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A Bewitching Epic
on 12 May 2012
THE WITCHING HOUR is a long book. When you open it, you wonder how you will ever reach the end. However I would definitely not let a little thing like that put you off.
Yes, the book does meander. There is a leisurely, atmospheric introduction before we are introduced to the main characters. A good 200-300 pages in the middle contains a potted history of the Mayfair family. Such abrupt shifts of focus seem jarring at times, as if the author is finding her way. Yet it is precisely in these passages that some of her most brilliant writing occurs.
As a fan of the Vampire Chronicles, I have always thought that Rice is at her best when evoking Gothic historical scenes of high melodrama. However this book showcases some of her other talents. The lengthy passage which introduces Michael Curry is simply incredible. It manages to sum up the entire life of one man - an extraordinary feat of the imagination. The central story of epic history of the Mayfair Witches with its Faulkner-esque intrigues and incestuousness was also spellbinding. These instances of world-building were for me, the highlights of the book.
The sheer quality of Rice's writing shines throughout. The description of the New Orleans Garden Distict is striking in its detail. Her ability to handle so many characters, each one utterly credible, creates a rich world filled with believable people. The gathering of the Mayfair clan was a standout example of realistic writing.
If the book has a weakness, it's that some of the modern-day scenes early on seem a little hard to swallow, especially the dialogue. When a rich neurosurgeon meets a rich propery developer we would be forgiven for wondering if we have strayed into some TV soap opera. Also, sometimes the erotic passages went a little too far for me. But that's just my own personal taste.
However when the plot finally asserts itself in the final third of the book, it comes with a vengeance, and the book becomes a relentless steamroller of horror. We are treated to one shattering revelation after another. The plot twists come thick and fast - keeping this particular reader to the edge of his seat - until the devastating finale.
One of the most impressive things about THE WITCHING HOUR is Rice's refusal to offer any easy answers on the question of good and evil. The way in which the entity (for want of a better word) in the story justifies itself to the heroine is presented in a chilling, utterly believable light. Make no bones about it, this is a horror story of the highest order. Michael's love of Great Expectations was an irony that was not lost upon me.
In all, I would say this is a very entertaining and thoughtful read that passes swiftly. It is one of the best modern horror novels I have read in a long time. Rice has succeeded in creating a new mythology to rival her vampire lore, and I am sure it will continue to attract many new readers.