Lestat, is there nothing he can’t do? The age old vampire has been around forever and, while he didn’t write the first song, he did front a metal band in during the hair band heyday. He could probably act, although he burnt that bridge a long time ago along with many bloodsuckers far older than he. In Anne Rice’s latest installment of the vampire chronicles, Blood Communion, old age is having a go at relative youth.
Over the course of eleven books, we’ve become quite accustomed to the chronicled vampire. He began as a secondary character in the first book Interview with a Vampire, the midnight hunter who turned Louis into an immortal bloodsucker. Lestat quickly became the favorite of the writer and the readers. Coarse yet refined, ruthless yet sentimental, he played with his food and sometimes became enamored of his playthings. He sired his own mother, a big no-no in sanguine circles, and proceeded to break every rule made by man, woman or former men and women. Given godlike powers, he came to see himself as a god. Soon, others saw him similarly, not the least of all, the author herself.
Anne Rice is more than in love with her creation. Lestat de Lioncourt is a masturbatory fantasy who can do no wrong for the author, even at his most erroneous. Lestat is a narcissist and Rice is his biggest enabler. He has the power of life and death in his hands, which he wrings in anguish over their responsibility. And when he decides to kill, or not to kill, imprison or enslave, free or charge for past grievances, Rice accepts any answer he gives. The book is told in first person, by de Lioncourt, and no justification he makes for himself comes anywhere close to a gavel.
Blood Communion is a romance novel told in treacherous waters. Not the same waters Lestat circumnavigated to follow the Atalantaya spirit and the self-cloning Replimoids in Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (2016), though he does fly over them. In Blood Communion, after positively gorging himself on the blood of Rhoshamandes, Lestat flies over oceans to get home. He has conquered ancient vampires, Atlanteans, humans, demons and spectral intruders. He has given and taken life on sheer whim. But his flight over the Pacific, those few paragraphs describing how he occasionally falls asleep and is held aloft by forces greater than himself, is where he is at his most celestial. He reminds this reviewer of another literary spiritual deliverer, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Richard Bach’s 1973 novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is as responsible for the New Age movement as Autobiography of a Yogi. The hero of the book is a young rebellious seagull who is banished from his flock for flying too high and diving too deep. He finds the tastiest morsels further under the surface of the ocean than his feathered friends. When he is kicked out of the community he flies and flies, awake and asleep, faster and faster, until he comes to the realization that thinking is the best way to travel, to paraphrase the Moody Blues. He comes back to the flock a guru, leading them higher into the atmosphere.
So it is with Lestat. His rebellion began long before he set fire to the Théâtre des Vampires or turned poor young Claudia into an eternal porcelain doll. He went into a final sleep, but like The Who or Cher, no retirement tour will ever be his last. He came back a savior to the plasma-challenged crowd, giving them hope, and throwing marvelous parties in his Court. Lestat is now The Brat Prince, as every vampire calls him to his face and hides telepathically, but some older members of the blood community still remember his youthful tantrums. Most have forgiven him and celebrate the enthusiasm he brings to the Elders Court but some are unmoved. Like the stones they will become as they finally age.
Lestat declared himself godlike a few books ago and he is a loving god. He falls in love every few pages. Whether he is moved by flesh, wardrobe, intellect or architecture, Lestat tumbles head over heels at the slightest provocation. Even when provoked by the flaming breath of vampire executioners, he still marvels at the technique. It’s part of the problem according to his bodyguard Cyril, who prefers wrapping hot vamps in iron. Lestat admires beauty more than strength. Vampires have a habit of only turning the most attractive prospects undead and Lestat takes this very seriously. In the early part of the book, he is very impressed by Dmitri Fontayne, who prefers to be called Mitka, the part Russian, part French blood drinker made in Russia in the time of Great Catherine. But like many pretty things, Mitka is soon put on a shelf to collect dust or, in his case, ash, as he is quickly relegated to the corners of the action.
Some of the most interesting characters are dispatched too quickly. Baudwin’s torch goes out pretty quick, snuffed by his maker, the legendary Gundesanth, who insists the vampires just call him Santh. Santh hangs around to be one of the hangers-on in the court, his history told in whispers out of Lestat’s hearing range. To be fair, with so many vampires sticking around from earlier books, and all of hovering around the Court, Rice would be hard-pressed to give them all page time.
Armand is at his passive aggressive best in the book. An actor through and through, he punctures ever line of a poignant harangue against Lestat with gushes of admiration and undying love. But then, everyone loves Lestat. He is told that over and over. It’s a good thing he is so charmingly self-effacing that it doesn’t go to his head.
Rice isn’t stingy with the violence. Lestat surprises Rhosh with a tacky impromptu head butt but he has the follow through to take the head off, and even vomits up his flame-broiled brain and eyes. The beloved Benedict makes a grand and gory exit. No sun-gazing for him. He prefers to take his eyes out to the throbbing beat of kettledrums.
For a sociopathic serial killer, Lestat has a lot of nerve passing judgment on which human criminals he keeps in his dungeon, although it does doubles as a walk-in pantry as they are only kept around for dinners. The ancients might have a point about the civility of Lestat’s Blood Communion. The children of the court he envisions for the future may turn out to produce lazy vampires who can’t fend for themselves.
Rice has always played fast and loose with the undead nature of vampires. At one point, Lestat and some fellow vampires hear the heartbeats of his mother Gabrielle, Marius and Louis. They have been kidnapped, had their necks broken and were entombed in iron-based steel plates. Vampires are dead. Their lifeblood is taken by their maker, who replaces it with their own, and they die. He also hears the heartbeats of all the visiting vampires dancing at his communal castle. The undead give up the right to a heartbeat after death. They also give up the right to smoke, because they don’t have working lungs.
Lestat is pretty talky in the book, which has a lot more dialogue than Rice’s previous works. The novel works as a travelogue as Lestat nips back and forth between his ancestral castle in the mountains of France and the troubling landscape of Rice’s Louisiana, with descriptive stops in 18th-Century St. Petersburg.
Blood Communion is short for Rice, at 257 pages, and it begins and ends slow. Lestat is now in charge of all the vampires and he makes his decisions like he has all the time in the world, an occupational hazard for immortal beings. The first two chapters rehash the earlier books in The Vampire Chronicles, and Lestat, whose story was supposed to end in Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches novel franchise, always stays for the last dance at the winter ball.
Anne Rice’s Blood Communion was published Oct. 2, 2018.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.