If Blood Canticle was meant to be the farewell book to the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat is its funeral.
Prince LestatePublisher: Knopf
Length: 480 pages
Author: Anne Rice
Publication date: 2014-10
I was introduced to Interview With a Vampire in 1984, a few years after its publication and a year before the publication of The Vampire Lestat. I now have an entire shelf of Anne Rice books, including signed copies of Interview With a Vampire and Queen of the Damned. Over the years, Rice explore the vampire universe, create a universe of Mayfair witchesm and then slammed the universes together before becoming a born again Catholic and writing her own exegesis on the Gospels.
After nearly a decade, Rice returns to her vampires in Prince Lestat, and it seems that she's getting to know her world again, as well as reconcile all of the vampire blood that has run under the bridge from other sources since she last wrote about Lestat and his minions.
The book opens with a brief history of Rice’s fictional vampire realm, followed by a dictionary of vampire lingo that goes on to be way overused in the book (the end of the book offers appendices on characters and the other Vampire Chronicle books).
And then we meet the Voice, the purported enemy of Lestat and the other vampires. The Voice, an evolving, child-like proto-intelligence, goes on a global rampage against the proliferation of vampire-kind.
The book then goes on for 232 pages before anything of significance happens. Those first 232 pages offer a few plot points but they're mostly spent with Rice refamiliarizing readers, and herself, with the various characters across the Chronicles -- not to mention, more than occasionally congratulating herself on past achievements through regular references to Lestat’s writing, as seen in passages such as this: “The Vampire Chronicles and the happenings in the vampire world from 1985 when Lestat woke Queen Aksha until now had deeply fascinated Gregory, and he had pored over the pages of the books forever interested in the deep current of psychological observations that united these works.”
She, of course, let’s the characters speak, but an untoward defensiveness oozes out of these self-congratulatory passages.
Rice needed an editor on this one. Perhaps the criticism of brevity in some of her later vampire fiction suggested crafting a thick novel, but there's so much padding here it doesn’t just distract, it irritates. For example, ghosts return, and we read over and over how perfectly human they appear. It's as though Rice has become so enamored with her own imagination that she ruminates in the novel on that which is somewhat new.
If Blood Canticle was meant to be the farewell book to the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat is its funeral. All of the members of the vampire world gather as they face the existential threat of the not-so-mysterious “Voice”. The novel reads like a Big Chill for vampires with the requisite soul searching, bad behavior, revelations that aren’t all that revelatory (as in, I can’t believe he didn’t already know this), and various scenes of graphic violence and graphic love.
Structurally, Prince Lestat moves all over the place, from first- to third-person narrative. History of the clan intermixes with the contemporary. It isn’t clear if this is an intentional literary nuance, or if the novel was cobbled together from pre-existing material and tweaked to fit this story.
Rice has garnered wide audiences and seen two of her books transformed into movies, and many of the others into a variety of media, including graphic novels, though she has always faced some criticism of her horror-romance writing. In Prince Lestat, Rice delivers neither enough romance nor enough horror. There are moments of very graphic description, especially at the end of the book, but most of the book is filled with character sketches used to reacquaint Rice, her readers and the characters themselves, with one another while they ponder their place in the fictional world.
I kept waiting for something to truly surprise me, shock me or offend me. Nothing. I knew most of these characters in more depth from reading the previous novels than Rice could ever recount in glimpses of back story, observations from other characters or from often overly repetitive descriptions. If you didn't already now that Armand has a childlike face, one mention is enough. We can remember it.
Should you read Price Lestat? If you miss Louis, Lestat, Marias and Pandora, then join Rice on her nostalgic jaunt. Indeed, Prince Lestat provides a comforting return to a world that many have come to know and appreciate, perhaps even love. If you fancy yourself visiting Armand’s New York City compound, then Rice leaves just enough blood in the vein for the dedicated reader to at least draw some sustenance.
Lestat de Lioncourt is Rice’s male alter ego. In a world so often filled with preternatural androgyny, this is neither shocking nor unexpected. Like Ray Kurzweil seeking a technological singularity in which to implant his consciousness, Rice probably longs, at least with a romantic’s imagination, for the world of supernatural and sensual immortality represented by her vampires. What Rice forgets in writing of Prince Lestat, however, is that immortality for a writer arrives not from entering their fictive world, but by delivering immortal prose that will transport readers long after the author leaves the world of the living.
It's certainly impressive that Rice is still churning out novels at 73, but I wish I wasn’t using the verb “churn”. There are still plenty of good stories to tell about Rice’s vampires, but in her personal struggle to reconnect to their world, she has delivered a book that documents her own journey more than it entertains or enlightens. The blood is thin in Vampire Lestat. If Rice writes further novels in the series, we can only hope that the kind of trauma that forces the vampires in this novel to reconnect, inspires Rice to bring her own writing closer to its origins.