Not what I expected: the Secret Books of Paradys

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I wasn’t really expecting this. It’s basically a work of historical fiction, except set in a fictional medieval city. And here and there are magical realist elements.

But I’m glad I’m reading this mammoth cycle. Because the entire point of the first book, “The Book of the Damned,” is to not be what you expect. The novellas are about characters who change genders, change callings, change their entire existences constantly. They wander casually around the line between life and death, they scream for someone to hear them, a person who inevitably turns and walks away.

It’s hard to say who is which character, by the end of each novella. They all seem to have blurred, gender-swapping and transforming left and right. The first person narrators are often deceived by their own eyes, a fact revealed long after the deception takes place. The people are strange, dark, monstrous, and sometimes wonderfully kind.

Destruction and creation feed off one another, as each ending leads to a new beginning.

So why is it “the book of the damned?” Is it because each story ends with the death of the protagonist (real or implied)? Is it because all the people in the stories are quite terrible, and are therefore damned to hell?

Maybe its because to be a transformer, to be a shapeshifter and gender-swapper, is to be damned. To be always cast out from the normal, always other, always irrevocably different. The curse of the madman is to see the world no one else can, and the damning nature of the shapeshifter is to see the cracks in the world, in personalities and personas. Maybe that’s why it’s the book of the damned.

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