at the used bookstore.
Volkhavaar is quintessentially a novel about the power of love. The story begins with Shaina, a slave girl with a rough but ordinary life in a peasant village. One day she goes up the mountain to walk the goats, and encounters a witch, who tells her that her life is about to change. That night, a magician and his troupe come to town, and all of the villagers enthralled by his performance. And when I say enthralled, I don’ mean just figuratively–they’re completely under his spell. Everyone, that is, except for Shaina, who immediately falls in love with one of the magician’s assistants. The magician is, of course, the titular Volkhavaar, and he’s not just an illusionist, but a power-crazed warlock who manipulates people for shits and giggles. Shaina’s lover is under his spell, and so Shaina must fight Volkhavaar in order to regain his soul.
I’m always pleased by the kind of atmosphere that Tanith Lee’s writing evokes, and this book is no exception. It’s kind of a cross between fairy tales and horror, which is how most true fairy tales are. Volkhavaar is dark and twisted, with each character a larger-than-life archetype in the battle between love and the lust for power. As someone who loves Russian literature and mythology, I found myself seeing echoes of Eastern European folklore, from the gods of the forests to the witch (who reminded me more than a bit of Baba Yaga, minus the chicken leg house).
Perhaps my favorite part of the novel was the ending. I’ve been on a Tanith Lee kick lately, and in each of her books that I’ve read thus far, the ending has a bit of a twist that challenges assumptions that you’ve made while you’ve been reading. I love that, especially when I’m reading books that have a pulpier feel to them.
Overall, Volkhavaar was a delightful little tale, and if you come across it in a used bookstore, it’s definitely worth your time.