There was a time when a new Anne Rice book mattered. Whether a new entry in the “Vampire Chronicles” or the “Mayfair Witches” saga or even her stand-alone stories, Rice created elaborate mythologies on an epic scale. The historic sweep would be evident in most of the individual books and even more so when a series developed volume after eagerly-awaited volume. It’s hard to name a comparable author with such consistent imagination, descriptive skills, and the ability to flesh out memorable, riveting characters. Many of them might be monsters, but they were monsters who were alluring and multi-dimensional.
While Catholic imagery and tropes were part of the literary tapestry in many of these novels, they became more center-stage when Rice wrote her two Jesus of Nazareth re-workings of the Gospels. While expanding the “greatest story ever told,” the scope was much more focused than her previous books, and this had to be the case. Geographically, the narrative was limited to towns around the Sea of Galilee, and historically, she had only 30 years to work with. As she emphasized Jesus as a person, the metaphysics were kept to a necessary minimum. That sort of tight focus, even when jumping around two centuries, is one aspect of the second volume of Rice’s “Songs of the Seraphim” series.
Roughly divided into three sections, Of Love and Evil opens with former contract killer Toby O’Dare recapping his adventures in the first Seraphim book, Angel Time. Apparently, he was first an assassin for hire, then a killer for a government agency, and then redeemed thanks to the intervention of the angel Malchiah. What Toby did for the angel isn’t exactly clear. Any reader who isn’t familiar with Angel Fire is likely to wonder why he’s such a special person in the great vista of heavenly interactions with humans. Clearly, Toby has much to atone for. For one matter, he has to contact the very forgiving former girlfriend who bore him a son 10 years previously. Toby’s namesake is the very picture of forgiveness himself as the trio share a brief family reunion.
Then, Malchiah sends Toby on a new mission in 15th century Rome. There, Toby becomes a detective/lute player investigating the mysterious poisoning of a noblemen’s son. At the same time, the disguised former killer seeks the reasons the nobleman’s home is haunted by a very troublesome ghost. Along the way, Toby meets his literal guardian angel and a diabolical tempter. In the third section, well, we’re set up for the sequel.
It’s interesting to note that this book took two years to come out as a paperback after the original hardback edition. This short effort, more a novella or novelette than fully-developed novel, is so connected to the book that preceded it that one feels like they walked into the middle of a movie. Apparently, the first part had all the real action. Were this a book by any other author, this story might seem an imaginative imitation of Anne Rice with much metaphysical Q&A and pointed digs at New Age thinking. While Toby is a time traveler, virtually his entire stay in Rome is in one house with one evening in the local equivalent of a good bar. Since it’s Rice herself who sketched this short portrait, this effort must be considered one that’s far from her top-tier work. If you read Angel Fire, then perhaps you’re engaged with the characters and storyline. If you haven’t, this is no place to start. But it might be the place to finish.