Back when I finished Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat, I promised I’d go back and read the two novels in her “New Tales of the Vampires” series. This past week, I finally read the first of those, Pandora. Despite being a different series, the vampire Pandora has appeared in several of the Vampire Chronicles including The Vampire Armand, Blood and Gold, and Prince Lestat. This novel is essentially the story of how Pandora became a vampire.
The novel starts out during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Pandora’s father is a senator who gained some power during the reign of Tiberius’s predecessor, Augustus. We meet Pandora herself as a precocious young girl, the sister of several brothers who are making their marks around the world in the Roman army. As a prominent senator, Pandora’s father is surrounded by many admirers and counselors. One of whom is a Kelt named Marius. At ten years old, Pandora so charms Marius that he asks Pandora’s father for permission to marry the young girl. In this case, it’s more scandalous because Marius is a Kelt than because Pandora is only ten. Marius then disappears and Pandora grows up and has two brief marriages that end when she can’t have children. During this time, Pandora begins to follow the cult of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
In the background, the political machinations of Rome continue. Pandora’s father falls out of favor as Sejanus rises to his position as head of the Praetorian Guard. Pandora is sent away for her safety to the distant Roman port of Antioch. Soon after arriving, she finds the plot has architects much closer to home than she suspected and even Antioch might not be far enough away to be safe. What’s more, Pandora begins to dream of drinking blood and a hideous, burnt vampire is lurking around the temple of Isis. The temple priests bring Pandora into their confidence and she’s reunited with Marius, who we now find is a vampire. What’s more, he’s caring for Akasha and Enkil, the original vampires.
I loved the classic BBC series I, Claudius starring Derek Jacoby, John Hurt, Patrick Stewart, and Siàn Phillips. What I really enjoyed about Pandora was its look at the Roman Empire during much of the same time, both in Rome itself and in more distant Antioch. Once Pandora becomes a vampire, Rice gives us a look at Antioch as the city changes through the rise of Christianity and later emperors.
Another compelling element of Pandora was how our protagonist interacts with her slaves. Like many of Anne Rice’s vampire characters, Pandora is wealthy, even in life before she becomes a vampire. She seeks out a refined slave to head her household, one who is well versed in poetry. I found this an interesting counterpoint to the story of my own vampire Alexandra, who starts as a slave and uses her vampire powers to become a successful thief. You can read Alexandra’s story in the novella Bondage. That story is also collected in the novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.
Although Pandora bills itself as a “New Tale of the Vampires” it really felt like another entry in the Vampire Chronicles. The only thing that set it apart was that Lestat wasn’t a major character, but even he lurks in the background, unwilling to let Anne Rice, or her readers, forget about him entirely.