The Vampire Armand
|Series:||Book 6 of the Vampire Chronicles|
In the latest installment of The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice summons up dazzling worlds to bring us the story of Armand—eternally young, with the face of a Botticelli angel. Armand, who first appeared in all his dark glory more than twenty years ago in the now-classic Interview with the Vampire, the first of The Vampire Chronicles, the novel that established its author worldwide as a magnificent storyteller and creator of magical realms.
Now, we go with Armand across the centuries to the Kiev Rus of his boyhood—a ruined city under Mongol dominion—and to ancient Constantinople, where Tartar raiders sell him into slavery. And in a magnificent palazzo in the Venice of the Renaissance we see him emotionally and intellectually in thrall to the great vampire Marius, who masquerades among humankind as a mysterious, reclusive painter and who will bestow upon Armand the gift of vampiric blood.
As the novel races to its climax, moving through scenes of luxury and elegance, of ambush, fire, and devil worship to nineteenth-century Paris and today’s New Orleans, we see its eternally vulnerable and romantic hero forced to choose between his twilight immortality and the salvation of his immortal soul.
In The Vampire Armand, Anne Rice returns to her indomitable Vampire Chronicles and recaptures the gothic horror and delight she first explored in her classic tale Interview with the Vampire (in which Armand, played by Antonio Banderas in the film version, made his first appearance as director of the Théâtre des Vampires).
The story begins in the aftermath of Memnoch the Devil. Vampires from all over the globe have gathered around Lestat, who lies prostrate on the floor of a cathedral. Dead? In a coma? As Armand reflects on Lestat’s condition, he is drawn by David Talbot to tell the story of his own life. The narrative abruptly rushes back to 15th-century Constantinople, and the Armand of the present recounts the fragmented memories of his childhood abduction from Kiev. Eventually, he is sold to a Venetian artist (and vampire), Marius. Rice revels in descriptions of the sensual relationship between the young and still-mortal Armand and his vampiric mentor. But when Armand is finally transformed, the tone of the book dramatically shifts. Raw and sexually explicit scenes are displaced by Armand’s introspective quest for a union of his Russian Orthodox childhood, his hedonistic life with Marius, and his newly acquired immortality. These final chapters remind one of the archetypal significance of Rice’s vampires; at their best, Armand, Lestat, and Marius offer keen insights into the most human of concerns.
The Vampire Armand is richly intertextual; readers will relish the retelling of critical events from Lestat and Louis’s narratives. Nevertheless, the novel is very much Armand’s own tragic tale. Rice deftly integrates the necessary back-story for new readers to enter her epic series, and the introduction of a few new voices adds a fresh perspective—and the promise of provocative future installments. —Patrick O’Kelley
Barnes and Noble
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 undead—story, 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