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Literature / Tales from the Flat Earth

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Tales from the Flat Earth is a fantasy series by Tanith Lee, consisting of novels and short stories. They are heavily inspired by 1001 Nights and are an original mythology that spans thousands of years.

The setting is a world that is flat and square, and floats amid formless chaos. Its cosmology consists of four "layers"; apart from the Flat Earth itself, they are the Underearth (realm of the demons), the Upperearth (realm of the gods), and the Innerearth (realm of the dead). The central character is Azhrarn, Night's Master and the Prince of Demons. The stories concern the Lords of Darkness, especially Azhrarn, and the effect that they have on the mortals of the Flat Earth.

This series contains examples of:

  • And I Must Scream: Zhirek attempts this by placing the immortal Simmu in the Earth Flame, expecting Simmu to burn forever. But because of Simmu's childhood with the demonic Eshva and his actions as an adult, he's so spiritually corrupted that he's instantly reduced to ashes. Simmu's adopted Eshva parents then rescue his ashes and have him restored as an artificial Eshva, which Azhrarn then transforms into a true Eshva. Meanwhile, the rest of Simmurad's inhabitants calcify in coral as their city floods, presumably still alive and conscious.
  • And Then What?:
    Zhirek: But after the conquest, what? A sedentary world of clockwork immortals.
  • Angel Unaware: Azhrarn sometimes walks among humans, who usually perceive him as a Tall, Dark, and Handsome man in black. At the beginning of Delusion's Master, his very presence causes mayhem among the people camped outside Belsheved after he overhears their version of the events that ended the first book.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: All of the Lords of Darkness are anthropomorphic personifications of whatever it is they rule or represent — Azhrarn is the personification of Wickedness, Uhlume of Death, Chuz of Madness, and so on.
  • Anti Anti Christ: Azhrarn created Azhriaz for the purpose of torturing humans through compelling them to worship her, to teach humanity a lesson about the indifference of the gods. Azhriaz defies her father and becomes a mortal, so that she can be happy with her One True Love, Chuz.
  • Apocalypse How: The Hate Plague at the end of Night's Master. It's an Eldritch Abomination that consumes the world, causing humans to wreak havoc upon themselves and upon the earth. This results in so much destruction that Azhrarn himself has no choice but to sacrifice himself for humanity's sake.
  • Apparently Human Merfolk: The sea peoples were once human, but used their powerful magic to survive beneath the sea when the gods of Upperearth unleashed The Great Flood. They have a thriving underwater civilization, and are still powerful magicians, and Nay-Theists to boot. They do not have tails, but their Half-Human Hybrid slaves are half-human and half-fish, whale, or shark.
  • Artifact of Attraction: A collar made from the gems that were Ferazhin's tears. Any mortal who sees it has to have it, causing murder and mayhem.
  • The Bard: Kazir, who makes his living by traveling from town to town and singing. He goes To Hell and Back to Ferazhin, and even Azhrarn is haunted by the song that Kazir sings.
  • Barrier Maiden: Kassafeh and the other sacred virgins are linked to the Well of Immortality on Earth and the one in Upperearth directly above. When Simmu deflowers all of them, this cracks the crystal lake above and some of the Water of Immortality falls into the well on Earth.
  • Becoming the Mask: Lylas pledged to serve Narasen in Innerearth, both to get back at Death and also in the hopes that Narasen would not punish Lylas for having had her killed. But her devotion to Narasen ends up becoming genuine.
    And, from acting adoration, adoration stole over Lylas. And, from acting a seduction, she was seduced.
  • Bed Trick: Simmu takes advantage of their Gender Bender powers to rape eight women in order to access the Well of Immortality. (This could be taken as the moment when they cross the Moral Event Horizon.)
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Azhrarn explains to Dunizel that sex is just a fun pastime for demons. To actually procreate, they have to exchange blood, and then perform a separate ritual in order to "activate" it. Azhrarn gives Dunizel the choice of whether to perform this ritual or not.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The demons perceive the absolute mayhem they cause on Earth as being the equivalent of harmless pranks.
  • Body to Jewel: Ferazhin, who was created from a flower, has tears that turn into gems.
  • Born from Plants: Ferazhin was born from a magical flower that Azhrarn conjured for Sivesh. This is also why Kazir is able to bring her Back from the Dead.
  • Butch Lesbian: Narasen is a lesbian woman who was raised to rule Mehr in her own right, as a man would, and therefore occupies a masculine social role. When she is cursed by Issak, she becomes "a man forced to play at motherhood."
  • Central Theme: Many of the stories revolve around ennui, and how it affects those who experience it. Azhrarn messes with humanity because this is his only real source of entertainment. Zorayas engages in various depravities to distract herself from her internal emptiness. Simmu creates a Shining City full of immortals, but despite having grand ambitions, he loses the motivation to do anything. Zhriem's Nigh-Invulnerability causes him to sink into depression. The gods have stopped caring about humanity, and simply perpetuate in their apathy. Power and immortality might seem like wonderful things, but they ultimately leave you with nothing but the question of what to do with yourself.
  • Chastity Couple: Azhrarn and Dunizel never actually have sex. Azhrarn literally lies on top of her and they stare at each other, unmoving, experiencing emotional intimacy alone. Dunizel's pregnancy is induced by Azhrarn's blood.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The green Eshva jewel that Simmu wears, which Azhrarn promised would call him if it was ever thrown in fire. When Simmu is pushed into the Well of Flame by Zhirek, Azhrarn responds to the burning jewel, and demons rescue Simmu.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe:
    • Much of Uhlume's behavior is determined by what humans expect Death to be like. It is possible that the only reason he is threatened by the notion of immortal humans is because humans expect him to be.
    • The reason why Simmu's raping of the nine virgins has the power to crack the Well of Immortality is because the virgins have associated their own virginity with the well's sanctity. They had actual Virgin Power only because their culture believed that they did.
  • Comet of Doom: When Dunizel is still in the womb, a magical comet that is "the soul of the sun" flies overhead. The comet blesses everything its light touches, to the point where animals instinctively gather under it. It makes the earth more abundant, it heals the sick, it cures Dunizel's mother of her "idiocy" and magically induces a Heel–Face Turn in Dunizel's father, and it makes them both more beautiful. Dunizel herself is blessed with supernatural beauty and goodness as a result of being the "comet's child."
  • Creative Sterility: In Death's Master, the immortal inhabitants of Simmurad stagnate because they're not driven by the awareness of having a limited amount of time in which to achieve.
  • Crisis of Faith: The overarching plot of Delusion's Master is focused on Azhrarn's attempts to destroy the humans' faith in the gods.
    • In the first arc, "The Souring of the Fruit," an entire population's faith in the gods slowly dwindles as they camp around the Holy City. Azhrarn's machinations result in a string of disturbing events that the gods and their priests do nothing about, causing the people to wonder if the gods really are as apathetic as Azhrarn said they were. Azhrarn then lures them in with illusionary temptations, and compels them to worship him by appearing before them in his intolerably beautiful true form, offering them the opportunity to fulfill their most wicked desires. By then, their faith is shattered.
    • In the last arc, "The Bitterness of Joy," seventeen women murder their husbands and claim that a god told them to do it. They interpreted their murders as an act of faith, and hoped that they would receive a divine husband (Azhrarn) in return. The people are so shaken by this that they come to Belsheved demanding an explanation. Their faith is momentarily renewed when they hear about the divine child, but after they learn that the child's father is Azhrarn, they condemn the child's immaculate mother as a whore and the child as The Antichrist.
  • Curse Escape Clause: The cursed diamonds that Jurim and Mirrash inherit will gruesomely kill anyone who steals them, but giving them sincerely as a gift negates the effect. Zorayas weaponizes her beauty to manipulate Jurim into giving her all of them.
  • Demon Lords and Archdevils: The Vazdru, the aristocracy of demon society. They are more powerful than Eshva, and unlike them, can speak.
  • Disability Superpower: Kazir can know the entire history of an object just by touching it. He is blind, and therefore unaffected by the Artifact of Attraction powers of the silver collar, but he still falls madly in love with Ferazhin just by touching the jewels on it.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The poor woman whom Beyash kills after indulging her services.
  • Divine Date: Azhrarn with Sivesh, Zorayas, and Dunizel.
  • Divine Parentage:
    • Azhriaz, the daughter of Azhrarn and Dunizel.
    • Dunizel and Kassafeh each had "three parents," two human and one supernatural. In Kassafeh's case, the supernatural parent is a sky elemental. In Dunizel's case, it's a magical comet.
  • Does Not Like Men:
    • Narasen was never attracted to men, but when she is cursed to be raped by every man in her kingdom, she begins to (understandably) detest them.
    Narasen: thinking, in labor ...all men I will kill tomorrow. All men, who with their lusts cause this.
  • The Dreaded: Azhrarn, who is regarded by humanity as the Flat Earth's nearest equivalent to the Devil (even though his actual nature is more in line with The Fair Folk). They tend to blame him for everything bad that happens, whether he actually caused it or not. Azhrarn sometimes appreciates humanity's fear of him and is sometimes annoyed by it, but he is uncomfortably aware that he is nothing without it.
  • Driven to Madness: Chuz exists to drive humans mad, and does so in various ways depending on the person. He gives Nemdur a Mortality Phobia. Most of Delusion's Master describes a set of circumstances that drives Azhrarn mad, which Chuz takes great pleasure in.
  • Driven to Suicide: Zhirem tries to take his own life, but his Nigh-Invulnerability prevents Death from taking him. All Uhlume can do for him is give him a death-like sleep.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: The undead man that Narasen sleeps with. She’s a lesbian who has been cursed to sleep with men, and Uhlume decides to help her tolerate having to sleep with a dead man by having him be as feminine as possible.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Azhrarn has this reaction in Delusion's Master, when he hears mortals recount the legend of how the world was almost destroyed at the end of the first book. They blame the Hate Plague on Azhrarn, whom they describe as a hideous monstrosity, and attribute his destruction to the gods, whom they believe saved humanity. Azhrarn shames them by telling them an allegorical story of a prince who saves a neighboring kingdom from a monster, only to discover that the natives reject his heroism as a lie. Instead, they worship a rock, whom they believe is a god that saved them from the monster. Azhrarn then concludes that comparing the gods to a rock is an Insult to Rocks.
  • Empty Shell: Sunfire is basically this combined with Wild Child. Described as an "idiot girl," she has little awareness of anything beyond her immediate survival, is mute, and behaves like an animal. She is considered a curse by the people of her village, and is frequently the target of extreme brutality, which she just accepts as a fact of her life. It's implied that she has some sort of mental illness that's miraculously cured by the magic of the comet. Her "vacancy" makes her a perfect conduit for its energy.
  • Expy: Kazir and Ferazhin, of Orpheus and Eurydice. Kazir has to go to the Underearth and sing for Azhrarn to allow Ferazhin to come to the surface world with him. Luckily for them, their story ends better than the original myth.
  • Famed In-Story: By the time Delusion's Master begins, the story of Simmu from Death's Master has already become a legend. Chuz uses it to "inspire" Nemdur to make his own bid for immortality, which obviously doesn't end well. By the time the next story in the same book takes place, Nemdur himself has become a legend (or rather, a cautionary tale).
  • The Fair Folk: Azhrarn is more along these lines than Demon Lords and Archdevils. He and his demon subjects play cruel tricks on mortals because of their Blue-and-Orange Morality, not because they're necessarily malicious. Sometimes they even show kindness to mortals they favor.
  • Fat Bastard: Beyash, a Dirty Old Monk who steals a silver cup to pay a prostitute and then murders her. He frames Zhirem for the crime, but Simmu sends a bird to make sure he gets his comeuppance. In the same book, Jornadesh is also an example, having murdered Narasen to seize power, and then being unceremoniously killed by Narasen's ghost. Yolsippa is a downplayed example, being a little more sympathetic.
  • Fate Worse than Death: This happens rather often.
    • It's not clear what happened to Zorayas, but this is one possibility.
    • Qebba, who spent almost a lifetime in the form of a monster through pure ill luck, and then is imprisoned again by the sea, spawning a Hate Plague that almost destroys the world.
    • The denizens of Simmurad — see And I Must Scream above.
    • Zhriem tries to inflict this upon Simmu by pushing them into the Well of Flame, but he fails, because Simmu was rescued at the last minute by Azhrarn and turned into an Eshva. This left Zhriem to waste away in a ditch, and weeping with despair when he realizes that Simmu escaped the flames.
    • Jasrin interprets her guilt and madness in isolation as a "living death."
  • Fisher King:
    • In Death's Master, Narasen's kingdom is cursed to be as barren as she was. After her death, she returns and reinvokes the curse in jealous revenge, contaminating the land with the poison that killed her.
    • Druhim Vanashta, the city of demons, is an expression of Azhrarn himself. The city and its citizens respond to his emotions. For example, when Azhrarn experiences despair at Dunizel's death, the entire city freezes.
    Druhim Vanashta, which had always been, or which had become, the heart of Azhrarn, had ceased to beat.
  • Forced Transformation: Poor, poor Qebba. He was once the handsome lover of Bisuneh, but Azhrarn had a Drin turn him into a mismatched beast. He spent about eighty years in this state and almost lost his humanity. Once he gets it back, his resentment knows no bounds.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Most of the overarching plot threads are examples of this.
    • In Night's Master, if Azhrarn hadn't turned Qebba into a monster as a cruel joke, then he would have never spawned the Hate Plague that almost consumed the world, and Azhrarn wouldn't have had to sacrifice himself.
    • In Death's Master, if Beyash hadn't framed Zhriem for his own crime, then Zhriem and Simmu may have continued on as priests and had a happy relationship, instead of experiencing their respective tragic downfalls. Also, the entire situation with the Well of Immortality (see Self-Fulfilling Prophecy below).
    • In Delusion's Master, Chuz spells out how Azhrarn himself fell prey to this trope:
    Chuz: I brought about Nemdur's madness. His madness brought about Baybhelu. And baybhelu brought about Bhelsheved. And Bhelsheved enticed you from the cellar. And now here you are, and here is a mortal woman who will bear you a daughter.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Zorayas was just a healer living in the forest, raised by a holy man. Though she was a daughter of an evil emperor, she would have been content as she was. But after her ugliness was mocked by a king and she was cruelly raped by a peasant, she starts obsessing over reclaiming her father's throne. She eventually does, and becomes a terrifying Vamp and Sorcerous Overlord.
    • Zhirem would have been a humble priest who only wanted to help and heal people, but he was falsely accused of a crime and felt betrayed by his friend and lover, leading to a spectacular downward slide. He becomes the Evil Sorcerer Zhirek, and his cruelty distracts him from his depression.
  • Gender Bender: Simmu, one of the main characters of Death's Master, has the ability to shift easily between male and female.
  • Gilded Cage: Simmurad seems like a standard Shining City, and is certainly marketed as such — an idyllic and beautiful city of the dawn where an elect of intelligent and skilled immortal humans live in peace and happiness. It's actually this trope, and its inhabitants are compared to wax or clockwork dolls who have no motivation or drive. Simmu quickly becomes a shadow of his former self and does nothing but read in his library, or play war games, regarding everything with indifference.
  • Girl in the Tower: Doubles as Madwoman in the Attic. Deulsion's Master begins with Jasrin, the exiled queen of a desert kingdom, who is locked in a tower, waiting for her husband to come rescue her. She is completely mad, and her husband is not coming.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: While the series definitely has Gods, they're Neglectful Precursors who created the universe, got bored with it, and now do nothing but stand around contemplating their own greatness. They've intervened in the world approximately three times, all of which were to deliver smack-downs on anyone who dared to challenge them. The primary protagonists of the series are chief demons/personifications of dark forces named the "Lords of Darkness," particularly Azhrarn, the Lord of Wickedness, whose sense of morality is Blue and Orange, and is probably as old as the Gods themselves. Much of the series is devoted to showing how he manipulates humanity for his own pleasure, but is still (arguably) a friendlier force to humanity than the Gods. In the first book, after inadvertently beginning a chain of events leading to the Apocalypse, he enters Heaven to ask the Gods to do something. They point-blank refuse, after which he proceeds to save the world himself.
    Azhrarn: There, I admit, I have maligned [the gods]. For if you strike a stone, it may disgorge a stream of water, or a precious jewel. Or you may build a house from it, or scratch words on its surface with a knife. Stones can be serviceable to men.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Lords of Darkness are personifications of human ideas such as Death and Madness, and most would cease to exist without human belief; the first Lord, the personification of Wickedness, is stated to be older than humanity, but it's implied even he would be diminished without humans around. The Gods themselves don't seem to care one bit whether humans die or not, and regard a very real threat to humanity with a nonchalant shrug.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!:
    • Zorayas rules a vast empire with an iron fist, executes anyone who displeases her in cruel fashions, and even begins hunting her slaves and sleeping with animals as she slips further into ennui.
    • Narasen becomes this in the Innerearth (if she wasn’t already), and gains the epithet Queen Death.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Azhrarn is basically this in Death's Master, having caused Simmu to forget Zhirem, turning Zhirem into Simmu's Arch-Enemy instead of their friend and lover. He also also encouraged Simmu to seek immortality, and built Simmurad for him, mostly because he figured Simmu's war against Uhlume would be entertaining.
  • The Grim Reaper: Uhlume, Lord of Death.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Kazir, Ferazhin, Jurim, and Bisuneh all have golden hair and kind hearts. Kazir and Ferazhin Earn Their Happy Ending, but Jurim falls at the mercy of The Vamp and Bisuneh is utterly destroyed by Azhrarn.
  • Hate Plague: The first book ends with a Hatred born from Qebba that grows and festers into an Eldritch Abomination, causing humans to turn on each other and destroy the world around them. No one can stop it but Azhrarn.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: The Flat Earth is still in a time of legend and myth, so many legendary beauties exist in the stories. There's far more headturners of both sexes than there are ugly people. Examples range from Sivesh (who is so beautiful that Azhrarn keeps him as a lover) and Queen Zorayas, to Simmu and Zhirem, to Azhriaz, Night's Daughter.
  • Hell Has New Management: In Death's Master, the Queen of Innerearth was a human queen, Narasen, who owed Death a thousand years of servitude. However, she was too much of a queen to act as anyone's servant, and Uhlume, lord of Death, instead abdicated much of his role to her. He decided he liked roaming the Earth, but the inhabitants of Hell want him to come back and relieve them of Narasen's harsh rule.
  • Heroic BSoD: "Heroic" is a stretch, but Azhrarn experiences this when he witnesses Dunizel's death. The scrying mirror that he was gazing into shatters, and his entire city grinds to a halt.
  • Holy City: Belsheved, the city built on the ruins of Sheve after the fall of the Tower of Baybhelu. It's basically one huge temple complex; no one actually lives in it, but it is the site of an enormous pilgrimage once a year. It's also a pretty obvious Expy of Mecca.
  • Hot as Hell: All of the Vazdru and Eshva, but Azhrarn especially, whose primary epithet is "the Beautiful." In fact, Azhrarn is so handsome that he's at Level 1 of the Sliding Scale of Beauty.
    His face was like a fine carving, set amid curtains of black hair to which no other hair was comparable. His face burned and blinded, like the stars, and like them, without pain. His face may not be described, just as, then or now, it might not, may not, be represented. In the total truth of his form, he was so handsome that by the appearance of his face alone he could have injured or [...] rendered insane those who looked on him. [...] And yet, how marvelous he was, how marvelous beyond all the marvel of man or woman or any earthly thing.
  • How We Got Here: The prologue of Delusion's Master begins with Jasrin trapped in a tower and clearly insane, cradling the bone of her dead child. The first half of the prologue then explains how she got to that point.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game:
    • The demons hunt human souls on the banks of the river of Sleep. Downplayed; they only catch the dying or insane, and these are eventually let go.
    • Zorayas plays this trope much straighter by hunting slaves who displease her.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Azhrarn, of all people, allows himself to get burned into ash by the sun in order to destroy Hate and Save the World.
    • Dunizel attempts this to spare the priesthood of Belsheved from Azhrarn's wrath, but Azhrarn doesn't take her up on it.
  • If I Can't Have You…: After Sivesh leaves Azhrarn for the sun, Azhrarn tricks him into drowning.
  • I Love the Dead: Zig-zagged. Narasen is hardly a necrophiliac, but realizes she has no choice but to conceive a child by a dead man to end her Fisher King curse.
  • Immortality Inducer: The Waters of Immortality, the ironic thing is that it's in Upper Earth and only accessible by the gods who are naturally immortal and never needed the waters. That is, until Simmu finds a way to make a few drops fall to Earth…
  • Immortality Seeker: In Death's Master, Simmu quests to find the Well of Immortality in order to spite Death.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Dunizel. The magical comet makes everything it influences more benevolent, beautiful, or abundant, so one of the side-effects it has on Dunizel is this trope.
    What to others appeared as her virtuousness, was to her merely her state of being. She did not set out to be good. She was good naturally, as another breathed.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Whether male or female, Simmu frequently goes naked. Being raised by Eshva means they have No Nudity Taboo.
  • It Amused Me: This is Azhrarn’s sole motivation for the majority of the chaos he causes among mortals. He screws with their lives just to entertain himself, and Kazir rightly points out that if Azhrarn could not do this, he would have nothing to live for.
  • Life Drain: In Death's Master, there's a Drin who takes on an apprentice and charges only one fee for his magic lessons: he gets to bugger the kid every night. When the apprentice finally quits, the Drin reveals that the sex was draining off years of the boy’s life (which were transferred to the Drin); and that to add insult to injury, for the few years left of the boy's life, he will act more like the lustful old Drin himself.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Lylas' Eden-like Garden of the Golden Daughters is actually this. It's created entirely by Lylas' magic, and is so wonderful that all the women who ever live in it are Driven to Suicide upon leaving. Only Kassafeh, whose personality is similar to that of Lylas (she literally bleats like a sheep at the other girls, all but actually using the word "sheeple"), is unimpressed with the garden. Therefore, she can see through the illusion of it.
    • Innerearth can also function as this for the souls that are trapped there, who can all cast fantastic illusions to make it more bearable and pleasurable than it actually is.
  • Lover and Beloved: Azhrarn's relationship with Sivesh seems to have this dynamic — Azhrarn raises Sivesh in his palace and teaches him the ways of demonkind, and also has a sexual relationship with him once he grows up. Doubles as Mayfly–December Romance.
  • Love Makes You Crazy:
    • Jasrin's love for her husband led her to try to kill her own baby in the hopes that he would love her again. Eventually, she's reduced to a Madwoman in the Attic, desperately waiting for her husbadn to return to her, which will not happen.
    • Most of the plot of Delusion's Master describes the circumstances leading up to Azhrarn's affair with Dunizel. Chuz interprets Azhrarn's love for Dunizel as a type of madness, and gives himself credit for setting that chain of events in motion.
  • Jerkass God: Becoming lazy is actually a moral improvement for the gods. Before they make one member take action against Azhriaz, the gods mention that back when they were active in the world they liked to murder and rape just because they could.
  • Mad God: Chuz, one of the Lords of Darkness and the Anthropomorphic Personification of Madness.
  • The Magnificent: Azhrarn the Beautiful, though that epithet hardly does him justice (see Hot as Hell above).
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Kassafeh's eyes change color to indicate her emotions, which is a sign that she had a third supernatural father — a sky elemental.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: Very few characters are purely good or evil, and even those that are, are put into morally complex situations. Some of them begin as straightforwardly heroic characters but eventually descend into villainy, some are Driven to Madness, and many could be either good or evil depending on whether the reader considers their actions justified. Even Azhrarn himself, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Wickedness, has been known to help humans out or show them mercy on some occasions (being much more akin to The Fair Folk than a God of Evil).
  • Mortality Phobia: Simmu’s Fatal Flaw. Having been left in a tomb as an infant made them terrified of Death to the point of wanting to destroy Death by becoming immortal. It doesn’t work out quite as well as they had hoped.
  • Murder Makes You Crazy: The young man who is cursed with an Orgasmatron whip from trying to whip Azhrarn. He becomes so addicted to the pleasure induced by the whip that he starts whipping innocent people to death to get another hit, including a child. He distances himself from the horror of his own actions by attributing them to Azhrarn's will, believing Azhrarn to be a god.
  • Mystical Pregnancy:
    • Seven virgin women all become pregnant by Azhrarn when Azhrarn's ashes blow on them as they dance around the tree where he died. They then proceed to all give birth to him, each delivering a different piece of his body.
    • Narasen becomes pregnant by a dead man.
    • A foolish girl who wants a child steals a kiss from an angel-like sky elemental. He tells her that she'll conceive their child the next time she and her husband are together after the wedded couple already have 4 children; she does, and thereby hangs the tale.
    • Dunizel has "three parents," a man, a woman, and the comet. Her conception would have been completely normal, if very sad, if not for the magical comet. It transmutes Dunizel's mother, Sunfire, from an "idiot" Wild Child into a beautiful young woman with golden skin and hair. It induces a Heel–Face Turn in her father, who had been a petty and evil Serial Rapist. Instead of being ugly or stupid or evil, as her parents once were, the comet's influence makes Dunizel especially sweet and gentle and the World's Most Beautiful Woman.
    • Dunizel is still a virgin when she's pregnant carrying Azhriaz, since Azhrarn impregnated Dunizel by giving her his blood. Azhrarn gives Dunizel the choice to bear his daughter or not, explaining to her that she will bear the feminine aspect of himself, so she has full knowledge of what she's agreeing to. Her pregnancy is barely visible, and has little effect on her. Initially Azhriaz is seen as a miracle from the gods, but is later decryed as an Enfant Terrible when it was discovered that Azhrarn is the father. A hysterical mob then claimed Dunizel was only technically a virgin because she was getting sodomized by Azhrarn and she gave birth anally. In actuality, Dunizel gave birth cleanly and painlessly while having an Out Of Body Experience.
  • Mystical White Hair: Dunizel's hair is "naturally" silver or platinum. She was born with it, as her mother Sunfire was pregnant with her when she came in contact with a magical comet.
  • Mythopoeia: The entire Flat Earth series is an original mythology, based primarily on Arabian Nights, but also containing references to Biblical and Classical Mythology. The implication is that all the stories describe a distant mythological age of the Earth as we know it.
  • Nature Hero: Simmu was this as a child from having been raised by Eshva, which gave them the power to charm animals (amongst other things). When living as an adolescent in a monastery, Simmu frequently escapes into the forest at night, where they feel more comfortable. Simmu starts to lose this affinity as they get older and become more humanlike, culminating in their role as king of the city of Simmurad.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The Gods created the universe, got bored with it, and now do nothing but stand around contemplating their own greatness. They've intervened in the world approximately three times, all of which were to deliver smack-downs on anyone who dared to challenge them.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: This is Zhirem's blessing and curse. His mother held him in the Well of Flame to burn away his ability to feel any more pain for the rest of his life — weapons refuse to touch him, animals cannot kill him, and even natural forms of death like drowning have no effect on him. Zhirem was believed to be possessed and rejected from his nomad family, then tortured by fanatical priests. Removing his ability to be harmed also prevented him from being able to feel any joy or pleasure, either.
  • Nude Nature Dance: Simmu does one of these, Eshva-style. With unicorns, no less!
  • Offing the Offspring: Zigzagged in Delusion's Master. Jasrin wants to kill her baby, because she blames him for her husband's lack of interest in her. She runs off with him, but can't bring herself to actually kill him, so she leaves him with a group of nomad children. Because the baby is wrapped in a lion skin, nearby hunting dogs kill him. In a subversion of the typical fairy tale trope of the Evil Matriarch blaming the an innocent woman for infanticide, Jasrin's attempts to blame the nurse do not work. She is incarcerated, and between Jasrin's guilt over having killed her own child and her imprisonment, Jasrin loses her mind. She resorts to cradling her child's bone, deluded into believing that her husband will come back for her.
  • Orgasmatron: In Delusion's Master, a boy attacks Azhrarn with a whip. Azhrarn catches the whip and sends a magical pulse down it that the boy anticipates is an electric shock, but it's actually a pleasure so intense that he's incapacitated. The boy becomes addicted to it, and whips innocent people to death just to feel it again.
  • Our Demons Are Different: There's three demonic castes. The Vazdru are the aristocratic demons, the Eshva are their servants, and the Drin are miners and smiths at the bottom of the social ladder. Demons behave similarly to The Fair Folk, and Drin are obviously dwarves.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The Drin are the lowest-ranking demons, who are all jewelers and miners making glorious treasures out of metals and gemstones. They are also all male, take pride in their ugliness, and lust after reptiles.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Ghouls are powerful supernatural beings that appear as beautiful humans and are incredibly gifted at love-making. They are an evil race and enjoy eating humans as a delicacy. Ghouls can interbreed with humans though the resulting offspring are weaker than a pure ghoul with succeeding generations further degenerating. The mightiest ghouls are nearly indestructible as no spell or physical force can harm them, a way to defeat one is to shine a light at it and then cut out its shadow. Its supernatural nature makes the shadow a corporeal thing and without a shadow, a ghoul is helpless and can be killed with normal means. The entire race meet their end when they annoy the demon princess, Azhriaz the Night's Daughter, who magically seals them within their city and they turn on each other, succumbing eventually to cannibalism or starvation.
  • Panacea: The magic comet from Delusion's Master is a cosmic version of this, bordering on Heart Beat-Down. Animals instinctually gather under it to be healed, Sunfire is cured of her mental vacancy, and the bastard servant who raped her gets a downplayed Heel–Face Turn as a result of its positive influence. It also makes both of them more attractive.
  • The Power of Hate: One character in Night's Master hates so greatly that when he dies, his hate lingers and grows into a Tulpa so powerful that it threatens the world and is only destroyed by Azhrarn's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Azhriaz, Night's Daughter, usually wanders barefoot as she scorns human convention and is completely indestructible so isn't inconvenienced by stepping on anything sharp.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: "Zhirek, the Dark Magician" is this, chronicling Zhirem's descent into becoming an Evil Sorcerer and swearing to destroy Simmu.
  • Raised by the Supernatural: Simmu was rescued from their mother's tomb by two Eshva women, who raised them and gave them their name. Simmu therefore had an air of the supernatural about them throughout their entire life, spoke little, and could do Eshva magic. It also gave them more control over their genderfluidity in their early life. Simmu literally becomes an Eshva man at the end of their life.
  • Rape by Proxy: Issak allowed a Drin to have sex with him as payment for magic lessons, but the Drin corrupted him to be just as vile and lustful, which compels him to rape Narasen. When Narasen kills him after his Face–Monster Turn, he curses her to continue having sex with men despite her attraction to women.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Zig-zagged. There is a lot of rape in these stories, and in keeping with the Morality Kitchen Sink, rape is interpreted in many different ways by different characters. Being a victim of rape is a Start of Darkness for Zorayas, enrages Narasen, is understood as just another brutality by Sunfire, and is interpreted as heroic by Kassefeh. It's usually evil characters who commit rape, but not always — Simmu remains sympathetic after raping eight women successively, and while that's evidently part of their downward slide, it's not explicitly designated as evil, either. This may be Lee's attempt to reflect the casual attitude towards rape that is prevalent in actual mythology.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Zorayas would have taken up being a healer, just like the recently dead hermit that took her in as mutilated baby. But getting raped by a brutal vagrant pushed Zorayas, who was already dealing with anger and resentment, over the edge. Zorayas instead devotes herself to Black Magic (the vagrant being her first victim) and becomes a Sorcerous Overlord.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Lylas, the witch of the House of the Blue Dog, is two hundred years old but has not aged past fifteen.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The reed-cutter's wife watches her baby drown in front of her, and to avoid the psychological trauma of that, immediately accepts Dunizel (then called Soveh) as her own daughter. When Dunizel's father protests that Dunizel is his own daughter, and that he failed to save the reed-cutter's wife's daughter from drowning, the reed-cutter's wife rebukes him. (It doesn't help that she recognizes him as the man who tried to rape her before his magical Heel–Face Turn.) Dunizel is therefore raised in the dead child's place.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: Kazir travels to the Underworld in dream to rescue Ferazhin.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: Zhirek calls the sea to flood Simmurad, trapping the immortals underwater forever. Kassafeh and Yolsippa escape in the nick of time.
  • Satanic Archetype: Zigzagged with Azhrarn. He serves as the closest equivalent to Satan on the Flat Earth, being a personification of Wickedness who lives in the Underworld and tempts and corrupts mortals for fun, but the similarities end there. He views humans as amusements and playthings, but doesn't care about them beyond that, and even helps or supports them when it suits him. He also doesn't bear a grudge against the gods beyond general disdain for them. In-universe, humans interpret Azhrarn as a more straightforward Satanic Archetype in the context of their religion, viewing him as an ugly and sinister beast who hates humans and actively works to destroy them. To say that Azhrarn is peeved by this would be an understatement.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: If Lylas hadn't surrounded the earthly Well of Immortality with fantastic monsters and illusions, and hadn't chosen a culture to guard it and build a city there, the Well would just be a muddy hole in the ground which no one would care about. If the virgins of the garden hadn't believed in their own Virgin Power, Simmu would never have accessed the Elixir of Life.
    A bizarre paradox: After two hundred and nineteen years, there really was something to be guarded at last, positive Immortality in the second well, and no proper safeguard remained to keep it.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Played for Laughs in Delusion's Master, through a little fable that Dunizel tells to her unborn daughter. Snakes are the most beloved animal of the demons of Druhim Vanashta, so they introduce the snake to the human world in the hopes that humans will love and worship it. Humans abhor the snake and are disgusted by it, so Azhrarn has his Drin make some adjustments to it. They turn the snake into a cat, which is a rousing success with humans. And that's why cats still hiss.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Zorayas, who uses Black Magic to steal back her father's kingdom and acquire more and more power for herself. She even has extremely low-ranking demons to serve her, and manages to trap and threaten the life of Azhrarn.
  • Suicide by Sunlight: At the end of Night's Master, Azhrarn does this as a form of Heroic Sacrifice to stop the Hate Plague that is causing humanity to destroy itself.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Deconstructed in Death's Master. Simmu becomes king of the Shining City of Simmurad, and marries the beautiful Kassafeh, all while planning to bring humanity into a new age of immortality. However, Simmu's city is really a Gilded Cage full of indolent, glassy-eyed immortals, and Simmu is actually plotting to Take Over the World (whether they realize it or not). It doesn't end well.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: The Tales have many of them, perhaps the biggest example is Chuz (the incarnation of Delusion) and Azhriaz who are kept apart by her father Azhrarn who was in turn starcrossed lovers with Azhriaz's mother, Dunizel.
  • Start of Darkness
    • Zorayas gets hers when a handsome king rejected her for being too ugly, and she learned of her true origins as an emperor’s daughter.
    • Qebba got his when he was turned into a beast through no fault of his own.
    • Zhirem assumes that his was his initial tryst with Simmu, but it was actually when Beyash accused him of having stolen a silver cup and murdered a prostitute.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Azhrarn's standard human shape is a "marvellously handsome" man with blue-black hair, draped in a winglike black cloak.
  • Technical Pacifist: Simmu refuses to kill anyone, not because of any moral reason, but because they don’t want to give Death any “gifts.” This becomes a genuine roadblock when they begin plotting to Take Over the World and “liberate” humanity from Death — how do you fight a war without taking life?
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: This is Zhirek's attitude. He was raised by the fanatical monks to fear evil at all costs, but after losing Simmu left him with nothing to live for, he nosedives into evil just to occupy his life with something.
    Why then had Zhirek not returned to his spoiled innocence, tried to mend the torn garment? Because he had never done any good save through a fear of doing evil. Evil no longer a threat, paradoxically evil was all he could set himself to practice.
  • The Time of Myths: The setting for all the Flat Earth books, which take place over hundreds or thousands of years.
  • This Means War!: At the end of Delusion's Master, Azhrarn declares war on Chuz, for having indirectly caused Dunizel's death and caused him untold anguish.
    "There is a war between us," Azhrarn said. "And I have done you the kindness of informing you."
  • Tin Tyrant: Zorayas wears imposing iron armor and hides her mangled face behind an impassive iron mask. That is, until Azhrarn gives her supernatural beauty.
  • Tower of Babel: The "Tower of Baybhelu" in Delusion's Master is an obvious reference, being a giant tower built tall enough to reach the Well of Immortality in Upperearth, which then collapses spectacularly. (It also screws up people's ability to communicate, but this is treated as an afterthought.)
  • Tragedy: Death's Master is this for Simmu and Zhirem, two demigod-like young people who loved each other, and could have done a great deal of good in the world. But Simmu’s vendetta against Death, Zhirem’s depression and ill luck, and some intervention from Azhrarn lead them both to a bitter downfall.
  • Tragic Hero: Simmu and Zhirem are both this, but Simmu in particular is this trope because their fear of death makes them into a deconstruction of The Hero. They start out as a Nature Hero with supernatural powers granted to them by their upbringing, but their Mortality Phobia leads them to declare themself Death's enemy, and seek immortality. They succeed, and become the king of what appears to be a glorious Shining City, but by then they have raped eight women and intend to literally Take Over the World. They still consider themself heroic, because they intend to "liberate" humanity from Death by offering immortality to a select few. What prevents them from following through with this plan is that they have become apathetic and and listless in their immortality. However, in the end Simmu becomes an Eshva, and Delusion's Master reveals that they're remembered as a legendary hero in the future. In that sense, they achieved both literal and figurative immortality.
    And [Simmu] told [Kassafeh] of the two wells and the breaching of the glass cistern had been mathematically reduced to the breaching of nine maiden-heads, and that Immortality would descend as a result and he should steal it.
    Kassafeh: Why, you are a hero!
  • Trauma Conga Line: Poor, poor Zhirem. He endures torture in the Well of Flame, then is cast out of his tribe for being demonic, is conditioned to believe various harmful ideas by religious fanatics, is accused of a heinous crime, loses his friend and lover, feels betrayed, almost drowns, and finally becomes an Evil Sorcerer and goes to destroy Simmu to distract him from his depression.
  • Underwater City: The city of Sabhel, from which Zhirem steals the magic of the sea people.
  • The Vamp: After Azhrarn gives Zorayas divine-level beauty, Zorayas starts using her beauty to force any man to submit to her and do what she wants. Mirrash tries to avoid this effect by rubbing salt in his eyes or blindfolding himself, but she eventually gets him. Mirrash ultimately has the last laugh.
  • Villain Protagonist: The central character of the Flat Earth novels is Azhrarn, the Prince of Demons, who goes out of his way to make life difficult for humans just to entertain himself. Whether he's truly evil or just amoral depends on one's perspective. Several of the human protagonists are villains as well, like Zorayas and Zhreik, though in general the human characters are a Morality Kitchen Sink.
  • Virgin Power: Implemented by Lylas when she created the Garden of the Golden Daughters. She put nine virgins in the middle of the garden to guard the earthly well, because she Does Not Like Men and wants to protect the nine worthy girls from them, as well as symbolically preserving her own lost virginity. The virgins' belief in their sanctity gives them an actual sympathetic connection to the Well of Upperearth, so Simmu deduces that he can access the Elixir of Life by raping them.
  • Weakened by the Light: Sunlight destroys demonic beings like Azhrarn and his people.
  • Wild Child:
    • Simmu initially behaves this way, having been raised in the woods by Eshva. Their mannerisms are usually compared to cats or deer, and they speak little.
    • Sunfire lived most of her life on the street as an "idiot girl," afflicted with some kind of disorder that makes her incapable of normal human comprehension. She therefore thinks and acts more like an animal, until she's magically cured by the comet.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Aesop of Death's Master is that Death is a necessary force that provides the motivation to live. The immortals of Simmurad become like puppets, dead behind the eyes. If you cannot die, you cannot really live either.
  • Women Prefer Strong Men: The half-human Kassafeh can only love a hero. She falls out of love with her husband Simmu after their immortality makes them both lethargic. Kassafeh regains her liveliness when she meets Uhlume and falls in love with him, as there's no greater hero than Death himself. She becomes his immortal mistress after that.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman:
    • Azhrarn makes Queen Zorayas the most beautiful woman in the world. She's so beautiful that armies surrender to her.
    • Because the Tales takes place over thousands of years, there are others for their particular time period. Special note goes to an intergenerational trio of superhumanly beautiful young women: Sunfire is made supernaturally beautiful by a magic comet, then gives birth to Dunizel and ascends to the stars shortly after. Dunizel grows up and gives birth to Azhriaz, and she's murdered shortly after. Azhriaz, Night's Daughter, would grow up and be worshipped as a goddess, as she has a reign of terror on Earth.
  • Young Conqueror:
    • After reclaiming her father's throne, Zorayas immediately sets upon re-conquering her father's empire, and more besides.
    • Simmu's goal is to "liberate" humanity from Death by conquering the world and turning all the most worthy people into immortals. Only one problem... how do you conquer the world without killing anyone? Through a combination of ennui and a confrontation with Zhirek, they never quite make it as far as this trope.

Alternative Title(s): Deaths Master, Nights Master