Vittorio the Vampire

I just returned the copy edited version of The Astronomer’s Crypt to my publisher. VittorioTheVampire While working on edits, I like to read good prose, which helps me stay focused on picking the best words possible in a scene. I’ve always enjoyed Anne Rice’s prose, so was delighted to discover the last of her vampire novels that I had not read in my “to read” stack. This was Vittorio the Vampire which was the second of her two “New Tales of the Vampires” series.

Aside from a brief discussion of the Vampire Chronicles in the first chapter, Vittorio the Vampire stands apart from all of Rice’s other vampire novels. Even Pandora, which falls under the “New Tales of the Vampires” series includes events from the more famous “Vampire Chronicles” and Pandora herself is a character in a few of the Chronicles.

Set circa 1450, during the height of Cosimo de Medici’s power in Florence, Vittorio the Vampire tells the story of Vittorio di Raniari, a young nobleman educated in Florence. Vittorio’s father runs afoul a coven of vampires, who rampage through the castle and kill Vittorio’s family. Vittorio himself is spared by a beautiful vampire in the body of a young woman named Ursula.

After burying his family in the castle crypt, Vittorio travels toward Florence when he comes across a town mysteriously free of the sick and the infirm. He soon learns the vampire coven is behind this. The villagers pay a “tribute” of people to keep the vampires away. Ursula finds Vittorio and invites him to meet the coven. Once he arrives at their castle, he finds the village’s old and infirm in coops, stored away for food. The vampires invite Vittorio to join the coven, but he refuses. Instead of killing Vittorio outright, the vampires spare him, thanks to Ursula and he’s taken back to the village.

Because the vampires started to turn Vittorio, he’s not left unaffected. It turns out he now has the gift to see angels. The angels lead Vittorio back to the vampire castle to destroy the monsters. The problem is, Vittorio has become smitten by the beautiful Ursula. I’ll leave my summation there to avoid spoilers, though you can probably guess some of what happens from the book’s title. Even then, as with most good books, the real magic is in the details.

At its core, Vittorio the Vampire is simply the story of how young Vittorio became a vampire, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. It’s also the story of Vittorio and Ursula’s love and how that love story relates to God’s will as articulated by the angels. Although physical immortality is an issue, Vittorio lives in a world where it’s assumed he’ll have spiritual immortality if he follows the angels. So, for him, the choice of becoming a vampire actually becomes a choice of following God and becoming truly immortal or being trapped in a human body forever for the sake of love.

I’m a little sorry there isn’t another Anne Rice vampire novel waiting in the wings. Back in 2014 when Prince Lestat was released, there was some discussion that there might be more Vampire Chronicles. I hope that proves to be true. If not, I know Ms. Rice has many other good novels I haven’t yet sunk my teeth into, plus many other vampire and horror novels by other authors await as well.

As for The Astronomer’s Crypt, I don’t yet have a release date, but I’m told I should see galleys by early September, which is really the final opportunity to review the manuscript before publication. So, it shouldn’t be too long after that before you can read it—I say hopefully!

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Rich Vampires

A common vampire trope I’ve touched on in some of my reviews is the notion of “rich vampires.” Count Dracula is typically portrayed as quite wealthy despite the fact his castle is in near ruins in the novel Dracula. The vampires of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are all fabulously wealthy. Jean-Claude in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels is a savvy entrepreneur. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is rich. The list goes on.

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Generally speaking, the idea is that the vampire either starts out wealthy or finds ways to invest what money they have and just through the act of not dying accumulates vast amounts of wealth. Now, I’ve often questioned this, because on a long timescale, banks aren’t that stable. Also, the idea of governments backing banks is a fairly recent one. Even then, on long timescales, governments rise and fall limiting their ability to guarantee anyone’s investment.

What’s more, if you actually adjust the markets for inflation, the growth may be less than you might expect. For example, if you invested $1.00 in 1950, you would have $7.00 in 2010 once you adjusted for inflation. Not bad, but hard to say that you’d get rich unless you started with a large investment. Also, the only reason there’s been that much growth is a period of rapid market rise in the 1950s and again in the 1980s.

This is the reason the Scarlet Order vampires are mercenaries. They needed to find a way to survive in the world of humans and fighting for human causes allowed them to do just that. Desmond Lord Draco is rich, though not fabulously so, just because he’s been good at stashing gold in out of the way places and keeping it from falling into his enemies’ hands. Other members of the Scarlet Order aren’t so financially adept.

Visiting the website TV Tropes, I discovered a new spin on this idea that I hadn’t really considered before. paperbackbookstanding_849x1126 (1) They suggest that vampires not earning an income can be a metaphor for the drain vampires would place on society. Not only do they drain blood from people, but they drain those resources people would use to survive. The Scarlet Order vampires would be offended by the idea.

If you’d like to discover more about the Scarlet Order vampires, visit my website to read the first chapters, see some reviews, and discover more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Sudden Death

There’s a morbid joke that goes like this: I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.

One of the things that makes early October challenging for me is that it’s the anniversary of my father’s death. He died many years ago of a heart attack surrounded by doctors and nurses fighting to save his life.

My dad’s death has never really stopped haunting me and I think it goes a long way to explain my interest in vampire fiction. After all, vampires are immortal. However, I’ve come to realize there’s another dimension to the appeal of vampires. Anne Rice introduced me to the idea of vampires who don’t necessarily want their victims to suffer. In effect, they’re companions in those last, terrifying moments of death. A vampire can create a death that’s not only peaceful, but almost pleasurable. Even in Nosferatu, Lucy doesn’t die alone. Orlock is with her, almost loving her. Her death has purpose in that she’s sacrificing herself for her village.

Nosferatu-Lucy

Death is inevitable and it’s often an important component in horror fiction. Sometimes, the subject is explored in depth as in the vampire stories I discussed. The vampire might prove to be a tragic figure, denied the death he’s able to grant. Other times, it’s the shocking tragedy of death that motivates the characters into action and provides the adrenaline rush for the reader. A vampire who rips people’s throats out is likely to be seen more as a monster to be hunted rather than a sympathetic character in his own right.

Dragons Fall

When I wrote Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I was most interested in exploring vampires coming to terms with their immortality and living in a world where death not only happens all around them but where they are often the cause of death. The vampires use their power to be mercenaries so they can exist in a world with humans. Because they want to coexist with humans, they endeavor not to be cruel when they kill. When they can, they place a pleasant fantasy in the mind of the victim. Otherwise, they endeavor to be merciful and quick.

Death in The Astronomer’s Crypt is more sudden and horrific. The creature who deals death has no interest in humans, perhaps even actively hates them. In that sense, the monster is more like a force of nature. You don’t know who the monster is going to kill or why. The only choices are get out of its way or try to stop it, and the latter may prove futile.

The way death is addressed in the story sets the tone. Even a story where no one dies can raise questions about death. For example, a story of torture might not have death, but the reader may question whether it would be better for the tortured character to die. In a psychological horror story, the question may be whether or not madness is a type of death.

Unfortunately, we don’t get out of this life alive, but this aspect of horror has allowed me to explore this difficult subject and to find ways to appreciate the time I have with those I love.

Pandora

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. Pandora 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.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

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.

Vamped for the Holidays!

This past week has been amazing for the Scarlet Order vampires. First off, I’m pleased to have been invited to write an article for the website Vamped.org. I tell the story of how I discovered vampire movies and literature and how that discovery in turn led me to create my own vampires in the article Three Faces of Dracula.

Lee-Dracula

I hope you’ll drop by. Leave a comment, especially if there are other interpretations of the Dracula character you think I may have left out. I was especially impressed with site administrator Anthony Hogg’s choice of illustrations to go with the article. They brought back wonderful memories of the movies and books and I discuss. While you’re at the site, be sure to visit the other wonderful articles. There are book reviews, discussions of folklore and even debunking of vampire myths. Anthony Hogg and Erin Chapman have created a fine site for vampire enthusiasts and it’s already added to my reading list.

Last week, I presented my reflections on Anne Rice’s new novel Prince Lestat. I was honored to see Anne mention the review on her Facebook page and the blog post drive some discussion there.

Finally, I would like to remind everyone that I’m giving away five copies of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order over at Goodreads. If you have an account, be sure to sign up for the giveaway. I’ll be sending these out to five lucky winners right after the beginning of the year. You can find the giveaway at: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/118410-dragon-s-fall-rise-of-the-scarlet-order

The Scarlet Order Vampires would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas, a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous 2015. Blessings to you all.

Prince Lestat

Prince Lestat

One of my birthday presents this year was a copy of Prince Lestat by Anne Rice. If I hadn’t received it as a present, I would have purchased it anyway. After all, I’ve been spending the year catching up with the Vampire Chronicles so I’d be ready for the latest installment. Overall, I felt Prince Lestat was the strongest entry in the Vampire Chronicles since 1988’s Queen of the Damned. That noted, the book is written such that you could almost skip all the books after Queen of the Damned and read Prince Lestat as volume four of the series if you so desired.

In Prince Lestat a mysterious voice has started speaking to many vampires around the world. It urges the older vampires to destroy the younger ones, effectively culling the species. However, not all of the older vampires are willing to play along. After all, some of them are quite attached to their young, fledgling vampires. The novel is told through many points of view—a technique I particularly enjoy. We are reacquainted with many old friends from the vampire chronicles including the Roman Marius who spent centuries as the keeper of the original vampires, the charismatic ikon painter Armand, and of course Lestat de Lioncourt, who has been at the center of all the books. We meet several new vampires including a physician named Fareed and Gregory, one of the oldest vampires of all, who has learned to adapt and grow through his centuries on Earth. One of my favorite elements of the novel is that we finally learn the origins of the secret order called the Talamasca.

Perhaps my biggest personal disappointment with the novel was that although it’s set in many cities around the world, Anne Rice never takes the time to drop into New Orleans. The novel doesn’t really suffer for this, but I’ve always especially enjoyed Rice’s portrayal of the Big Easy.

What has long made the Vampire Chronicles interesting to me is that they’re less about monsters and more about people who find themselves blessed with immortality and virtual invulnerability at the cost of having to take human lives. Some of them come to terms with this problem by taking the lives of evil doers. Others learn to live by taking the “little drink” from several humans so they can avoid killing them. Prince Lestat tackles those themes head on.

Although the novel isn’t about monsters, it’s not without it’s moments of horror, especially in the climactic scenes. One scene is particularly effective because Rice lets us into the head of the being committing the horrible acts and shows us his revulsion for himself while showing us how helpless he feels to take a different path. A little further on, Rice gives us a scene that is both gut-wrenching and beautiful as one of the vampires chooses to make a poignant sacrifice.

Prince Lestat gave me the opportunity to spend time with the vampires I’ve come to consider old friends and took Lestat on the next major step of his long life journey.

The novel also reminded me of why I’ve written my own vampire novels. The long lives of vampires allow a unique perspective on human events and the way history both repeats itself and yet progresses. I enjoyed wondering what I would do if I were a vampire, which led to the creation of my vampire astronomer, Daniel. I’ve enjoyed wondering what vampires would be like if they existed and asking how they might come about in the first place. Anne Rice’s answer is considerably different than mine, which is one of the reasons I love this genre so much. Different authors can explore those elements and make them their own. I hope you’ll take some time to meet my vampires in Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

This marks the first time since 1994 that I’ve been caught up with the Vampire Chronicles and though I think Prince Lestat would make a fitting conclusion for the series, I find myself wondering if there might be more novels in the future. Of course, looking through the list of her vampire novels, I did bypass her “New Tales of the Vampires”: Pandora and Vittorio the Vampire. Even though they’re billed as a different series, these vampires are of the same “tribe” as all of Rice’s immortals. I guess I better get back to reading.


Prince Lestat cover photo by http://www.dreadcentral.com [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Blood Canticle

Anne Rice originally intended Blood Canticle to be the final chapter in her Vampire Chronicles. Blood Canticle To me it read less like another Vampire Chronicle and more like Blackwood Farm part 2. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I rather liked Blackwood Farm and felt it was a worthy, if imperfect, chapter in the Chronicles. I loved its descriptions of New Orleans and rural Louisiana. I enjoyed meeting a new vampire plagued by mysterious ghosts who struggled to make an existence with his mortal family. However, instead of giving us something new, Blood Canticle remained focused on the goal of wrapping up the loose ends of Blackwood Farm and thoroughly intertwining Anne Rice’s vampires and witches.

Even this focus would have been fine, except that the novel felt uneven. At times, I felt flashes of brilliance in the vampire Lestat’s desire to be a saint, including his musings about the recently canonized San Juan Diego from Mexico, America’s first indigenous saint. At times, though, the book seemed to drag, such as during a long expository scene where Rowan Mayfair and Michael Curry tell us about the Taltos. My sense as I read the novel was that Anne Rice had her mind on other things—perhaps her next book. Although she looked back fondly on Lestat and the Mayfairs, she really wanted to do other things, but had to write this book to fulfill a contract.

Then I looked at the dedication and realized Anne Rice wrote Blood Canticle the year her husband Stan died. Reading a little more deeply, I learned that Stan fell ill after she started writing. He died soon after the novel was completed. Yeah, I kind of think Anne Rice must have been distracted when she wrote Blood Canticle.

In a way, I can relate to this story. I wrote my vampire story “Experiment in Survival” for the anthology Healing Waves while my wife underwent surgery for breast cancer. Healing Waves Kindle Cover It kept me from sitting in the waiting room, imagining terrible things that I was powerless to confront. Instead, I imagined a brave samurai warrior battling a spider-like demon who created vampire-like entities. I think the story makes an interesting entry into the whole Scarlet Order mythos, and sales benefit the victims of the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. You can find copies at Smashwords and Amazon.

Over a decade has passed since the release of Blood Canticle and we now look forward to a new entry in the Vampire Chronicles. I hope the break has rekindled Anne Rice’s interest not only in Lestat but in the vampires Louis, Armand, and Marius. I hope we also get to reacquaint ourselves with some of the newer vampires such as Thorne, Benji and Sybelle, and even David Talbot. I even hope to see a little more of Quinn Blackwood and Mona Mayfair. Although the world has been the vampires’ stage, Anne Rice clearly has a special love for New Orleans and hope she takes us back, at least for a visit. Here’s looking forward to Prince Lestat.