With the splendid Merrick
, Rice is firing on all cylinders, and this latest volume in the best-selling Vampire Chronicles
has all the elements that we expect from her: richly evocative use of locales; flesh-creeping horror (the squeamish should steer clear); rich, operatic characterisation and (most of all) that strange, overwrought prose style which is hers alone. The Vampire Armand
ended with Lestat being revived in modern-day New Orleans. But the central character in this new volume is Lestat's friend Louis de Pointe du Lac (who first appeared in the 18th-century France of Interview with the Vampire
), another one of Rice's tortured vampires. Louis is dealing with the memory of the dead child vampire Claudia, to whom he was devoted. But when the Machiavellian organiser David Talbot joins Louis in appealing to the beautiful Merrick (mixed-race daughter of a New Orleans Mayfair clan) to invoke the ghost of Claudia, Merrick's very individual brand of black magic becomes the one thing that can save Louis' sanity. This tampering results in other malign spirits being released, and soon Rice's narrative is knee-deep in bloody mayhem and voodoo.
The novel has the feel of a massive, sprawling canvas, teeming with colour and invention, the locales move from her beloved New Orleans to a colourfully realised Brazilian jungle, and set against this are the larger-than-life characters Rice excels in. Merrick takes a little while to establish herself but when she assumes centre stage, the reader will find the wait well worthwhile. The big set pieces are as gripping as ever (in the usual sanguinary fashion):
Suddenly she lunged at the altar, never letting go of her bottle, and, grabbing the green jade perforator in her left hand, she slashed a long cut into her right arm. I gasped. What could I do to stop her, I thought, what could I do that wouldn't enrage her? The blood streamed down her arm and she bowed her head, lifted it, drank the rum and sprayed the offering on the patient saints once again. I could see the blood flowing down her hand, over her knuckles. The wound was superficial but the amount of blood was awful. Again she lifted the knife...
"Rice writes with a captivating elegance and a mordant wit. She can create fear in the dark but her most dangerous gift is that the shivers sent down the spine are most sensual" (Literary Review
"Rice knows what her readers want - scene after scene of magic and conjuring, with a liberal sprinkling of horror and eroticism" (Times Literary Supplement
"Rice's writing is wonderfully imaginative and as creepily splendid as a hot-house orchid" (Sunday Times
"Rice's witches are sensual glamorous beings, bisexual and hedonistic, whose power is a knife that cuts both ways" (GQ
"Sensuous... A steaming brew of vampires and witches" (Los Angeles Tmes
--This text refers to the