First of a four-book series from one of Britain's leading fantasists (Dreams of Dark and Light, 1986): three long gothic tales set in the surreal, anachronistic, half-forgotten French city of Paradys. In ""Stained with Crimson,"" young aesthete Andre St. Jean accepts a scarab ring, ""the secret of life,"" that impels him into vampirism and sexual transformation--a dreamy, perverse tale that eventually subsides into cloying overcomplications. Raped by her stepfather, Jehanine of ""Malice in Saffron""--easily the best of the three tales--seeks revenge by dressing as a boy to go forth by night to thieve and murder, before finding redemption as a nun of a sect that, ironically, worships Lucifer. ""Empires of Azure"" peers through cobalt-tinted windows to depict sorcery and possession by an ancient, powerful demon who requires that a journalist record the details of his triumph. Sexual ambiguities, clammy obsessions, and erotic polymorphisms, set forth amid a welter of rich, sometimes suffocating detail: stylish, curious, languid, different.