Thomm Quackenbush, author

Review: Prince Lestat

I mean I'm not all that hard to find, really.
"Oh, yes, you are," Jesse said in answer to my thoughts. "You're very well hidden."
"Well, so what!"
"But back to the story, please," said David.

-Anne Rice, making me feel even her characters are tired of her

When the last Lestat narrated Anne Rice book was brought forth onto the world, I bemoaned to a friend that Rice had lost her ear for Lestat. Instead, Rice delivered to the reader a vapid, superficial twit who seemed to have the demeanor of a teenager's dad when it came to pop culture. "Why, hello there, kiddos. Aren't I just the grooviest dad, g-money? Stop, collaborate and listen, yo!" (He does in fact say "Woot, woot!" as though written by someone trying much too hard to be hip when that was never Lestat's strength.)

To prove my thesis, I pulled my copy of The Vampire Lestat off the shelf, a book I recall loving when I was fifteen, and proceeded to read the introduction aloud. Within a couple of paragraphs, I realize the core of my issue with Lestat and possibly with Anne Rice as a whole: I grew up, but Lestat was still the kind of guy a fifteen-year-old would think is cool. His speech, particularly in this book, is riddled with more exclamation points and whining self-pity than more Facebook posts. I would not be surprised if punctuation is the only editing Rice would begrudgingly allow, letting someone reduce "I didn't have any grand reason!!!!!!! I admit it. And so goddamned what!!!1!!!!!111!!!!" to a single punctuation mark per sentence.

Among the many problems with belaboring the paths her vampires have taken through the eons is when Rice opts to make less than subtle Holocaust allusions about "the proper-color eyes" and "flashes of something horrible" it inspires. Clearly, the vampires lived through World War II and tended to be less than ethical paragons. As I reader, I am more than willing to pass over what her vampires were doing while perfectly good victims were destroyed by the millions because that is a far ghastlier notion than bloodsuckers. If Rice is going to shove that in our faces, I am going to wonder what her blond-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic ▄bermensch might have been doing for the Third Reich.

One of my biggest problems with this book, and possible with Rice's oeuvre, is that she seems to want to take the "vampire" out of her vampires to create a new mythical being. It wouldn't be the first time-her Taltos in the Mayfair Witch Chronicles were basically elves with a penchant for intergenerational incest-but it stings a bit to realize that the erasure of these monsters didn't begin with Stephanie Meyers and a tube of stripper glitter. Rice piles ability after ability onto her characters like a kid making their first superhero ("Okay, no, but he can fly and read minds and... Um... Set you on fire by thinking about it! And inseminate scientists in a single thrust!"), all of which have an uppercase "Gift" appended it. By the end, the only think Ricean vampires seem to have in common with their literary and mythical forbearers is that they like to drink blood, but it is not really an important part of their complete breakfast.

I feel as though Anne Rice lacked a brave enough editor to point out that every emotion that David has is "shocked," told and not shown in so many words. At that, there is a great deal of exposition that random characters give to Lestat. Though this is lazy-I do not want to read fifty pages of "She told me what he told him about what he said about them when they talked to her;" I am not sitting in on middle school gossip-it becomes a sin when different characters find Lestat to tell him exactly what he was just told ten pages prior. He gets it. More than that, we, the readers, understand. This is not helped by frequent reiterations of "if you follow me," "you know," and "as I've said before." You aren't exactly being narratively stealthy, especially given how many of her characters are psychic.

"I'm thirsting," I said aloud. At once he suggested where we might hunt. "No, for your blood," I said, pushing him backwards against the slender but firm trunk of a tree.
"You damnable brat," he seethed.
"Oh, yes, despise me, please," I said as I closed in. I pushed his face to one side, kissing his throat first, and then sinking my fangs very slowly, my tongue ready for those first radiant drops.

Legitimately not just something I pulled off

I do not believe in any of the characters, even ones with whom I sympathized in prior books. They are all just puppets feeding Lestat lines in between telling him how much they love him. I cannot imagine why they do, since Lestat is exactly the same prick they've admonished in the past. Apparently, like the ability to use an iPhone (which are mentioned many dozens of times), everything he's done before is forgotten the moment he is out of sight. Even antagonists immediately fall into emotional lock-step and profess their utter love for Lestat, who occasionally responds by making out with them.

Lestat's sudden inability to grasp any technology more advanced than "big axe I keep in my coat" is a bizarre revision. He shouldn't admit that he needs to be retaught how to send email every couple of years and that he treats his product placement phone like some sort of magical brick. Lestat is not a doddering grandfather because even they can figure out how to post cat memes on Facebook walls. Jesse's explanation, "Because we know now that our preternatural minds don't give us any superior gift for all knowledge, only the same kinds of knowledge we understood when we were human," is ridiculous enough that I burst out laughing. I am supposed to believe that beings animated by a collective intelligence, ones who have lived through a dozen (or a gross) lifetimes are suddenly hamstrung by a keyboard and mouse? The lengths Rice goes to in order to assure the reader that Lestat, a three hundred year old vampire who has managed his affairs all this time, forgets his email addresses regularly and loses his computers makes no sense whatsoever. "Oh gosh, it's too hard to figure out these newfangled devices!" is nearly something he says. Much as I remember Rice adding a purposeless dog into The Tale of the Body Thief because she had just gotten a dog she loved, I think she must have had a hard time with her grandchild's iPad and decided to have Lestat act as her mouthpiece.

Literally every vampire knows about Fareed, the vampire scientist who is slowly converting other great minds to vampirism. On the surface, this might have made for a better story than the rest of this book, except that Fareed is given no real personality and the vampire scientist exists mostly to contrive a reason that Lestat can have sex with one of the scientists once to produce an heir: the useful-only-as-a-hostage Viktor, who says and does nothing worthy of being summoned into existence and is promptly (if ceremonially) turned into a literal clone of Lestat when given the Dark Blood. So, the only reason Fareed is in this book is to be mentioned by every vampire and to let Lestat bang just once.

Well, that would be the case but for one fact: Rice commits a great sin by trying to "science" away the mysticism of the vampires, saying that Amel, the spirit that animates the vampires (and loves Lestat, naturally) is "made up of nanoparticles... made up of cells infinitely smaller than the tiniest eukaryote cells known to us." I do not need my magic to take place in a lab and it reads as though she took the George Lucas course in over-justification. She goes so far as to speculate that Amel existed on the Earth prior to plants filling the atmosphere with oxygen. Rice wants to redefine factors of her universe that worked perfectly fine, shoving down the readers' throat the exact means by which the Fire Gift works (apparently, you have to physically glare at something to set it alight, which did not seem to be the case in the prequels).

Rice throws in ghosts (though, since this is Anne Rice, these ghosts are fully physical, some down to their organs) to bring back most every dead minor character to further adore Lestat, which cheapens the idea of death in this universe almost to the point of nonexistence. Where is the emotional weight of death when one can simply reappear in an even more immortal form, as is the case with Magnus, Lestat's maker? Even the old queen from Armand's coven and a minor member of the Talamasca reappear as a corporeal ghost to fawn over her eponymous character.

I feel as those this is exactly the sort of statement I would make to insult, so I want you to understand how totally I mean this: If Anne Rice just stole someone's Vampire Chronicles fan fiction, it would show more emotional range and believable characterization than she demonstrates here. Characters who barely need names all say the same thing (that we have heard a dozen times before from other mouthpieces) and all feel the same way. Maybe Amel eroded their collective brains so they can no longer offer individual opinions. In fact, aside from sucking one another, they say that they love one another far more often than they demonstrate any action that might indicate this.

Rice's frequent interjections of vampire jargon made me feel more as though I were listening to someone describe LARPing they had just done. Perhaps there was a conflict between the First Brood and the Queen's Blood at some point in the series-you will have to forgive me if I do not care to reread it to root it out-but I doubt it was described with so many significant capital letters. When she tries to detail who belongs to which group and why, it read to me like comic book geeks arguing over which was the best Green Lantern.

Then we encounter the bit of retcon that I like the least: Rose. She is something like Lestat's adopted niece, whom he randomly decides to ignore under a pile of money for a few decades. She isn't mentioned before, certainly when it should have come up, but she is treated her like a core character with whom the reader is supposed to want to catch up. She is so na´ve that I suspect the special school to which she is sent gave her permanent brain damage, except she always believed Lestat's name is Lestan. Actually, that might explain why Lestat has trouble with cell phones as that is perhaps the weakest excuse for a pseudonym I have ever heard. In this universe, Lestat is a famous author and musician. Rose-dear, blithering Rose-has no inkling that her missing uncle Lestat might be in any way unusual until the world's sleaziest literature professor since Humbert Humbert throws acid in her face for daring to claim she rubs shoulders with the undead but has no idea who her uncle Lestan is. Prior to the acid-throwing, he does hurl Anne Rice books at her head for getting their names wrong, which might be the best use for these books. I do not expect Rose to have taken a class in vampire literature, but I guarantee most people I quizzed in Rice's world have heard about Lestat.

When having Rose read the Vampire Chronicles, Rice attempts an act of literary self-congratulation by writing, "And the stories in truth amazed her, not only by their complexity and depth, but by the peculiar dark turns they took, and the chronology they laid out for the main character's moral development." Could someone please hand Mrs. Rice a napkin to wipe off her chin?

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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