Servant Of The Bones Paperback – 7 Aug 1997
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This story begins with a murder on modern-day Fifth Avenue in New York and reaches back across the centuries to an equally ruthless Old Testament world. Through the hero, Azriel, it explores the pogroms, the diaspora, arcane mysteries of the Kabbalah, the Fall, and the nature of good and evil.
About the Author
Anne Rice is the author of more than thirty internationally bestselling books including the Mayfair Witches sequence, Songs of the Seraphim and the Wolf Gift Chronicles. The phenomenon that became the Vampire Chronicles began with Interview with the Vampire in 1976, later made into a film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and culminated with Blood Canticle in 2003. Prince Lestat, published in 2014, and Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, published in 2016, were the first new Vampire Chronicle novels for over a decade. Anne Rice lives in California.
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A genii arrives at a man's house one night, and relates the story of his life (and afterlife), and a weird tale it is too. Azriel was a young Jewish boy in Babylon, who had the unusual gift of being able to talk to the god Marduk.
He permitted himself to be turned into a living gold statue, a human sacrifice for the sake of the Jews -- but things go horribly wrong when an old witch curses and murders him. Now he is no longer human, but a powerful spirit that isn't an angel or a demon.
Azriel spends centuries sleeping inside his own gold-encrusted bones, occasionally getting woken up to do something for his masters. Then he's suddenly out and about -- and there's no master. He witnesses the murder of a young girl, who recognizes him as "the Servant of the Bones." The angry Azriel is determined to unravel the mystery of why the girl was murdered.
"Servant of the Bones" follows the format of the Vampire Chronicles: an incredibly attractive immortal relates his life story to a listener (who, oddly enough, never seems to need the bathroom during the long oral bio). But the grandeur and richness of her other writings is missing here.
Rice seems to be aware that her plot is too short and thin to be an entire novel. So she stretches it with lots of filler -- current events (no Bill-Clinton worship, please), her late husband's incomprehensible poetry, and endless descriptions of Azriel's skin, hair and eyes. Her usually colorful, sensuous prose is weirdly lifeless and dull here. And the plot is glacially slow.
Most strangely of all, Rice starts playing fast and loose with religion and history. And devout followers of Judaism will probably be grinding their teeth: the faithful are shown as self-righteous, slobbering fanatics, while the hero worships other gods and shares prostitutes with his dad. She bangs readers over the head with her assertions that there were many versions of the Old Testament. And Rice tries to bring Azriel to the present by a story-line about terrorists, murder and a cult, but the present-day story-line feels tacked-on. It's like a supernatural Bond flick.
But it doesn't exactly help that Azriel is not a terribly interesting character at all. Over the centuries he never develops a personality, and his actions seem pretty random. Why is he so besotted with Esther? We never know. The villain is cookie-cutter, and most of the supporting characters (including the narrator) are utterly forgettable.
This story is a complete misfire for Rice, and a bewildering squandering of her talents. Her dull characters and weird views on Old Testament history are only a few of the problems in the turgid, colorless "Servant of the Bones."
On top of that is an excellent story, initially an enjoyable rendering of Babylon and the Persian empire under Cyrus. In the middle of the book it drifts a little with a big time gap in Azrael's existence and then a slow build up to the final part. This eventually becomes a gripping and suspenseful story which has an excellent finish.
She picks up a few tropes of mythology from somewhere and uses it as a peg to hang a romantic novel on. That said, there are some good ideas going on here, the king for a day sacrifice used for the creation of an indestructible djinn. However, the plot is not so very far away from that of her vampire chronicles (mortal being, made into an immortal demon/vampire/spirit, experiences things humans can only dream about - exists for centuries etc gets involved in ever more melodramatic goings on until the whole thing erupts into a welter of grande guignol and bad dialogue). There's also the whole business with the cult which gets very silly indeed towards the end.
Although I might add that the spirit in this, against all probability, does actually manage to get his end away at one point and the description of the 'ahem' physical act of love verges on the unintentionally hilarious.
Whilst reading I can never quite get the image of Matt Lucas as Barbara Cartland out of my head: "And he took her in his arms and kissed her... the end!"