Lestat's Ba-ack

Anne Rice has worked her Dark Trick yet again. With her new novel, Blood Canticle, she has brought back the first-person voice of her most popular creation, the decadent and deadly Vampire Lestat. As before, he is bratty, vain and hugely egotistical, but hey, he's a living-dead legend. He knows it, and the readers know it, too.

Lestat really has his way with Rice's readers in this book. He interrupts the story whenever he feels like it to focus the attention back on himself. And sometimes, it's damnably difficult not to notice puppet-master Rice in the shadows behind him. "You think I don't want new readers?" Lestat asks in chapter 1. "My name is thirst, baby. I must have you!"

And they both do have us. Blood Canticle is Rice's 25th book and her tenth entry in the Vampire Chronicles series. To say that she is hugely popular is to put it mildly. Rice has worked a clever angle with her oeuvre: She's tapped into the classic outsider perspective and turned it on its head. Instead of feeling ignored, sad and uncool, her outsiders are immensely powerful and live fabulous, dangerous lives. Rice's revenge-of-the-goth-nerds theme has resonated with a wide audience of sensitive outsider-romantics.

Each book in the Chronicles series brings Rice's beloved Lestat along the path toward righteousness. "Individual books may veer off to tell the stories of others," Rice has said. "But in the background there is always Lestat, the central hero, and the concern is his moral growth." These days, Lestat kills only the wicked, and he teaches his fledgling vampires to follow his example.

Many of Lestat's soliloquies in Blood Canticle center on his desire to become a saint. The character's got a hangover he can't shake from his adventures in Memnoch the Devil, the last Chronicles novel he narrated, in which he met both God and the devil (and found himself pretty fairly matched, thank you very much). Of course, his vanity makes you wonder how much of his desire for sainthood is just about wanting statuettes of himself in the homes and gardens of the faithful.

There's a bit of Peter Pan to Lestat -- he is, after all, eternally young -- and in this new novel, he gets a Wendy. Rowan Mayfair, crossing over with the rest of her family from Rice's Mayfair Witches trilogy, is brilliant and beautiful, and she parks Lestat on the horns of a dilemma: Exactly how can he carry on a relationship with a human, and a married witch at that?

The character of Lestat was inspired by Rice's husband, Stan, who died last year. Rice has said that this will be her last book about either witches or vampires, and it does have a wrapping-up feel to it. "But," she recently said, "I have said such things before, and then Lestat has come back to me." It's easy to imagine that she would want to rest that voice, and also easy to see that she might not want to put it to bed forever. "There lurks in me a great vision of the world that perpetually seeks expression, and so far in my writing, it has found its clearest voice in Lestat."

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Lisa Simon