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
Mary Elizabeth Williams
The nocturnal neck suckers of Anne Rice's world have, over the course of 22 years and half a dozen novels, survived fire, ice, Satan, Christians and Tom
Cruise. But as they creak and creep toward the millennium, can they do the
one thing vampires never seem to think about -- age gracefully? As a
character, the vampire Armand is a fresh-faced youth, eternally suspended
on the verge of manhood. As the latest in Rice's lucrative,
fanatically anticipated chronicles, however, The Vampire Armand is beginning to look a little weathered.
Armand, the nubile Venetian, the living, breathing remnant of the high Renaissance, narrates his own story here, and his world-weary perspective
is a subdued contrast to the bombast of Rice's usual hero, the egomaniacal
rock star/French fop Lestat. A complicated, sexually ambiguous pretty
boy with an evolving but perpetually twisted relationship to Christianity, Armand
at times comes across as endearingly muddled as any modern teen. Unfortunately, he can also be just as irritating. He may be 500 years old, but
Armand apparently still has neither the depth to passionately probe his
religious mysteries with convincing fervor nor the sense of humor to see
the ridiculousness of his quests.
Interview with the Vampire revolutionized the stale
bat-wings-and-fangs vampire genre because it was edgy, sexy and perversely funny. But two decades on, Rice's readers now find themselves in a double
bind of tedium-inducing traps. Those familiar with the series have already trod much of the same lore in prior novels, while newcomers will find a whole passel
of plot holes, many hastily plugged in with Truman Show-style
product placement for Rice's other books. The result is a literary terrain that
once teemed with gloriously amoral immortals but is now cluttered
with a mess of clunky exposition.
There are still moments when Rice appears to be having fun -- she can
fill a scene with enough voluptuous descriptions of silk- and velvet-swathed surroundings to fill a year's worth of J. Peterman catalogs. And it takes nothing
short of brass cojones to make literal the obvious parallels between Christian lore and horror. Jesus invites his followers to drink of his blood; Rice's
night crawlers brashly take him up on the offer. But gorgeous scenery and
cheeky mysticism can't help an unfocused plot, and they can't turn a
great supporting character into a real hero. Armand, for all his travels and all his adventures, emerges as a boy meandering through history in a preternatural
state of adolescent angst.
His ennui isn't helped by the addition of a progressively less engaging
cast of side characters. Armand's colorful Renaissance coterie of artists, courtesans and occasional psychotics are eventually replaced by two human
companions -- a slightly daft piano prodigy and a street-smart 12-year-old
whose stomach for gore is the only thing keeping him from being the cute
sidekick who winds up in Jim Belushi movies. Ultimately, though, it is title character Armand who is the book's biggest draw and its weakest
link. The sad, beautiful youth, so mesmerizing in previous glimpses, is all
tapped out here. The best parts of his story have already been revealed in
Rice's earlier novels. What's left behind is a dour little Botticelli angel,
colorless as a freshly drained corpse. It seems at long last, Armand and
company are facing the inevitable pitfall of vampirism -- when you live forever,
it's entirely possible you may eventually wear out your welcome.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fantasy's great advantage is that authors can make anything happen -- even rewriting their own stories, as Rice does here. Readers of her 1995 novel, Memnoch the Devil, will recall that the vampire Armand ended his existence by stepping into the sun. Since he was a popular character from earlier tales, a resounding protest from fans followed. In response, Rice concocted a way in this, her seventh Vampire Chronicle since Interview with the Vampire (1976), to raise Armand from the dead. He is, in fact, the narrator of this story, in which he looks back on his earthly existence, revisiting his apprenticeship in 16th-century Venice to the regal vampire artist, Marius De Romanus, who saved his life with the kiss of immortality. Afterward, Armand returned to his Russian homeland, but when disaster parted him from Marius, he became the nihilistic leader of a pack of Parisian vampires. Rice offers exquisite details of erotic romps and political intrigues while reprising other material familiar to her fans, but finally returns to the pressing question of what happened to Armand in the sun's lethal rays. She supplies a vivid and resonant description of the experience, set against the counterpoint of Beethoven's Appassionata. Unfortunately, she dims the effect by dragging Armand through rambling scenes involving two odd children, Sybelle and Benji. Otherwise, this is a lavishly poetic recital in which Armand struggles with the fragility of religious belief. The final scene is a stunner.
This sixth installment in Rice's ongoing supernatural soap opera is the most satisfying in years. While protagonist Armand has appeared throughout the series, he's played mostly minor roles. Here, however, we get his full history. Set mostly against the perfect backdrop of Old-World Venice, Armand's life unfolds in rich, velvety prose, beginning with his kidnapping as a lad from the Russian wilderness and moving on to his tutelage under the powerful blood-drinker Marius and consequent rebirth as a vampire of light and then darkness. Rice concentrates a good deal on the physical, and all her characters appear young, beautiful -- and treacherous (think Melrose Place with fangs). Armand himself is comely to the point of femininity. Typically, there are large doses of Christian theology and homoerotic sex, and Rice recycles many characters and plot lines from earlier episodes. Unfortunately, the book flounders when it returns to the present in order to lay the groundwork for the inevitable next installment. Nonetheless, this is a sumptuous addition to the series which fans will drain to the last drop.
-- Michael Rogers
. . .[T]he end of this uneven by enjoyable story is surely only the prelude to another. Stay tuned.
The New York Times Book Review
. . .Rice. . .revisits too much familiar material . . .
Michael Garry Smout
Rice is not that helpful on background information, possibly knowing that only hardcore fans would pick this up anyway....Thumbs down on this one. Read Interview and drive a stake through the rest.
Here continues the stories of Armand, first met in Interview with the Vampire, and Marius, encountered in the ancient Rome of Pandora and still alive in New Orleans, where he tends the comatose body of top vampire Lestat, who's returned from Heaven and Hell with Veronica's Veil (Memnoch the Devil). The young Armand, first given the dark gift 500 years ago by Marius, still looks as boyish as a Botticelli angel and remains in thrall to Marius, who's trying to fathom the long sleep of Lestat and perhaps woo the unwilling Armand away from his two mortal children: dark-haired little Benji, an Arab boy, and the tender, willowy Sybelle. When the recently befanged and elderly scholar David Talbot, Superior General of the Talamasca, an order of psychic detectives, shows up, he is no longer old but has switched to a young body and coaxes Armand (as he did 2,000-year-old Pandora) to relate his memoirs to him. With vague memories of spending his boyhood in Kiev Rus, Armand awoke as an amnesiac boy in Istanbul many centuries ago as slave or captive, and was sold into Venice, where Marius, a great Renaissance painter with a taste for lavish living, took him as a special member of his harem of boys, making him a sex slave. By day, Marius disappears, returns to paint by night, and at last grants Armand eternal life. He educates him in history, philosophy, and the law. Then the Children of Darkness, vampires who kill for God, burn the palazzo and paintings, burn Marius and his harem, and capture Armand. Marius, of course, is not really dead. Eventually, all turns on Armand's love for Benji and Sybelle, on Rice's lush reading of Beethoven's Appassionata piano sonata, and on adreamy awakening of Lestat as Christ. Rice at her ripest, with research easily absorbed by the voluptuous text, though she fawns over her weaker, or more sentimental, moments.
From the Publisher
"ARMAND'S LIFE UNFOLDS IN RICH, VELVETY PROSE. . . . THIS IS A SUMPTUOUS ADDITION TO THE SERIES."
"ANNE RICE FANS WILL NO DOUBT BE THRILLED. . . . [Armand] until now has played a small role in the Vampire Chronicles. Here he assumes center stage, relating his five hundred years of life to fledgling vampire David Talbot, who plays amanuensis to Armand as he did to Lestat. . . . It's not just the epic plot but Rice's voluptuary worldview that's the main attraction. . . . Elegant narrative has always been her hallmark. . . . Rice is equally effective in showing how Armand eventually loses his religion and becomes 'the vagabond angel child of Satan,' living under the Paris cemeteries and founding the Grand Guignol-ish Théâtre des Vampires. In the twentieth century, a rehabilitated Armand regains his faith but falls in love with two children who save his life. By the conclusion of Armand, the pupil has become the mentor."
--The Washington Post
"A FASCINATING AND DAZZLING HISTORICAL TAPESTRY . . . BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN, INCREDIBLY ABSORBING."
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.