Ask most fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series which is their favorite entry in the saga, and I’d say nine out of ten times they’ll tell you it’s one of the first three books: Interview with the Vampire (1976), The Vampire Lestat (1985), or The Queen of the Damned (1988). The novels that followed in the series each have their merits, specifically The Tale of the Body Thief and The Vampire Armand, but by and large it’s the first three books that fans tend to hold dear to their hearts. Perhaps The Queen of the Damned is the one they love most of all, for the way it weaves so many different aspects of the lore together, introduces new characters and reintroduces older ones, moves back and forth through history, and pits the entire vampire community against an ancient menace in a life or death struggle for the future of both the human and vampire species. It might not be the best in the series (which is still The Vampire Lestat, in my humble opinion) but it’s maybe the one that’s simply the most fun to read.
Rice’s new book, Prince Lestat, although technically the 13th book in the series, is very much a sequel to Queen of the Damned, both literally in terms of its plot, and in the way it’s structured. Many fans of the older Vampire Chronicles, especially those who have strayed from the series as their vampire needs were fulfilled by the Angels and Bill Comptons and even Edward Cullens of the world, will be very happy to have a new volume in the series that sticks so closely to the things that made us fall in love with this world in the first place.
Prince Lestat is also the first Vampire Chronicle from Anne Rice in eleven years. Rice gave up writing non-religious fiction about a decade ago when she returned to the Catholic church (they’ve since fallen out again), and you can tell the time away from that world has made Rice approach the original themes of the novels with renewed vigor, maybe more than anything she’s written since 1995’s Memnoch the Devil. The last three books in the series, Merrick (2000), Blackwood Farm (2002), and Blood Canticle (2003) were hybrid novels, where Rice crossed over characters from her Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy of books with the vampires, and even Rice herself thinks those volumes haven’t aged that well. Although Prince Lestat doesn’t outright contradict the events of those books, it’s telling that none of the witch/vampire hybrid characters appear or are even mentioned in this new book, even those made vampires by Lestat himself, the title character.
Those crossover books never really felt like “proper” parts of the Vampire Chronicles. The other later books in the series were all memoirs from supporting characters like Marius and Pandora and Armand, and mostly just embellished stories we fans all knew the broad strokes to already. Enjoyable in parts, they all suffered a bit from “prequelitis.” I think what fans have wanted for years is for all the characters to come together again, and for an event to propel the mythology forward instead of just looking back on everyone’s origin stories, and I can say that Prince Lestatcertainly does just that.
The plot of the book picks up nearly thirty years after the events of Queen of the Damned. For those of you out there that haven’t read that novel, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: the basic plot of the book had the Queen of all vampires, Akasha, rise from a sleep of several thousand years only to destroy the majority of the vampire race and seek to rule in a world without men, whom she blamed for all the wars and miseries of the world over the last several thousand years (and she makes a good case for that, by the way). She planned to kill 90% of the males of the human species and let women inherit the Earth. Eventually, Lestat and the surviving vampires stop her, and the source of Akasha’s vampire power is passed into another ancient vampire named Mekare, a mute and brain damaged creature. By becoming the new host of the primal source of vampiric power, Mekare was the new “Queen of the Damned”, so to speak. The book ends with the tantalizing question of whether or not that power will corrupt this new Queen, making her perhaps something worse than Akasha ever was.
However, none of the other books in the series followed up on this plot thread… until now. Three decades later, the vampire race has proliferated out of control, and now younger, 21st century vampires are being destroyed all over the world by older immortals, egged on by a mysterious “voice,” in an echo of events from Queen of the Damned. Is the new Queen responsible for this, or it is something far older and far worse? I have to say, if you’re fan of the earlier novels, it won’t be very difficult to figure out who the “Voice” is, and I’m surprised it takes the book as long as it does to make the big reveal. Nevertheless, Prince Lestat works because it gives you two things many of the later novels lack: a sense of urgency and danger for the entire tribe of vampires (not just for Lestat), and multiple perspectives from many characters, both new and old, yet somehow keeping Lestat and his plight at the center of it all. In many ways, Prince Lestat is Queen of the Damned 2.0, and that is not a bad thing.
In many ways, Prince Lestat is love letter to the fans of the series and to the Vampire Chroniclesitself. It’s interesting that the book opens with quotes from the earlier books in the series. In Rice’s previous novels, she used quotes from other literary sources or her husband’s poetry to preface a chapter, but by using quotes from the earlier novels she’s acknowledging that Prince Lestat is, in a lot of ways, a commentary on the whole saga she created nearly forty years ago. For example, one of the characters in this book, a younger vampire named Benji, has a vampire internet radio station and website, where he only takes calls from other vampires and not their human “goth fans.” (He can tell the difference based on the timber in their voices.) The human world thinks the whole thing is elaborate performance art, much like the 19th Century Theater of the Vampires from Interview with the Vampire. Rice is taking old ideas from previous novels and repacking them with a modern context, and those aspects of the book are a delight.
Another way Prince Lestat is a commentary on the entire saga is how Rice manages to bring back characters from the earlier books that were long forgotten and left for dead, now given proper names and histories and personalities, re-contextualizing those earlier, much beloved volumes. One particular character from Interview with the Vampire is brought back and given its time in the sun (well, not literally, that would be bad), one that I had all but forgotten about. And no, it’s not the vampire child Claudia. Some deaths, it seems, are sacred. Other older vampires are reintroduced, as well as new characters, and still equal time is given to what our favorite vampires like Louis, Armand, Marius and the others have been up to all this time.
Would I recommend Prince Lestat to new readers? Not really. For full emotional resonance, I really do feel you need to read the first three books in the series first. Despite the fact that the events of those books are re-capped, it’s just not the same. (Rice herself disagrees on this point.) But if you are an older reader of the series, there’s so much to enjoy that I definitely recommendPrince Lestat. Rice’s style isn’t for everyone; her books are talky and not action heavy. Pages and pages are devoted to describing a location and a feeling in sumptuous manner. Her characters love the material world, and love to go one about the beauty in everything around them. I personally love that about Rice’s writing, but just as many people take issue with all her indulgent prose.
I guess the million dollar question is, “Is it as good as the old books?” Which isn’t a fair question, really. As a geek culture, we will be soon getting a lot of continuations to stories that we long thought were over and done with and had given up hope on ever seeing continued (Star Wars, Twin Peaks, etc.) and the real question shouldn’t be “Is it as good?” because neither we nor the creators of those properties are the same people we were they created them, or when we first discovered them. Rather, the question should be “Is it a worthy follow up?” and “Does it remind you of what you loved about this world in the first place?” I say Prince Lestat definitely does both: it’s a worthy follow up, and it reminds me of just why I love the universe Rice created so much in the first place.