TITLE: Queen of the Damned
AUTHOR: Anne Rice
PUBLISHER: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
I've been haunting local bookstores for more than a year now waiting for this book and when it came out last week I snapped it up and quickly devoured it. This is the third of Anne Rice's brilliant Vampire Chronicles (she promises there will be more) and I will use this review to talk about all three books.
Profound, moving, complex books like these are difficult to review because my own reactions are so complex and varied. I am not a fan of horror stories, and until finding these books I was not particularly interested in vampires. But these books are written on many levels at once; they speak to me directly as a writer; they deal with sex and death in ways I've never before encountered; the narrative techniques Rice uses are fascinating; her theme of immortal beings in a mortal world is one of my favorite topics; and on every level her language is erotic and her plot lines are riveting.
All three books strive to present fantastic events with absolute realism. The first book, Interview With the Vampire, is essentially a tape transcript by a journalist who spends a night with a vampire who wants to get a few things off his chest; he even pauses occasionally to let the nervous interviewer flip over the cassettes. This is the simplest of the three books, and in some ways the best, or at least the purest. The book is deeply moving because Louis, the vampire, is so very human and his lonely struggle with the uncertainties of his own existence goes to the very core of what it is to be a human being.
The second book, The Vampire Lestat, is fascinating because the story is told by a character who was the most terrifying villain of the first book. We see some of the same events from a radically different perspective. Unlike most sequels which take up where the last book left off, this book moves relentlessly backwards, reaching ever deeper into the past. There is hungry search for origins, for beginnings, that is not satisfied until the third book.
Without giving anything away I can say that in The Queen of the Damned we finally discover what happened to the poor journalist of the first book, Louis and Lestat are reunited, the precise origin of vampires is explained in explicit detail (hold onto your stomach for this one!), and almost every vampire in the first two books winds up sitting around a table with several new characters who make Louis look like a tadpole. The narrative hopscotches across the globe and travels six thousand years back in time. There are rock concerts, vampire-owned shopping malls, Tibetan temples, and even a secret society called the Talamasca. Some of the characters of this book are shown reading the first two books and reacting in various, often amusing ways. All three books are imaginative to the point of being bizarre and yet strangely realistic at the same time. Anne Rice makes vampires REAL.
I often describe these tales to friends as the most erotic books I've ever read. This may seem a strange description at first because there are no thrusting pelvises, no heaving bossoms, indeed no panting, throbbing, or gyrating of any kind anywhere in the book. But every sentence is about sex. Rice has a deep understanding of all things sexual; she gets inside sex and shows us how it works. The vampire's pursuit of blood is not merely a hunger, it is a lust; the vampire's conquest is very much a sexual conquest and his first death and transformation is a poignant loss of virginity.
Clearly, these books are also about death. Sex and death are the two great human issues, the two great inescapable facts, and when you boil it down far enough, every great novel is about sex and death. In the vampire, these two fundamental forces are fused together and hopelessly intertwined. Rice explores the resulting paradoxes with eerie precision. Innocence and experience, good and evil, communion and isolation, freedom and finitude, love, guilt, uncertainty, all of these things are jumbled together, turned inside out and explored from a strange new angle. It is, in short, a very deep book.
I am drawn to Anne Rice's vampires for the same reason I am drawn to Tolkien's elves or Ursula K. Leguin's dragons. I have always been intrigued by stories of immortal creatures tangled in a mortal world. It requires astonishing imagination and great skill to make these creatures come alive, but when they do, the results are breathtaking.