The Short Version: The world of the vampires has been in turmoil. A mysterious Voice calling on the young and old alike to burn their brethren, scientists in the Blood changing the very nature of vampirism, and that dashing brat prince Lestat is nowhere to be found. But he will be found – and will be charged with his greatest role yet – before the night is through…
The Review: Nobody does it quite like Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire, of course, is an unassailable text – she had it going on long before the recent craze, except for her vampires didn’t take shit from anybody. Oh they were moody, they were sexy, all those things – but they were dangerous creatures. Scary, to be honest. The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned proved it: adventures with vampires were going to be bloody and brutal and sexy and also pretty forward-thinking (look how the gay community has taken to Ms. Rice’s work, and with good reason).
But things got a little weird after that. The Tale of the Body Snatcher was interesting enough but Memnoch the Devil started to take us down the road of Christian morality – and when Rice gave up Lestat and his vamps in the early 2000s, publicly announced that she was now a devout Christian writing books about Jesus… well, I didn’t mind, I guess is the point. I hadn’t read the last few Vampire Chronicles (the ones that overlapped with the Mayfair Witches) and had no desire to do so.
But the promise of a new novel, one that was a spiritual successor to Queen of the Damned (the book most often cited in press materials, to a somewhat oddly aggressive extent), got me back. After all, my family has New Orleans blood and the brat prince is one of the best characters ever created – so of course I wanted to see him again.
It’s just a shame that the book is so all over the place. I was lucky enough to attend a release party in New York where Anne was in conversation with her editor (who looked like she could not have cared any less about being there) and said editor mentioned that Anne’s work doesn’t take that much editing these days. This is an incorrect statement: this book needed an aggressive further edit. Pacing issues abound and there’s a bit too much reintroductory repetition about concepts and people – and mostly? The plot seems secondary. This whole thing with the mysterious Voice gets interesting once we discover who/what it is, but the eventual resolution is without any real weight or power because it is so predictable. It’s almost like this entire book is just setting up the pieces on the board so that we can have the next Vampire Chronicle, which will actually contain adventure and excitement.
Not to say that there aren’t a couple of cracking moments – there are, and they make the book worth the reading. There is a sizzle in the pages when the vampires come together, reminiscent certainly of the team that joined against Akasha but just in general there’s a sense of these immortal badasses all being together that grips you by the throat. And Lestat, as a narrator (when he gets the chance to narrate), remains a compelling and brash storyteller.
But even as I say that, I ask again: why did the book start with about 80 pages of rambling conversational exposition? Most of the information revealed within those pages (Part One, entitled “The Vampire Lestat”) is repeated elsewhere during Part Two – and Part Two is infinitely more compelling a read. It’s as though Rice woke up and suddenly realized that, with ten years gone since the last desultory installment, she was going to have to work to get her readers to stick with her. That Part Two jumps between narrators, all of them looking at the same problems (this Voice / how to be a modern vampire), and feels like the right kind of whirlwind reintroduction to the world. I found Lestat himself to be almost boring in those first 80 pages and I nearly put the book down entirely. That’s a problem, especially considering that it gets better almost without warning.
I’ll remain spoiler-free here but the end, as I’ve said, feels much more like the final preparations for the return than the end of the return itself. The pieces are back on the board, the set is dressed, the curtain about to open – but I can’t really imagine on what it’ll shed light. There is the hint, of course, of trouble in paradise (Blood Paradise being, apparently, the name of the next installment, already under the pen) but the internal politics of the vampires grow a little stale in the modern world. There was something compelling about the vamps when Rice delivered them unto us the first time – but now, the world has changed. Thanks, in some small part, to her. I worry that she’s not adapting fast enough to stay relevant.
Rating: 3 out of 5. It’s almost more disappointing to me to be so ‘eh’ about this book. I wish, of course, that I had loved it – but to’ve hated it, for any reason, would also have been a compelling emotion. I could go one way or the other. But now, I sit and wait and wonder – what will happen next? And judgement, as it were, on the return of the Vampire Lestat sort of has to wait. For this novel, while it has its compelling points, was deeply flawed in a lot of ways (namely pacing – seriously, start this book from Part Two and I guarantee you won’t really have missed anything) and that’s perhaps a failure in and of itself. This should have been Lestat’s triumphant return and instead it feels a little bit like a shrug through 3/4 of the novel.
Rating: 3 out of 5.