The latest installment in Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” series, “Prince Lestat,” is not an easy read. To get through it you must have the time and energy to really focus (no reading when you’re half-asleep before bed), and it helps to have a laptop handy so that you can quickly Google characters and events.
“Prince Lestat” — the first “Chronicles” book in more than a decade — is dense with long sentences and passages,
The book begins with talk about a voice that began haunting Lestat decades ago after the death of Rice’s “Queen of the Damned” character Akasha. That voice is perhaps back, now haunting vampires everywhere and urging them to destroy their own kind. A number of elders look to Lestat to unify their battle against the threat, but it takes a while for him to engage.
Clearly this 458-page book is not without a plot, but action is not the point. “Prince Lestat” seems to be more about delving into lore related to past novels than resolving a dilemma.
If you haven’t recently re-read “The Vampire Lestat” or “Queen of the Damned” — which set up “Prince Lestat” — the first hundred pages of Rice’s latest offering will feel like being at a high school reunion. (You’re charmed to see the familiar faces, but you feel disconnected — unable to remember why you liked everyone so much.)
Once caught up, it’s possible to roll with Rice’s sprawling story if you’re a longtime fan — less so if you’re not. Lestat is still an engaging character who manages to live up to his own hype. Some of the other tales in the book work, such as the story of Rose, who grows up with Lestat (or Lestan, as she calls him) as her uncle. (Lestan is seemingly a nod to Rice’s late husband Stan.)
Some chapters are beasts — just pages and pages of Rice getting virtually biblical. In the chapter “The Story of Gregory,” Rice writes, “How amazed — Gregory — Nebamun of old — had been by Flavius’s stories of King Enkil and Akasha, now mute and blind living statues who never showed the slightest sign of sentience as they sat on a throne above banks of flowers and fragrant lamps in a gilded shrine. And it was Marius, the Roman, who had stolen the unresisting King and Queen out of Egypt, from the old blood drinker priesthood that had thrived there for four thousand years.”
Even dedicated Lestat fans will get tired of that kind of talk.
What should keep them reading is Rice’s portrait of Lestat as an aging vampire who doesn’t know where he belongs in the world. Years ago, Lestat was all about wish fulfillment. He romanced. He sang in a rock band. He was bad. But now he’s displaced and uncomfortable with his image. He spies on his old friends. He mentions the old “Vampire Chronicles” books (which, in the series, are said to be written by him and his friends) so many times that it’s clear he lives for the past. Rice is kind with these moments, allowing Lestat to get exhausted. It’s humbling and human.
“And in time I forgot again how to use the computer,” says Lestat, who can’t be bothered to deal with his smartphone. “The little iPhone rang a number of times. It was David. We’d talk, it would be brief, and then I’d forget to recharge the little thing . . . But I didn’t hear from him again. Truth was, I lost the little iPhone. And went back to calling my attorneys in Paris and New York now as I had always done, with an old-fashioned landline phone.”
It’s easy to give Lestat a break. After all, he’s 253 years old.