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.