Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Lythande Stories by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Lythande (1986)
Collected stories
[read the review]

Marion Zimmer Bradley published several short stories about the mysterious sorceress, Lythande (pronounced Lee THOND) as part of Robert Lynn Asprin’s Thieves’ World shared-universe series, which began in 1978. Sadly she is now dead, so there won't be any more. Now there's a fun way to start a review!

They are a very enjoyable collection of sword and sorcery-style fantasy books about a cross dressing, 'socially transgender' woman. Lythande is an adept of the Blue Star - an extremely powerful and immortal sorceress, who has chosen her side in the final battle of Good versus Evil (which takes place at the end of time and isn't really an issue in most of the stories, as everyone is still quietly maneuvering and picking sides over the course of centuries).

There's a twist, of course - each of the blue Star Adepts has a secret, and hers is the greatest of all - her sex. She cannot reveal her face or true name to, nor eat in the presence of, any human man. Long term readers of lesbian subtext have no difficulty spotting the loophole there. The only real friendships she can form are with women - women she trusts never to reveal her to another.

So she wanders around the world, hooded and mysterious, occasionally rescuing people through magic, other times passing as a minstrel. She's centuries old by the time we meet her, and quite composed, formidable and adept at remaining undiscovered.

Most of the stories are ambiguous regarding Lythande's sexuality. Given the constraints of her curse, she has to be asexual, celibate despite her desires, or lesbian. Generally, it just doesn't come up, and the constraints of celibacy don't appear to be an issue - except in other people's eyes, given most people believe she is a man. In Sea Wrack she believes herself safe from a mermaid due to having no longer experiencing love and desire. However, she is revealed as a lesbian in a few of the stories (for example, in 'The Incompetent Magician', when she discovers an old beloved trapped in an enchantment), so feel free to read as much subtext into the rest of her stories as you wish!
"Koira!" cried Lythande, and the neutral voice for once was high, athrob with agony. "Koira, how-what-?" 
The fair-haired woman moved her hands in a spellbound gesture. She murmured,
"I know not -" and then, as if waking from deep sleep, she rubbed her eyes and cried out, "Ah, I thought I heard a voice that once I knew - Lythande, is it you? Was it you who enchanted me here, because I turned from you to the love of another? What would you? I was a woman -"
~ The Incompetent Magician (in Greyhaven: An Anthology of Fantasy and Lythande)

The books: short stories and anthologies

Originally published in various different anthologies or issues of the Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, there are fourteen Lythande stories (including one not by the author). Five Lythande stories by the author, plus a bonus one by Vonda N. Mcintyre, are collected in Lythande [reviewed here], which has been translated into German as Lythande. Erz√§hlungen, and two further stories are found in The Spell Singers

The remainder are either long gone in issues of F&SF, or are scattered in various anthologies. Sadly all are out of print, with the exception of a couple of republished versions, although all are still available secondhand.

The best place to start with this world (if you aren't solely interested in Lythande's stories) is the Thieves' World: First Blood (Thieves' World Anthology) which collects the first two original anthologies - Bradley only  contributed to the first one, although Lythande continued as a supporting character. Recommended for fans of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books and Andre Norton.

Due to the nature of the shared universe, she appeared in many other stories (for example, the Magic of Ithkar books), but the 'Lythande stories' refer to the ones in which she was the protagonist.

You can pick up most of the short stories as separate Kindle eBooks, but not the very first ones. If you only want one book, Lythande (1986) is the best choice.

The anthology Lythande (1986) contains the first five stories (and has also been reviewed here)
The Secret of the Blue Star (not available as a separate eBook)
The very first Lythande story, this one keeps her gender a secret for most of the tale, as she rescues a beautiful girl and patrols the city streets, matching wits with an enemy of her order.
Originally published:
 Can also be found in:
The Incompetent Magician (not available as an eBook)
Rastafyre the 'incomparable' needs Lythande to get his wand back from a man that he cuckolded, in exchange for which he gives her a lute to which the soul of Koira, a woman she used to love, is bound. 
 Originally published:

Sea Wrack (available as an eBook)
 Lythande is hired by a fishing village to get rid of a mermaid who lures away any adult of the fisherfolk. Lythande assumes she's safe as she is not vulnerable to the desires of the heart anymore... 
Originally published:
  • F&SF Oct ’85
Somebody Else's Magic (available as an eBook)
On a mission of the blade, rather than magic, for once, Lythande is caught in a web of someone else's magic, when she ends up with a magical sword with it's own mission.
Originally published:
  • F&SF Oct ’84 

The Wandering Lute (available as an eBook)
Prince Tashgan is a third son, a drinker and a womaniser. He also bears a magical lute enchanted to keep him always on the move. He hires Lythande to free him when he suddenly inherits the throne, and she takes the lute - and is swept by it into a variety of adventures.
Originally published:
  • F&SF Feb ’86
Looking for Satan - written by Vonda N. Mcintyre (not available as an eBook)
Lythande comes to the rescue of the wild youth Satan. Written from the perspective of his friend, a woman. 
Originally published:

The Spell Singers contains two Lythande stories from 1987
The Walker Behind (available as an eBook)
Danger on the road drives Lythande to shelter in an inn with its own dangers. 
Originally published:
  • A Magic Lover's Treasury of the Fantastic, ed. Magaret Weis (1987) 
  • F&SF Jul '87 Issue #36
 Can also be found in:
Bitch  (available as an eBook)
Lythande is turned into a dog...  and still has to ensure her fellow mages don't figure out she's female.
 Originally published:
  • F&SF Feb ’87

Other Stories (published 1988 onwards)
The Malice of the Demon (not available as an eBook)
Originally published:
  •  F&SF Sep ’88  
The Virgin and the Volcano (available as an eBook)
Lythande escorts the candlemaker, Eirthe, across the magical borders of a volcano in order to help break her curse - unfortunately, the volcano decides that it requires Lythande as a sacrifice.
 Originally published: ?

The Wuzzles (available as an eBook)
 Lythande is hired by a farmer to get rid of the mysterious Wuzzles. 
Originally published: ?

To Kill the Undead (available as an eBook)
Lythande is hired by some villagers to hunt down the undead being that was killing their sheep.
 Originally published:
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Issue #23 Spring, (1994)

Here There Be Dragons?  (not available as an eBook)
King-Arthur themed. 
Originally published:
  •  Excalibur, ed. Richard Gilliam, Martin H. Greenberg, and Edward E. Kramer (1995)

The Gratitude of Kings (2004)
The Gratitude of Kings (1997)
Published separately as a (very!) small book in 1997 and recently republished in 2004. The copy I read was a charming little hardback with a castle, dragon and characters illustrating its covers.  Lythande is invited to Prince Tashgan's wedding to create illusions for him in a magical contest, meets the Prince and an uncertain ally (from 'The Wandering Lute') an old friend (Eirthe, from 'The Virgin and the Volcano'), a sorceress enemy, and the delicate Princess Velvet caught in the middle. 
 It's fun, features several interesting women and several recurring characters from previous stories, and has an interesting issue of appearance versus value, as the poor princess is trapped in an illusion of beauty. Lythande's gender issues come up, as the magical duel is traditionally supposed to be between women, making matters tricky - she can hardly reveal herself! Interestingly, she is not the dramatic hero of the hour, and the 'evil sorceress' is defeated by someone else, leaving Lythande to quietly tidy up.
This is a fairly direct continuation of The Wandering Lute and refers to events from The Virgin and the Volcano.

The Gratitude of Kings (1997)
All eBooks currently available
Most of the short stories above are now out of print, but several have recently been made available as individual eBooks on Amazon by The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust in 2010.

Not available as eBooks (yet)

  • The Secret of the Blue Star
  • The Incompetent Magician
  • Looking for Satan
  • The Malice of the Demon
  • Here There Be Dragons? 
  • The Gratitude of Kings

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