Review: Prince Lestat

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Review: Prince Lestat

That’s what they all love about Lestat. He says we’re damned and then he behaves as if Hell has no dominion over him.

Anne Rice doesn’t need a lot of introduction. In 1976 she published Interview with the Vampire, which pretty much shaped the course of all vampire fiction from then on. The whole concept of vampires changed from things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, to tortured souls looking for redemption, cursed to live forever and drink the blood of human victims who would always be falling helplessly in love with them. If any book, TV show, or movie created in the last thirty years features vampires in velvet and lace, who also happen to be devastatingly handsome and charming (homoerotic subtext optional but fairly likely), you can credit Anne Rice’s books for the style if not the actual substance.

After she published Blood Canticle in 2003 Rice announced she had said everything she needed to say in the Vampire Chronicles. It took her more than ten years to change her mind, but this October she released Prince Lestat, the eleventh book in the Vampire Chronicles (which don’t count Pandora and Vittorio the Vampire, for some reason), taking the vampires much further along in their journey from cursed outsiders to the beginning of a new super race. Anne apparently reread all of her previous vampire books for inspiration in writing this one; from the flood of guest appearances by even the most minor characters, it’s pretty obvious that she wanted to make sure each and every one of her beloved Undead creations had their moment in the spotlight.

I’ll start with the obvious comparison: Rice’s book from 1988, Queen of the Damned. The storyline in Prince Lestat is a direct continuation from Queen of the Damned, with a plot that mirrors the earlier work. To summarize: there are more and more vampires everywhere, fighting and killing among themselves, and finding some kind of meaning in the words of a charismatic vampire who speaks to the entire world and hides in plain sight among the humans (Lestat and his rock videos in QoTD, Benji and his radio show in the current book). Suddenly, a powerful mysterious force appears that starts burning to death all but the oldest vampires and some of their fledglings, and the survivors must try to locate the enemy and find out what its plan is before they’re wiped out. Even the format of the current book is similar to QoTD, with each chapter being told from the viewpoint of a different character, and all sorts of revelations being made about the true history of the vampire race.

And you know what? I’m fine with that. Queen of the Damned was always my favorite book in the series. The ever-changing viewpoint keeps things interesting, and there was a lot in the story that really appealed to me, since the most enjoyable parts of Rice’s books for me have always been when you get to see new back story for some of the characters.

I said some, but not all, because there are way too many of them here to keep track of. New ones, old ones, old ones in a new form, and someone named Cyril who gets two whole chapters for no particular reason. Rice tried to help by including a list of all the characters in the back of the book, with a quick summary of who they are, and when and how they were made. But reading that before reading the book might give away too much about the Great Big Revelations that happen in the story, and some of those were a nice surprise, so I wouldn’t want those to be ruined for anyone. My suggestion is to just write down any unfamiliar names, making sure to note which vampires made them, and which ones they in turn made. This is especially helpful with vampires who are more than a few thousand years old and used to be called something else; it’s easy to get confused when Rice keeps changing which name she uses for them.

princelestat - coverThere were a couple of times when I wondered why Rice included a character at all. Some of them don’t do much except for hand wringing and looking beautiful, and of course giving readers the chance to say, “Neat, I remember you!” There was at least one hapless character who’s only purpose seemed to be to have wealth and love heaped on them, and then have them suffer, and then have them rescued, and then have them suffer again, all while being beautiful and innocent and oh so wounded. Maybe it was so the vampires would have someone truly helpless to protect, or maybe Rice was working through some kind of catharsis. Whatever the reason, the entire chapter devoted to the character could have been removed without changing much of the story.

(Although to be fair, that was the chapter I was reading when I was late for an appointment, needed to get out the door right away, and I kept saying “Okay. Almost ready. I’ll be done in a second. Just a couple more pages.” I love it when books do that to me.)

Of course you also have Rice’s usual fantasies about how beautiful you could make your clothes and your home if you only had gobs and gobs of money to throw at it. Oddly enough this seemed more believable here than in other books, even though we’re talking about some real over-the-top architecture and fashion. I think it was because we’re not dealing with humans in this case, but powerful immortals who have decades – or even centuries – to devote to building a castle or creating an underground grotto carved into a mountainside. Every scene was lovingly detailed right down to what everyone is wearing, and it’s best to just go with the flow and enjoy it. Not many authors set a prettier stage than Anne Rice.

That beauty combined with some amazingly violent scenes was one of the things that really made this book for me. You would have an entire ballroom of immortals dancing to vampire musicians, and around it people burning alive or getting chopped to pieces. Vampires attacking and then draining a human of blood could see flashes of the victim’s life; in at least one case the images slowly cycling down to silence made me catch my breath. Even some of the most shocking events, the ones that changed absolutely everything about the course of vampire history, were described with beauty.

We are not damned. We never were. Who under the sun has the right to damn any living breathing creature?

Sadly, if you haven’t been a fan of this series since the start then you’re probably not going to enjoy this one. I don’t know that you need to have read all of her vampire books(Vittorio the Vampire and the three Vampire/Mayfair Witches crossovers don’t even get a mention), but there’s at least one storyline or character or development from each of the other eight books that’s expanded on in Prince Lestat. Things happen in this book, game changing, irretrievable actions, secrets told, plenty of “OMG SCIENCE”, and they all have much more impact if you can have that “Oh, so that’s what happened to so-and-so,” moment. There are several mysteries that are finally solved here, and the reaction to them from anyone who hasn’t followed the series is going to be more of a “Okay, so what?”

I’ve heard this book described as “Anne Rice’s Greatest Hits”, but I’d prefer to think of this as a love letter to her fans. And, of course, to her characters, most especially Lestat. While the resolution to the story may feel like it was wrapped up a little too neatly, The Brat Prince has moped his way through an entire series practically carrying a sign reading “LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME”, so I can’t imagine Anne Rice ending the book any other way.