Anne Rice,
The Vampire Lestat
(Knopf, 1985;
Ballantine, 1986)

The Vampire Lestat is not only one of the most engaging, remarkable, illuminating and important horror novels ever written, it is a beautiful work of art that stands proudly among the ranks of what I define as great literature. The breadth and scope of this novel is almost staggering, as is the hypnotic language in which every word and phrase is uttered. Interview With the Vampire was provocative and soul-stirring, but its greatest achievements pale in comparison to the least of the many wonders worked into this second volume of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

It was the story of Claudia the vampire child that touched my heart in the first novel, although the moral and philosophical questions asked by Louis opened the door for a new kind of vampire literature. Still, Lestat hovered and brooded over every page of Interview, leaving nothing but unanswered questions in the wake of his coldness and sometimes pathetic manifestations. One could not help but wonder about his origins and history, the heavy weights of his mysterious life having left him little more than a husk of a vampire at the end of Louis' story. Finding out in the opening pages of Lestat that this inscrutable wanderer is not only thriving once again but has in fact become a rock star seems pretty strange. Yet all things are made clear in this novel, for this is Lestat's story, and he violates every vampire law by revealing secrets beyond the ken of mortal man. Lestat wants to embrace his true nature, show the world's population that vampires live amongst them, and incite a glorious war between man and the Children of the Night.

This is much more than just Lestat's story, however. What Rice has managed to do in this novel is to create a brand new history and legend of the vampire, taking this most beloved of horror themes and transcending the literature of Stoker, Le Fanu and the greats of the past. The cold and inscrutable Lestat we saw in Interview is now revealed to be at one time the most human of vampires, an immortal whose love for humans exceeded even that of his creation Louis. We learn of his human childhood, his creation by the immensely old and powerful Magnus in the 17th century. The depth of his feelings for his mother and adolescent soul companion Nicholas are quite touching and beautiful, and we see how his first recipients of the Dark Trick come to bring him much pain and tragedy. We see his crazed outbursts and intensity of feeling revealed in the most telling of ways. We learn much more about the vampire Armand, a character I quite honestly despise for his weakness. He hides behind old traditions, betraying the very notions of his own creator Marius by embracing a pseudo-religion of evil, punishing those wretched creatures who dare disturb his antiquated way of existence.

Marius, an ancient vampire of great power who links Armand and Lestat together in the most telling of ways, introduces Lestat and ourselves to the Mother and the Father, Those Who Must Be Kept, and it is through these individuals that the history of vampirism is delivered so originally and brilliantly here, drawing and touching upon ancient Egypt, religion, philosophy and a myriad of other powerful subjects and inspirations. Through Lestat's daring and individualism, we learn much more than any other vampire teacher could tell us; he truly did have stories to tell, and now we learn why he refused to share his wisdom with Louis and Claudia.

The introduction of the Mother and the Father, Akasha and Enkil, leads us directly into the next book in the series, The Queen of the Damned, and The Vampire Lestat actually ends on a note of new beginnings potentially more powerful than anything introduced and revealed in this book's 550 pages. I find Those Who Must Be Kept absolutely fascinating, the most ancient of vampires who live lives of immobility and seeming inactivity, staring open-eyed eternally, leaving open the possibility to Lestat in particular that they can be reawakened.

Yet Lestat's active plans, his flagrant announcement to the world that he is a vampire (even though mortals may believe in the image rather than the reality of what he is saying) and his daring publication of the most secret of his kind's secrets leaves one spellbound and in wonder as to how things will play out in the end. His actions are rash and dangerous, yet the exuberance he feels in doing these things brings him to life ever more fully.

I could go on and on about the wonder and power of this novel, but even then I could not begin to convey the beauty and force with which Anne Rice weaves her dark wonders. Rice takes us inside the hearts and minds of these vampire characters, and that is a perspective that even Stoker never provided. I thought nothing could possibly surpass the dark brilliance of Dracula, but I have to say that The Vampire Lestat is the greatest vampire novel I have ever read.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 16 July 2005

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