The Barnes & Noble Review
And That's Why the Teenager Is a Vamp
Luxurious this is the best word I can think of to describe Anne Rice's hot-blooded fiction. The Vampire Armand follows in the path of her last novel, Pandora, in which Rice picked up with the tale of one of her vampire offspring from the epic Vampire Chronicles. With The Vampire Armand, Rice has now written what may be her most lush and moving novel. By concentrating solely on Armand, the eternal teenager with the wisdom of the ages, she has excavated one of the most fascinating characters in the literature of dark fantasy. Armand first appeared in Interview with the Vampire, as the emotional center of the frenzied Parisian vampires whom Louis encounters on his search for both his supernatural kin and his own lost soul. Armand was even then one of the intriguing ones, a child-man who understood Louis's dilemma but had given himself over to a period of debauchery and sadism. But later, in Rice's Memnoch the Devil, which often read delightfully so as Rice's stab at understanding a religious model of the universe, Armand took on a supplicant's role beneath the Vampire Lestat who sought the ultimate knowledge of the Divine.
Now Anne Rice treats us to the life and times of Armand, from his origins onward. The conceit here is the same as in Pandora. David Talbot, the psychic detective member of the Talamasca, wants to write Armand's tale down so others will know his legacy. Perhaps this is how Rice best invokes her muse, for when Armand begins his lively and undeadstory, the prose billows like a soft curtain in a perfumed breeze. The Vampire Armand is riveting and beautiful.
Armand's young life was anything but gentle. When the Turks took over his homeland, he was forced into slavery, and as a preternaturally pretty boy these were, after all, the ancient Turks he was condemned to service in brothels. Armand doesn't mince words, and Rice, to her credit, doesn't romanticize his childhood up to this point. While Armand doesn't recount rape scenes in excruciating detail, he makes it clear that it was a brutal experience. But then, when a mysterious and rich man from Venice buys Armand for his household, Armand's life changes.
The man, known as Master to the young boy, is none other than Marius, possibly the most captivating and intriguing of Rice's pantheon of vampiric beings. Wealthy beyond measure, delighting in the sensual and erotic, Marius is smitten with the young boy from Kiev. Armand's name becomes Amadeo, "beloved of God," and Marius is in many ways Armand's only god. As Marius seeks to train the boy in the arts of love and lust, other people crowd into their life together in Venice. Included in this is the seductive and intelligent Bianca, a courtesan who is as adept at poisoning as she is at lovemaking, and the Earl of Harlech, a lusty Englishman who intends to possess Armand for himself or cut him to pieces. A highlight of the book is a scene in which Marius takes the still-mortal Armand to a den of upper-class rogues as they celebrate a feast. Marius toys with the guests, offering Armand up as a kind of bauble for them to bid on. But Marius drinks the life from each guest, one by one, until the score of vengeance is settled. It is a testament to Rice's erotic sensibility and artistry that she manages to make these dark, disturbing moments both terrifying and alluring without being repulsive.
As Rice spreads her canvas far and wide, we learn more of Armand's origins, of the secrets he carries, and, in that fateful change when he receives his Dark Gift, we share with him the beautiful and destructive world of the vampire. The Vampire Armand is easily Anne Rice's best vampire novel since The Vampire Lestat.
Douglas Clegg, barnesandnoble.com
Read an Excerpt
They said a child had died in the attic. Her clothes had been discovered in the wall.
I wanted to go up there, and to lie down near the wall, and be alone.
They'd seen her ghost now and then, the child. But none of these vampires could see spirits, really, at least not the way that I could see them. No matter. It wasn't the company of the child I wanted. It was to be in that place.
Nothing more could be gained from lingering near Lestat. I'd come. I'd fulfilled my purpose. I couldn't help him.
The sight of his sharply focused and unchanging eyes unnerved me, and I was quiet inside and full of love for those nearest me--my human children, my dark-haired little Benji and my tender willowy Sybelle--but I was not strong enough just yet to take them away.
I left the chapel.
I didn't even take note of who was there. The whole convent was now the dwelling place of vampires. It was not an unruly place, or a neglected place, but I didn't notice who remained in the chapel when I left.
Lestat lay as he had all along, on the marble floor of the chapel in front of the huge crucifix, on his side, his hands slack, the left hand just below the right hand, its fingers touching the marble lightly, as if with a purpose, when there was no purpose at all. The fingers of his right hand curled, making a little hollow in the palm where the light fell, and that too seemed to have a meaning, but there was no meaning.
This was simply the preternatural body lying there without will or animation, no more purposeful than the face, its expression almost defiantly intelligent, given that months had passed in which Lestat had not moved.
The high stained-glass windows were dutifully draped for him before sunrise. At night, they shone with all the wondrous candles scattered about the fine statues and relics which filled this once sanctified and holy place. Little mortal children had heard Mass under this high coved roof; a priest had sung out the Latin words from an altar.
It was ours now. It belonged to him--Lestat, the man who lay motionless on the marble floor.
Man. Vampire. Immortal. Child of Darkness. Any and all are excellent words for him.
Looking over my shoulder at him, I never felt so much like a child.
That's what I am. I fill out the definition, as if it were encoded in me perfectly, and there had never been any other genetic design.
I was perhaps seventeen years old when Marius made me into a vampire. I had stopped growing by that time. For a year, I'd been five feet six inches. My hands are as delicate as those of a young woman, and I was beardless, as we used to say in that time, the years of the sixteenth century. Not a eunuch, no, not that, most certainly, but a boy.
It was fashionable then for boys to be as beautiful as girls. Only now does it seem something worthwhile, and that's because I love the others--my own: Sybelle with her woman's breasts and long girlish limbs, and Benji with his round intense little Arab face.
I stood at the foot of the stairs. No mirrors here, only the high brick walls stripped of their plaster, walls that were
old only for America, darkened by the damp even inside the convent, all textures and elements here softened by the simmering summers of New Orleans and her clammy crawling winters, green winters I call them because the trees here are almost never bare.
I was born in a place of eternal winter when one compares it to this place. No wonder in sunny Italy I forgot the beginnings altogether, and fashioned my life out of the present of my years with Marius. "I don't remember." It was a condition of loving so much vice, of being so addicted to Italian wine and sumptuous meals, and even the feel of the warm marble under my bare feet when the rooms of the palazzo were sinfully, wickedly heated by Marius's exorbitant fires.
His mortal friends . . . human beings like me at that time . . . scolded constantly about these expenditures: firewood, oil, candles. And for Marius only the finest candles of beeswax were acceptable. Every fragrance was significant.
Stop these thoughts. Memories can't hurt you now. You came here for a reason and now you have finished, and you must find those you love, your young mortals, Benji and Sybelle, and you must go on.
Life was no longer a theatrical stage where Banquo's ghost came again and again to seat himself at the grim table.
My soul hurt.
Up the stairs. Lie for a little while in this brick convent where the child's clothes were found. Lie with the child, murdered here in this convent, so say the rumormongers, the vampires who haunt these halls now, who have come to see the great Vampire Lestat in his Endymionlike sleep.
I felt no murder here, only the tender voices of nuns.
I went up the staircase, letting my body find its human weight and human tread.
After five hundred years, I know such tricks. I could frighten all the young ones--the hangers-on and the gawkers--just as surely as the other ancient ones did it, even the most modest, uttering words to evince their telepathy, or vanishing when they chose to leave, or now and then even making the building tremble with their power--an interesting accomplishment even with these walls eighteen inches thick with cypress sills that will never rot.
He must like the fragrances here, I thought. Marius, where is he? Before I had visited Lestat, I had not wanted to talk very much to Marius, and had spoken only a few civil words when I left my treasures in his charge.
After all, I had brought my children into a menagerie of the Undead. Who better to safeguard them than my beloved Marius, so powerful that none here dared question his smallest request.
There is no telepathic link between us naturally--Marius made me, I am forever his fledgling--but as soon as this occurred to me, I realized without the aid of this telepathic link that I could not feel the presence of Marius in the building. I didn't know what had happened in that brief interval when I knelt down to look at Lestat. I didn't know where Marius was. I couldn't catch the familiar human scents of Benji or Sybelle. A little stab of panic paralyzed me.
I stood on the second story of the building. I leaned against the wall, my eyes settling with determined calm on the deeply varnished heart pine floor. The light made pools of yellow on the boards.
Where were they, Benji and Sybelle? What had I done in bringing them here, two ripe and glorious humans? Benji was a spirited boy of twelve, Sybelle, a womanling of twenty-five. What if Marius, so generous in his own soul, had carelessly let them out of his sight?
"I'm here, young one." The voice was abrupt, soft, welcome.
My Maker stood on the landing just below me, having come up the steps behind me, or more truly, with his powers, having placed himself there, covering the preceding distance with silent and invisible speed.
"Master," I said with a little trace of a smile. "I was afraid for them for a moment." It was an apology. "This place makes me sad."
He nodded. "I have them, Armand," he said. "The city seethes with mortals. There's food enough for all the vaga-
bonds wandering here. No one will hurt them. Even if I weren't here to say so, no one would dare."
It was I who nodded now. I wasn't so sure, really. Vampires are by their very nature perverse and do wicked and terrible things simply for the sport of it. To kill another's mortal pet would be a worthy entertainment for some grim and alien creature, skirting the fringes here, drawn by remarkable events.
From the Paperback edition.