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I remember there being two girls, in their early twenties, maybe. They are from Earth, but somehow (drawing a blank) end up in another world. In a Wizard of Oz style, they must reach the realm's giant castle, but it's possible even that won't get them home.

One of the girls is approached by a local woman who offers them a means to make money for their journey: become a painted lady. These are highly treasured (and legally protected) courtesans who are painted with intricate blue "tattoos" across the whole of their bodies. There is a small vial of potion offered which allows for complete conscious choice, but wipes several hours of memory. She's told if she takes this role, the vial will help both sides - many political/royal figures hire the courtesans and pour out whatever moral dilemma, (etc.) they are dealing with.

She takes the markings, goes off on her first job, and decides NOT to drink it, so she will be able to remember and decide if she's really okay with doing this. If I'm remembering correctly, the painted ladies wear a minimal amount of clothing, a sheer wrap/dress.
The tattoo pattern was swirled, and I remember it being described as winding around her arm like ivy.

I think the cover of my edition had the two girls in "modern" clothes at the bottom/foreground, looking towards a distant castle in a mountainside. I don't think I ever finished the book (it was the 80's, I was a teen, and lived in walking distance of THREE used book stores, so… I tended to buy a lot of books.)

marked as duplicate by TheLethalCarrot, amflare, Donald.McLean, RDFozz, eshier Aug 2 '18 at 17:12

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That is most likely one of the Changewinds books by Jack Chalker. One of the girls, Charley is turned into a courtesan with the blue butterfly tattoo all over, but chooses not to drink the potion that will lock her into that mentality. They are on a quest to meet the Wizard who brought them there at his castle; it's partially a test, actually -- if they can't do it, they won't be the heroes he needs.

This book has Charlie on the cover.

Riders of the Wind

Also, there are two covers that I know of for the first one:

The Original

And the 'newer' one:

The newer one

Thanks to Sumelic for pointing this question out. (Related question)

  • Thank you! I have been trying to find this set for… oh… about twenty years. I had a habit of reading several books in the same week, usually swapping between books every few hours. Having read the other description, i can see where other books have melded into it in my memory. – StrangeAngel Dec 26 '15 at 9:46

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