Anne Rice's latest Vampire Chronicles installment is a bloody good time
In one of the most famous cases of man-on-the-street criticism, a London cabby once told Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that, while Sherlock Holmes might not have died when he went over the Reichenbach Falls, "he was never the same man after."
Well, the Vampire Lestat has by definition not died, but he isn't the same intellectually seductive specter either. To use the rock metaphor he chose for himself last time around, Un-Death has lost its Sting.
In The Queen of the Damned, the third of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, (another is already in the works), Lestat has lost the sensual, restless rebelliousness that drove him to upend the vampire establishment and acquire a shallow, me-first arrogance.
Instead of struggling to liberate mankind by becoming a sex-symbol of evil, Lestat is just addicted to the spotlight. "I'm the Vampire Lestat. Remember me? The vampire who became a super rock star, the one who wrote the autobiography?" Maybe he's just exchanged a Sixties sensibility for the Eighties, and maybe that's part of Rice's concept; but Lestat is a lot less sympathetic monster this way—and that's the hook, after all.
Psychologically speaking, Rice has changed vampires in the middle of the stream-of-consciousness. Vampires are, of course, about sex: about women submitting to the intimate exchange of, literally, the life-giving liquid—and coming to enjoy it. (This "little death," as the French call orgasm, is for real.) And sexual metaphors, like sexual mores, change with time. While the women victims of Bram Stoker's Victorian-era Dracula and his descendants merely succumbed to his rather pointed advances, the modern vampire's mate, like several of Rice's female characters (and, among others, the headstrong Kate Nelligan in the 1979 remake of Dracula) meets her remaker on equal terms.
But in Queen of the Damned, the feminist, equality theme goes radical, with a millennium-old vampire—in fact, the first vampire, the very Eve of her kind—who reemerges as the fury whom Hell hath no scorn like. she intends to redress the exhaustive violence done to women by men throughout history by an even more pervasive violence, eliminating all but a handful of men needed to perpetuate the human species. And to accomplish this, she not only destroys the men wtih a mental firepower Rice describes with a chilling force, she incites the women who witness her visitations to kill as well, thus reducing the women to the same level of monstrosity as their traditional opressors, though that doesn't seem to occur to anyone.
The Queen's reign of terror brings together a mini-coven of the last, the older and most powerful vampires (in her perverse jihad, the Queen has psychically immolated most of the others). The final confrontation between the Queen and her variously philosophical rivals unfortunately settles into a pompous discourse of the human species' right of self-determination, the role of religion (the Queen is variously confused with Iris, the Virgin Mary, the White Goddess, etc.) and the problematical advances or technology...and the psychological and physical power of a vampire eucharist.
There are conveniences of plot that Lestat readers will stumble over. The Queen has been awakened from her nearly-eternal sleep by a blodd-sharing—the vampire "kiss—from the ever-presumptuous Lestat, and takes him for her somewhat submissive lover. For her sake, the previously particular and often regretful Lestat becomes a killing machine.
There are mechanical problems with this story, too; multiple narrators, not all of whom have their own voices; and a self-consciousness that threatens to pull the supernatural rug right out from under Rice.
Still, Rice's books just won't give up the ghose. The spell from Vampire Lestat and Interview with the Vampire is easily strong enough to pull the reader through the rough spots—and besides, there's always another installment to look forward to.