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Fresh Blood for Anne Rice

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The ninth volume of “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice I’m holding in my hands. Published half a year ago “Blackwood Farm” was praised beforehand as the horror queen’s new masterpiece. Fresh and fascinating it was called, which led to high hopes, because the last volumes in the Chronicles, “Merrick” and “Blood and Gold”, lacked both storyline and interesting characters.

However, thinking Anne Rice would come back to old form is in vain. We don’t learn what happened to Louis after the last pages of “Merrick” were turned and we don’t see brat prince Lestat in a leading role once more. Sure, he makes a wonderful appearance in the frame of the story, yet he seems to have become teethless through the last few years.

In “Merrick” he had made New Orleans his hunting ground and threatened to kill every intruding fledging. Now in “Blackwood Farm”, Quinn Blackwood – vamipre greenhorn – dares to enter the city anyway. He has read all of Lestat’s books and is well informed about the history of vampires. According to mythology the first vampire was “born” when a bloodthirsty ghost entered the body of a dying aegyptian pair. From then on, part of this ghost is preserved in every vampire. And exactly this mythology is Quinn’s problem: Since his very childhood he has a doppelgänger, a ghost named Goblin. Since Quinn became a vampire also Goblin has changed. Every time after Quinn has fed, Goblin attacks him to get his share of the blood. And every time the ghost becomes stronger. What would happen if he was the source of a new race of vampires?

So he needs Lestat’s help. He should know how to destroy Goblin and ban the danger. And Lestat happily takes the challenge. Instead of killing Quinn, he adopts him, entangles him in philosophical nonsense and befriends his old aunt Aunt Queen who he immediately finds “entrancing”.

To explain Lestat every detail about the ghost, Quinn starts to tell the story of his life. First the history of the complete Blackwood family back to the ancestor Manfred Blackwood who built the manor in the swamps of Louisiana. Then forward to Aunt Queen and his upbringing up to the present day.

Little-Quinn grew up as the only child between adults. Therefore his invisible friend wasn’t a surprise to the rest of the family. When growing up, also his invisible friend Goblin would vanish they thought … just that he didn’t. As the extremely rich heir of Blackwood Farm Quinn grows to be a self-centered, excentric yet terribly naive young man. He has never seen a public school from the inside (remember: excentric) and is educated by his family and some private teachers. The Grand Tour through Europe follows when he is eighteen and also in this age he falls in love with the young Mona Mayfair, though one day before he still thought he was gay. The romantic that he his, he pleads with Mona to marry him not spending a second thought on homosexuality (though he already played some nasty sex games with ghost Goblin in the shower).

Enter vampire: Quinn starts to explore the family secret which is an old house on Sugar Devil Island. Visiting the house he finds read paperbacks, ashes in the fireplace and – who would have thought – a golden crypt in the garden. Who has ever only heard of the name Anne Rice will know what Quinn still has to learn the hard way: Sugar Devil Island is the home of a bloodsucking fiend.

Petronia, fitting the Ricean rolemodel for vampires perfectly, takes an interest in Young Blackwood and starts spying on him, threatening him and playing with his fears. What happens next is no surprise: After some to and fro she makes him a vampire.

After Quinn’s detailed biography the last fifty pages describe the mystery evolving around Goblin, the quest to destroy him and on the last page Mona Mayfair is healed from a strange illness. Where Rice describes every detail concerning Quinns life the real action is written plainly like a task that has to be done. The much more exciting story of Lestat, Goblin and Quinn is brought to an end in the minimum of possibly used pages.

“Blood refreshed for Rice” (Denver Post) or “a completely fresh story” (Booklist) enthused the press. And it’s true: “Blackwood Farm” is for many reasons much more entertaining than the former two volumes. When Anne Rice excursed into unknown jungles (“Merrick”) or traveled to ancient Rome (“Blood and Gold”), she now luckily realized that her writing is most powerful when she stays with what she knows. As a resident of New Orleans her descriptions of the city and the surrounding landscapes are so vivid that even a reader who has never seen these places (like me) feels kidnapped and put down in a swarming swamp. Not by incident the title of the novel is “Blackwood Farm” – the house plays a major part in the story, it is a living being. Anne Rice’s talent instantly lessens when she leaves known ground. Descriptions of Italy or even New York sound like copied from a tourist guide.

Another advantage is the fact that this time the whole story takes place in present day. This makes it possible to take another try at a crossover with the “Mayfair Witches”. When this sounded forced and not determined by the story in “Merrick” it makes perfect sense in “Blackwood Farm”.

Yet, “Blackwood Farm” doesn’t reach the quality of her very first novels, namely “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Vampire Lestat”. In the last years she went to producing mere vampire-biographies that all worked with one writing scheme: Take a frame where you put two vampires at a table and force one to tell the story of his life. Then shush the other one till the first one is done talking (this takes about 300 to 400 pages). Then, on the last 50 or so pages, bring the frame to an end. Also important: Never, and I say n e v e r, connect two following novels plotwise. This also applies to “Blackwood Farm” and many a Rice-reader will soon find the mere technique tiresome.

Yet “Blackwood Farm” is entertaining because of the fresh and unused characters which bring new life to the stagnating Ricean book production machine (and vampire dolls, for that matter). Old fans that were disappointed by her last books, might find new hope here. And people who haven’t heard of Anne Rice’s vampires until now (how dare you!) can easitly join in. Though a lot of old characters play minor roles, they don’t confuse the new reader with their background. Anyway, it is always recommended to start a novel series in the beginning, so here are all the novels in order.

Interview with the Vampire
The Vampire Lestat
Queen of the Damned
The Tale of the Body Thief
Memnoch the Devil
The Vampire Armand
Blood and Gold
Blackwood Farm

Though I was sceptical when I started to read “Blackwood Farm”, the story soon captured my interest. It is a quick read, chock-full of sweaty Louisiana-weather, beautiful vampires and fresh characters. Thumbs up for Anne Rice’s novel. Be sure to read it before the next one is published in October!

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About Michelle Dittrich