Saturday, October 5, 2013

Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles

The Vampire Chronicles
by Anne Rice
Recommended Ages: 14+

Before Twilight was a gleam in Stephenie Meyer's eye, author Anne Rice created a sensation with her series of novels about a race of beautiful, sensual vampires. Rooted in Egyptian mythology and very distinct from most vampire lore up to that time, Anne Rice's vampires were created by being drained of blood to the point of death, then allowed to save themselves by drinking in turn the blood of the vampire who made them. They did not fear garlic, crucifixes, holy water, or silver. Even wooden stakes were only a danger to them if the sun came up while they were struggling to get free. As each vampire grew older (and we're talking about a scale of hundreds of years, here), her or she looked less human and more like an animated statue, needed less blood to survive, and commanded greater powers, such as the ability to fly or to move things with their mind.

A few things, however, tended to stay the same for Anne Rice vampires at any age. Towards humans they remained blood-sucking monsters; towards rival vampires, savage competitors; and towards those they were most attracted to, living and undead, they remained sexy beasts. Amid all the horrors, betrayals, tragedies, mysteries, and blood-spattered battlegrounds that run through these books, one constant—and probably the reason many readers were devoted to the series—was the eroticism. Though vampires can't really have sex, they tend to be indecently sexy and to be drawn to each other in a way that is overwhelmingly erotic—and in many instances, homoerotic. "Adult Content Advisory," don't you know.

I've long wanted to put a word about this series out to my fellow fantasy fans, in case they've run out of Sookie Stackhouse fixes and found that Bella and Edward have lost their efficacy, and they need a jolt of bloodsucking romance to keep their spirits up. My dilemma was that I also didn't particularly want to start reading this series over again, but couldn't remember the books in enough detail to write intelligently about them. It's been a long time since I've read any of the Vampire Chronicles. I have not read all of the books, either. And so to refresh my memory a bit, I have read up about them on the internet. Any of you can do the same. Start with this Wiki, then follow the links to the pages on each individual book, if you're interested.

So, instead of pretending to review a series of ten (or twelve?) books, only four of which I have read, and those at least twenty years ago, I'll offer you the following three things: (1) blanket permission to find out for yourself what it so hot about a series of erotic (but by no means pornographic) horror novels published between 1976 and 2003; (2) a list of the books, with links to where you can buy them on Amazon, with the hint that you try them one at a time and only follow the series as far as it interests you; and (3) a very, very brief sketch of what each book is about, with the disclaimer that this is based on my own online research, excepting only the four books I have read. If I do continue reading the series (from Memnoch the Devil onward), and I very well may, I will of course post full reviews of each book from there on.

OK, so: Permission given. Go and try them, one at a time. Here are the titles:

Interview with the Vampire
A vampire named Louis tells a journalist about how he became a creature of the night in 18th-century New Orleans: his passionate love-hate relationship with the vampire Lestat, who made him; his twisted parent-child relationship with the child-vampire Claudia; and the awful reckoning they face among the vampires of Europe. Originally written as a self-therapeutic exercise after Rice's young daughter died of leukemia, this book became a sleeper hit, the basis of a 1994 movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and the start of an epic series.

The Vampire Lestat
This sequel cashes in on the sex appeal of the first novel by telling the origin story of the vampire who created Louis. Born to a noble family in pre-revolutionary France, the beautiful and bisexual Lestat de Lioncourt takes up the bohemian life in Paris with his passionately close friend Nicolas. But it is Lestat's fate to be picked as the successor of a suicidal vampire, and after that nothing can ever be the same again with Nicki. Adrift without a mentor to show him how to live as a vampire, Lestat goes in search of the origins of his kind, and crosses paths with other menacing and magnetic characters such as Armand and his master Marius. By the end of the novel, Lestat has met the original pair of vampires and embarked on a career as the quintessential bloodsucker: a pop singer.

The Queen of the Damned
The world of modern-day vampires goes topsy-turvy when the mother of all vampires goes on a worldwide rampage, burning her own kind and enslaving ours. While we learn more about how the fanged folk came into being, the original vector of an epidemic of ancient Egyptian demon possession abducts Lestat in the middle of his own rock concert and offers to make him her boy-toy in a new world order where women inherit the earth. Of course, this means murdering most male humans at the outset; but who would have a problem with that? A few vampires do, and what they do about it is the subject not only of this novel but also a 2002 movie starring Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend.

The Tale of the Body Thief
In the last book of this series that I have read to date, a man with the psychic power to swap bodies with other people, takes possession of Lestat's powerful vampire body, and forces Lestat to come to terms with being a mortal human again. His appeals for help to fellow vampires fall on deaf ears, so Lestat must rely on a mortal ally to help him get his rightful body back. Like the earlier stories, which are so much sensational window-dressing for basically human problems (such as coping with grief and depression), this story serves the triple purpose of thrilling you with a supernatural crime caper, looking at human existence from an outside perspective, and dealing with the problem of guilt and the often-frustrated desire to atone for one's past crimes.

Memnoch the Devil
From what I have read about this book, it uses characters from the Vampire Chronicles to push the author's unusual religious agenda. Her reinterpretations of the relationship between God and the devil, the purposes of heaven and hell, and the meaning of various Bible stories, are also featured in books outside the "Lestat canon," and are hinted at in earlier books in this series. This, however, seems to be the first book in which they take center stage. In this story, the devil tries to get Lestat to help him start a religious movement, centered around a holy relic called Veronica's Veil.

The Vampire Armand
Another central character in the Vampire Chronicles recounts his origins story, beginning as an apprentice to a Renaissance painter who also happens to be a vampire. His early adventures include affairs with a vivacious courtesan, battles with evil humans and dark vampires, the founding of a new vampire coven, and tragic loss, all against the vivid background of Venice and Paris from the 15th century onward.

This novel forms a cross-over between the Vampire Chronicles and Anne Rice's other ongoing series, "Lives of the Mayfair Witches." (This trilogy, in case you are interested, included the books The Witching Hour, Lasher, and Taltos.) In this book, a witch who belongs to the Society of Talamasca (mortals who police vampires) reveals her desire to become one of the immortal undead, after a long flashback to her adventures as a guardian of magic.

Blood and Gold
The vampire Marius, a regular in this series, finally tells us his origins story, going back to ancient Rome. Also involved (so I'm told) is a Viking vampire who revives after being trapped for centuries inside a glacier. This book also brings to a close the protagonists' long-running feud with the satanic vampire Santino.

Blackwood Farm
In this book, Lestat and Merrick come to the aid of Quinn Blackwood, a scion of an aristocratic New Orleans family, when he is tormented by an evil spirit. Again, it's a crossover between Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series.

Blood Canticle
Again combining characters from her Mayfair Witches series with those of the Vampire Chronicles, this book follows the fortunes of a New Orleans witch named Mona Mayfair, who also becomes a vampire in her quest to find the source of a plague that afflicts her clan. Judging by the synopsis I read, love affairs between vampires and witches seem to be increasingly central to this fantasy world.

Where I hesitated above as to whether this series includes ten or twelve books, it is because Anne Rice also put out two books under the marque "New Tales of the Vampires," right around the date of The Vampire Armand. Apparently these books are set apart from the main line of Vampire Chronicles by the absence of Lestat from the storyline. These titles include:

—in which the title character, a consort of the vampire Marius (cf. Blood and Gold), begins her adventures in ancient Rome, and eventually becomes jaded with immortality. Along the way she experiences character conflicts with her fellow vampires, a relationship with a strangely dominating fledgling (i.e., a vampire she made), and other issues that, again, suggest that the author was working through some spiritual problems of her own.

Vittorio the Vampire
—in which a young nobleman in 15th-century Italy is scarred by the murder of his entire family by vampires. Thanks to the love of a vampire named Ursula, Vittorio is allowed to refuse the Dark Gift and live. He also turns out to be able to see angels and the souls of the dead—a gift that remains with him even after he fails in his quest for vengeance and becomes one of the evil undead himself.

So, there you have it. I haven't said anything you couldn't find out for yourself on Amazon, Wikipedia, and IMDB. But perhaps I have spared you the trouble, so you can decide more quickly whether, and how far, to follow this series of steamy, bloody horror-romance novels. Keep an eye out, right here, to see what I decide. In the meantime, you might also consider some of Anne Rice's many other titles, including a trilogy based on the Sleeping Beauty, a series of fictionalized versions of the gospel titled Christ the Lord, a series about angels titled Songs of the Seraphim, and most recently, a werewolf series titled Wolf Gift Chronicles. Her standalone novels (and there aren't many of them) include The Mummy: or Ramses the Damned and a romantic ghost story titled Violin. Sorry, I'm done searching for Amazon links for today. From here on out, it's up to you!

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