I hate abandoning books I have bought.
Last night, after getting 200 pages in, I let go of The Queen of the Damned (Anne Rice, 1988).
The first two Vampire Chronicles, Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, are supremely entertaining books. I was of high school age when I read them; and today, as a fledgling novelist of no repute, I am intent on reading more of her work: I am fascinated by her success — at how the writer’s market has responded to her, at how she markets herself online (she has a great Facebook feed; she sounds like a nice lady). Late last year, when I found a copy of The Queen of the Damned in my garage, I sat down and —
Had problems right away:
1. It gets off to a great start, with Lestat, the brat prince of modern vampire fiction, narrating. His voice is so strong, so commanding, that we miss it when Rice trades it for that of other, less interesting characters. The book, then, becomes an unintentional tease. Thumbing ahead, I see that Lestat resumes speaking to the reader at around the 250-page mark. I, however, can’t bring myself to endure another fifty pages to see if the story, what little of it there is, picks up.
2. The book is almost all backstory, presented about as dully as can be. The setup for the The Queen of the Damned is that Lestat, having become a rock star in the age of MTV and written about his tribe’s secret history in The Vampire Lestat, has so affronted his own kind that Akasha, the pre-Egyptian queen mum of bloodsuckers, wakes from her slumber to teach him (and others) a lesson. Unfortunately, the reader must wade through so much waxing-in-the-wind by so many secondary and undifferentiated characters — the setup becomes an excuse to fill in backstory. With one exception, though, I didn’t care about these characters. I failed to see the necessity of presenting them in such an extended manner: Many of them get a chance to drive the narrative, but why should they? Why can’t we stay with Lestat instead? By doing this, by giving so many of them the same refined yet desiccated viewpoint, the book comes off as anemic. I wish there was at least one loser, one meathead, among this insufferably serious and self-aware lot. It’s Rice’s world, that I get. She is free to build it as she pleases. Still, I am not as into it as the book would have me be. In The Queen of the Damned, Rice writes for the Rice obsessives.
3. The series, then, here in installment #3, feels played out. The first two books were rooted in pain and self-discovery. They were first-person accounts of transformation-through-tragedy, of the outsider’s quest for purpose and reason — and the curse in having to succumb, over and over again, to the same base urge — of having to feed on other people in order to survive. One subplot in The Queen of the Damned glimmers with a similar sort of self-conflictedness (a play on the man-on-man “rape” between Louis and Lestat in Interview, it involves Daniel, the interviewer of the first book, and the vampire Armand, and I would happily have read more about it), but there is very little else to sink our teeth into (look, ma, I’m punning). In this book, the world we enter is closed off to mortals, and without an immortal- or mortal-in-crisis to chart, the flaws have nowhere to hide. The Queen of the Damned is overstuffed, overly expository, and just plain boring.
I’m sorry, Mrs. Rice. I tried.