by Anne Rice
Published by Knopf
320 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Reviewed by Aaron Blanton
In 1976 the first book in a series now as immortal as its protagonists launched without a great deal of fanfare. Interview With the Vampire eventually slayed me as neatly as it did millions of others, but it would take a while for the vampire phenomena -- as orchestrated by Anne Rice -- to really get going. This wasn't the book's fault: many critics agree that Interview was a master work. Darkly sensuous and utterly compelling, Interview With the Vampire has sold millions of copies throughout the world and was even made into a highly successful film in 1994 starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Interview was, in many ways, seminal. A brilliantly plotted and carefully written book that would bring wave upon wave of new interest to the Transylvianian transplant originally cooked up by Bram Stoker in 1897.
Since Interview's publication, Rice has churned out 21 other novels. Throughout most of her career as an author, Rice has produced a book every year or two -- consistent but not overwhelming. With the publication of Pandora in 1998, Rice announced she was committed to producing two books per year in the foreseeable future: a "big" novel every fall and a vampire novella in the spring. As promised, Rice followed Pandora with The Vampire Armand -- a "big" book -- in the fall of 1998 and another novella, Vittorio the Vampire, in the spring of 1999. Though an almost fatal fight with diabetes in 1998 stemmed this ambitious schedule slightly, Rice seems to have returned in good form. Nonetheless, it would be, one would think, a tough row to hoe: setting yourself up to producing more words in a single year than some writers produce in their entire careers.
It's true that, in most of her novels, Rice isn't beginning from scratch. There are elements in both her Vampire Chronicles -- Interview, Mennoch the Devil and others -- and her Mayfair Witch tales -- The Witching Hour, Lasher and Taltos -- that remain stable from novel to novel. Rice has established, for instance, that her blood-loving creatures can mostly take a bit of light and that there is a hierarchy of vampires based on age, skill set and learning.
Presumably, once you've established the realities within which your fantastic characters must function, you have a foundation from which to work. It would, one would think, make a huge word count seem at least a little less daunting than starting everything from scratch every time.
For the most part, this formula has worked. The very popularity and longevity of Rice's vampire and Mayfair sagas attest to their durability and, I think, their edge. Rice has always, after all, known how to tell a story. More: her characters and her tales have inspired widespread awe and emulation -- not to mention deep sales. It's always seemed very clear that, while the folklore and even some of the characters in each book are the same, each tale has been a distinct and complete package. Until now.
The title character in Rice's latest book is Merrick Mayfair, a young woman from a different branch of the same Mayfair family that populates her Mayfair Witch sagas. Raised since her early teen years by the Talamasca -- a mysterious, ancient and secret organization -- as a bit of a prodigy of the venerable David Talbot prior to his conversion by Lestat, Merrick is a beautiful and powerful sorceress.
David's friendship with Louis de Pointe du Lac forces him to call on Merrick for a favor which only she can grant: in order to bring Louis mental peace, David wants Merrick to call up the ghost of the vampire Claudia -- dead and gone since Interview.
Of course, from the outside looking in, you just know that this is going to be a bad idea: ghosts are almost always better left alone. Even if the callers are witches and vampires. But the device does provide for an intersection between two of the worlds Rice has created: that of her Mayfair witches and her glorious vampires. In the meantime, readers will find themselves transported from contemporary New Orleans to the jungles of South America for a treasure-hunting romp that provides some of the book's more satisfying pages.
As a transition, Merrick works very well. The book may not be riveting, but it's as sensuous and well-realized as anything Rice has done. Some of the transitions are jagged, however: at times it's difficult not to feel like you're being led or -- worse -- set up for tales still to come. None of this should dissuade fans of Rice's work. While Merrick will never replace Interview or even Taltos as the best of this author's storytelling, the book should nonetheless pave the way for the interesting stories this author has yet to tell. | October 2000
Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living outside of the United States. Most of the time, he's happy to be alive.