Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Thrillers, Suspense, Contemporary
"In my dreams, I saw a city fall into the sea. I heard the cries of thousands. I saw flames that outshone the lamps of heaven. And all the world was shaken . . ." --Anne Rice, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis
At the novel's center: the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, hero, leader, inspirer, irresistible force, irrepressible spirit, battling (and ultimately reconciling with) a strange otherworldly form that has somehow taken possession of Lestat's undead body and soul. This ancient and mysterious power and unearthly spirit of vampire lore has all the force, history, and insidious reach of the unknowable Universe.
It is through this spirit, previously considered benign for thousands of vampire years and throughout the Vampire Chronicles, that we come to be told the hypnotic tale of a great sea power of ancient times; a mysterious heaven on earth situated on a boundless continent--and of how and why, and in what manner and with what far-reaching purpose, this force came to build and rule the great legendary empire of centuries ago that thrived in the Atlantic Ocean.
And as we learn of the mighty, far-reaching powers and perfections of this lost kingdom of Atalantaya, the lost realms of Atlantis, we come to understand its secrets, and how and why the vampire Lestat, indeed all the vampires, must reckon so many millennia later with the terrifying force of this ageless, all-powerful Atalantaya spirit.
Hoo boy, where to start.
As a certified vampire expert, I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Anne Rice’s multi-million selling series of insurmountable cultural influence, the Vampire Chronicles. Rice’s work which has shaped and defined vampire fiction more than anyone else in modern culture since Bram Stoker, took a noticeable downward shift in quality sometime around Memnoch the Devil – although some readers argue as to the exact point in the series when this started – and even the most avid fans found themselves growing impatient with the developments of Lestat’s journey. I myself usually recommend to prospective readers that they end after Tale of the Body Thief. Those four books best encompass the lush melodrama and eroticism that enticed millions of vampire fans, and offer the most concise view into the millennia of history behind the world of Rice’s creations. After Rice returned to the series after a long hiatus – and now infamous Amazon review – I wasn’t especially inspired to pick up the new book. I felt satisfied with what I’d read.
Of course, sometimes even the most cynical reader can be brought back into the fold with strange promises.
Before I continue, a quick spoiler warning. I’m spoiling absolutely everything.
I knew about this major canonical shift before reading the book. Indeed, the io9 post revealing the drastic change of Lestat’s world to include aliens, the city of Atlantis and genetic engineering was what got me to buy the book in the first place. It’s rare to see a series of such critical and cultural clout taking such a dramatic and bizarre turn in its world building, particularly when said series has fans of zealous devotion.
But here it is – the vampires of Lestat’s world are the result of aliens.
Let’s take a step back.
Amel, the ancient spirit whose possession of the Egyptian queen of the damned Akasha led to the creation of vampires as a race, has been residing in Lestat’s brain since Akasha’s death. Amel, a conscius being who argues and falls in love with Lestat – everyone does, is part of a quasi-psychic vampire network that connects them all. If Lestat is hurt, all vampires feel it. But it turns out Amel isn’t a spirit. He’s a creature of such intelligence that a race of aliens abducted and modified him for their own purposes, which he didn’t enjoy, so as punishment for his rebellion, the aliens destroy Amel’s greatest creation, the city of Atlantis.
There’s a whole lot more going on in this book that I can barely quantify, even though I’ve read it: The aliens are described as having black skin but no other defining features of human races; they can replicate themselves by chopping off a limb, which turns into a fully fledged alien and starts referring to the originator as their parent; there’s a pre-teen vampire radio host called Benji who’s essentially the undead Ira Glass; Louis is back and seems remarkably chill about Lestat continuing to run his life.
That all happens.
Of course, this summary makes it sound like Mystery Science Theatre. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that fun. Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis falls into all the potholes Rice is infamous for – over-stretched scenes mundane conversations; too much detail in some places while other, more crucial parts suffer from a lack of it; nowhere near enough plot to justify its length; an ending I swear was done before in Stephenie Meyer’s The Host; and an odd lack of risk for the characters, who go through dangerous things but never feel truly endangered. Lestat is always fun to read – I will forever love how committed he is to living the velvet and ruffled life of a vampire cliché – but the overstuffed ensemble have little time to shine in his surroundings. The book’s not bad enough to be a trashy read, but not good enough to merit a strong recommendation.
And yet there is something so absurd and gutsy about such an irrevocably bizarre change in decades of mythos that utterly fascinates me. I can’t help but be intrigued as to what comes next, something I haven’t been able to say about the series since it crossed over with the Mayfair Witches. If Rice is all in on this gothic sci-fi melodrama – Dracula meets Highlander 2: The Quickening – then the possibilities are endless. Lestat on the moon, please?