Anne Rice,
The Witching Hour
(Ballantine, 1993)

I loved the vampire novels (at least up to The Tale of the Body Thief) and adored The Mummy, but I think The Witching Hour is Rice at her best. The HUGE book is absolutely compelling from beginning to end.

The story moves from a modern-day tale of a young woman, a doctor with a "gift," the end product of centuries of witches who are under control of Lasher (called so because he can make the trees lash when he's angry), then into the past of her ancestors. In each generation of the "Mayfair witches," there was a chosen female who inherited Lasher, and he brought power and riches; he brought madness.

The book slowly spirals around the details of the woman's modern-day life, returning to New Orleans for the funeral of her mother, the base of the family of witches, male and female, and coming to terms with her heritage, Lasher and a destiny plotted for her for centuries that leads to a horrific end: bringing Lasher into this world. We see a lot of the tale through the eyes of the people around the family, as the agent for the Talamasca (seen in the vampire cycle), the watchers and recorders of witches and vampires, collect the tales on the witches.

Its leisurely pace is evocative, bringing to mind the slower pace of New Orleans, but it's spellbinding, haunting, deceptively mesmerising. When she moves the tale of the Mayfair witches into the past and traces each generation of witch from early Scotland on, the prose is breathtaking. Rice uses ancient Scottish lore and gives it a new life in her provoking tale that will keep you hypnotised as few works do.

I don't think she was better before or since. It's simply a masterpiece.

- Rambles
written by DeborahAnne MacGillivray
published 12 April 2003

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