The Queen of Darkness is Back — With a Difference

More than twenty years ago, I picked up a novel by Anne Rice titled The Vampire Lestat while waiting for a plane to New Orleans. I was captivated by the story on the trip down and finished the novel during my week-long stay–the first of many visits to New Orleans. This novel, later made into a blockbuster motion picture, brought vampires into the modern world. My introduction to the world of Anne Rice happened the week I began my passionate love affair with New Orleans, a city haunted by bodies that lay beneath the pavement of Rampart Street –and now and forevermore by minions of the undead brought to life by this Maven of the Macabre who, at the time, lived in the Garden District.

Rice blew away the dust of  Bela Lugosi and replaced the moldy antiquated bloodsuckers of the past with a new breed that would thrive and later fascinate my adult children and teenage grandchildren in the Twilight series. Anne Rice made vampires not only scary, but approachable, bringing out what was latent in the myth all along: the idea that there’s something so sexy about a guy (or girl) who wants to bite your neck!

Evil had finally encroached on the present, with rock-star vampires and vixens. Evil, it seems, was no longer a thing of the past, but a very real part of our present. The evil of our lives we know all too well, but we prefer to relegate it to fiction. It’s safer.

I must admit that I had a hard time with her books following Lestat. I frequently gave up after a hundred pages or so. I am not sure why. It all seemed so formulaic. This happens with writers who make it big. They are expected to repeat, and they do. Sometimes with success, sometimes not so. But imagine my intrigue when Rice found religion again a few years ago, returning to the Catholicism of her youth, and penned Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the first of a seres about Jesus. I read this one with interest, but not much enthusiasm. It was well researched, but left me with a feeling of, “Okay. So what?”

Now comes “The Wolf Gift.” This one I have not been able to put down. It would appear that her fascination with God-made-man–her visit to the light–has given her even greater depth in an analysis of Man-made-beast, an incarnation of evil that, strangely, sheds more light on goodness than her recent foray into religion.

A young, extremely good-looking (naturally) man named Rueben, a fledgling reporter, meets with an older, drop-dead gorgeous (naturally) woman named Marchent to look at a home she owns in Mendocino County, California. He immediately falls in love. With the older woman, of course (whom he doesn’t take long to undress) and with the old, spooky home itself. There, after a night of messing up the sheets in a four-poster bed, the two are attacked by two intruders. The men are Marchent’s drug-addled siblings who are intent on killing their sister and thus enriching themselves through the estate. However, there is a problem. Out of nowhere, the men are slashed, ripped apart, defaced, and eviscerated by a … well we’re not sure. Reuben stumbles into the fray only to be attacked by the beast, which he swears is a large dog. He is bitten, but not killed. The dog backs off for some reason, letting him live.

Anne Rice returns us to darkness in "Wolf Gift"

Yes, you guessed it. The “dog” is a werewolf. Now, Reuben is a werewolf too. You know how that goes. Once bitten…. But this time the full moon has nothing to do with it. He changes at any time. Eventually, he can control it. And the explanation is less mysterious: it is less of a curse than it is a virus, one that attacks the pluripotent progenitor cells that we all have in us. These are the cells that make umbilical stem cells so promising since they can turn into anything. Now we know! And all those years we thought it had to do with lunar magnetism!

The story that follows is a rich one, with elements of Superman and Beauty of the Beast. You could say the story is Grimm. The newly enhanced Reuben has super-sensitive hearing. He can hear people from a long way away calling for help. This “Man Wolf” can smell intent in humans. When he encounters someone who is evil, he can smell it. Then he shreds them, leaving the innocent victims alone. The innocent victims do not smell of evil, and something in the wolf’s nature makes it difficult, if not impossible, to harm them. Frequently, he even dials 911 and informs authorities that help is needed. He protects the innocent, and soon becomes a hero in the eyes of the public–with some ambivalence of course. An animal-like creature is playing judge, jury, and executioner in scattering the bloody remains of perpetrators around the streets of San Francisco. What about their rights?

There is romance too. At one point, after saving some hapless victim from being tortured, the “Man Wolf”–still in his lupine condition–encounters a very attractive woman (go figure)  living alone in the woods. Strangely, she is not frightened by him. In fact, she is inexplicably physically drawn to him! (“My, what big teeth you have! My, what a big….). What is interesting is that the woman who relishes being pawed (pardon the pun) by the “man wolf” is described in such as way (she has long, prematurely white hair) as to suggest Rice herself! How weird is that?

The woman, Laura, is damaged goods, having lost a husband and children to tragic circumstances. She and Reuben soon become deeply connected. She is as protective of him, as he is of her. At one point, when Reuben is attacked by another “Man Wolf”, she drives an axe blade into the attacker’s skull, slowing the critter just long enough for Reuben to behead him. Buy why would the creature want Reuben dead?

The encounter with another “Man Wolf” makes one thing all too clear: Reuben is not alone. There are others. Are they too intent on his demise?

The blood and gore and then more blood and gore notwithstanding, Rice’s recent passage through religious enchantment , however brief it may have been, left definite and distinctive marks on her writing. Her venture into the light has given her a deeper understanding of the darkness. Somehow, in the mixture of the two, she has achieved an understanding of human nature that is worth pondering. We not only see evil, we understand it from the perspective of one who is forced to live it. We can even, possibly, feel the admixture in our own souls. Along the way, she alludes to theologians as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Saint Augustine, the quotes popping up in conversations between Reuben and his older brother, Jim, a Roman Catholic priest. Her recent religious side trip has made Anne Rice a writer to be much more deeply appreciated.

This is a mature work by an intelligent woman who has worked though many painful episodes in her life.  For once, we find something human in the heart of the beast. We know all too well that there is something beastly lurking in the heart of humans. Perhaps an amalgam of the two might enhance our nature. Wolves kill to eat or to protect themselves. Humans kill…because they can.

I recently read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times about a woman who stumbled into a bar, drunk, only to be led outside by a group of teenagers. There, they beat her, robbed her, raped her, and left her for dead naked in someone’s front yard.

It kind of makes you wish there was such a thing as a “Man Wolf” who would rip miscreants like this apart and then disappear into the night.

Rating (4/5) 

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

11 thoughts on “The Queen of Darkness is Back — With a Difference

  1. I don’t think “The Vampire Lestat” was ever made into a movie…”Interview with the Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned” were both made into movies, and altered very much from the books…(like in “interview” nothing is mentioned at all about Lestat’s father or the fact that Maruis did not make Lestat a vampire at all that was Magnus…)…to not have read all of the Vampire series you are missing out on so much of Lestat,as he is the main character in The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil (two later books in the series about my favorite literary character ever, Lestat, and that should be read due to things that happen to him).I appreciate your review of The Wolf Gift and highly recommend every single one of Anne’s books are read.Anne is superb, clever, and the standard in which I hold all authors of the paranormal.Any subject she writes will be redefined eloquently…as if it simply was meant to be.She has done a remarkable job with her vision in this book(The Wolf Gift)…

    • Re Lestat vs. Interview. I stand corrected! You are absolutely right. I am going to revisit the other books in the chronicle now, as I have grown older and perhaps, just perhaps, I missed something. Thank you!

      • Good job Isaac! You really have missed something! Enjoy your re-aquaintance with the chronicles. They are the best! And thanks for the great review of “Wolf Gift.” I too agree that Ann is better than ever!

    • “The Vampire Lestat” & “The Queen of the Damned” were combined to create the “Queen of the Damned” movie. The people working on that film did not consult A. Rice about the story. Indeed, they quickly put the storyline together because the rights to both novels were about to revert back to their author. In my opinion, the movie of “Interview with the Vampire” portrays the book so much better and is closer to the heart of the story, though I think this is because A. Rice wrote the screenplay. Also, allusions were made in the film version of “Interview” to Lestat’s creator; however, it is true that no name was given. Moreover, we must make allowances for films to leave out parts of the novels simply due to their basic nature. One last thought…I don’t believe that Lestat’s father was mentioned until “The Vampire Lestat”, therefore, it would not make sense to bring that character up in the film version of “Interview” anyway.

      • queen of the damn…well it rocked it’s one of my favorite movies of all time..i’ve watched it over 100 times.and it just gets better everytime i watch it…

  2. The only book in the chronicles I didn’t like was the Merrick one, in which she briefly merges her Mayfair Witches series and her Vampire Chronicles. I found it laborious to read, something I had never encountered with her books previously. It wasn’t until the last 50 pages or so when things picked up in the slightest. If you are revisiting the series I recommend you read a synopsis of Merrick and then leave it alone. I found it dealt more with the witches in any case and the added info you got about Lestat wasn’t really terribly earth shattering. At best read the last fifty pages if you’re truly interested.

    As a side note, I didn’t read the books Rice wrote after her final instalment of the Chronicles, I had no real interest in Jesus Christ outside the theological information gleaned through the earlier readings of the Chronicles and Lestat’s personal journey. I have actually owned the hardcover edition of the final Chronicles book and never gotten around to reading it. Rice was my inspiration for the love of reading I have today and the thought of never reading about Lestat and the other vampires ever again was so distressing that I shelved the book. I always meant to read it, but in some twisted way I believed that if I never read it, eventually she would find her way back to the supernatural side…I won. ^_^

    I have yet to read the Wolf Gift as I abhor hardcover prices, however, thanks to your very well done review here I plan on getting the ebook version and reading it on my iPhone! ^_^ Thanks!

  3. The film version of “Queen of the Damned” was meant to include “The Vampire Lestat”. As Lestat is my all time favorite fictional(?) character, I wanted “The Vampire Lestat” to be on film more than any of the other Vampire Chronicle novels. It’s fair to say though, that the film would’ve never lived up to the book. Now, the “Tale of the Body Thief” has been optioned. Fingers crossed and hope for the best!

  4. I was so excited when I saw that Anne was going to take on werewolves. I was not disappointed. I only wish there would be another one, but it was left pretty closed. Nothing like your average werewolf novels. So Anne Rice. Definitely, one to read!

  5. I’ve never been disappointed with any of Anne’s vampire, witch, or other “dark” books. Didn’t care for the Jesus stuff because I’m not interested, but still I read the first one and enjoyed it enough to at least finish it. But for anyone to say that her vampire chronicles were not each and every one enthralling is more than I can believe. Perhaps the author of this article is just not into fiction.

    One book that nobody has mentioned was her Mummy book. That like the new one was a new take on an old fictional character and was rich and wonderful. I highly recommend you trying that one as well. Anne seems to be able to make just about any character sexy..:-) As far as I’m concerned, she is this generation’s finest author.

  6. I too, discovered Anne Rice @ the airport waiting for my plane (Wait, was that you? Lol)where I picked up “Interview with A Vampire”. I finished reading it before touching down & decided she was perhaps the best writers in the world (Give me a break, I was barely 18). She’s doing a book signing tomorrow in ATX @ Book People & I had been on the fence about going as I hadn’t the pleasure of reading this latest creation (I literally had just purchased “Christ…” @ a Goodwill 2 hours before hearing of the signing) but your review has help me decide to go. Thank you.

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