Monday, October 27, 2003

Book Review : "Blackwood Farm" by Anne Rice

What would life be like if you could live forever but never again be able to see the light of day without being utterly destroyed by the experience?

Anne Rice gave the world the answer to that question when she wrote her first Vampire Chronicle book, “An Interview with the Vampire”. For the first time in recorded literature history, it was a story told from the point of view of the monster, if you can call her vampire characters that, which has never been thought of before. After the publication of that wonderful work of fiction, the previously single dimensional creatures of dread and loathing had suddenly been given a fresh facet of their existence that paint them as tortured, lonely, sensual and seductive creatures of the night. In that first book, Anne Rice gave the world such compelling characters in the form of the tortured Louis, regal Armand and of course, her greatest literary creation, the incorrigible Lestat who were all quickly embraced by her readers. Many other characters would be introduced in subsequent installments of the Vampire Chronicles, which now number 11 books, but Lestat will remain the constant in all her books including her latest installment entitled “Blackwood Farm”.

In this latest addition to the Vampire Chronicles, we are introduced to Tarquin “Quinn” Blackwood, a young fledgling vampire and master of the titular farm. Even before he received the “Dark Gift” that would turn him into a vampire, his previous life was already deeply entranced in the supernatural by virtue of the ghostly doppelganger who was his constant companion since childhood. This mirror image spirit that he calls “Goblin” has long provided Quinn with protection and companionship but it had turned increasingly violent since Quinn was brought over as a vampire. Fearing for his life and the life of the people he loved, he decided to seek out Lestat irregardless of his warning that no blood drinker was to set foot in New Orleans where Lestat kept his lair. Quinn’s fearlessness and vulnerable honesty intrigued Lestat enough to stay his hand and hear what Quinn had to say to him. Relieved that he was not to be destroyed, Quinn put forth his plea for help to destroy Goblin before he became a menace to his loved one. Further intrigued as well as captivated by this beautiful youth, Lestat listened attentively as Quinn told his story.

It is this story that fills the pages of “Blackwood Farm” and takes the reader through a new adventure populated by some of the most memorable characters to appear on page. Quinn tells the story of how his family came to be and how their magnificent manor was built on the lands of Blackwood Farm. The readers are introduced to a variety of wonderfully memorable characters such as Aunt Queen, the world-traveled matriarch of great gentility with a passion for cameos and high heels, Mona Mayfair, the 15 year old nymphomaniac with a dark family secret that was slowly killing her, and Jasmine, the sensually beautiful and trustworthy employee totally devoted to Quinn. Their story unfolds like an epic Southern gothic story complete with the prerequisite elements of dark secrets, betrayal, death and ghosts that continue to haunt the living. We learn of the ghost Rebecca who haunts Quinn in an effort to solve a long kept family secret. We also learn of how Quinn had been turned into a vampire by the hermaphrodite vampire Petronia, a character so bizarre and fresh compared to the other vampire characters in her canon. The story of Quinn and these characters are woven masterfully and all led up to a somewhat explosive cliffhanger that opens the possibility of a sequel to the story.

In “Blackwood Farm”, we find that Anne Rice returns to the proven format that made her earlier installments of her Vampire Chronicle series a resounding success. Perhaps learning from her mistake of letting another narrate the story of the titular character in “Merrick”, Rice wisely let Quinn have the limelight and tell his story to both Lestat and the readers himself. This literary device is not unlike the ingredient that made “An Interview with the Vampire” a success as it allowed the readers to easily follow the story as it was told to them. This feeling of intimacy between the character and the reader as the story unfolds helps make “Blackwood Farm” an easy and enjoyable read. Rice also pulled all stops by choosing to end each chapter with a cliffhanger that would surely force the reader to want to read the pages that follow. One intriguing difference in this book compared to the others is that the story spans a shorter time frame compared to her previous story due to the fact that Quinn was a fledgling vampire who was not as old as the other members of Lestat’s Coven of the Articulate. While this gave “Blackwood Farm’ a sharper focus to the story, it looses the historic epic span that we have come to know and love in her other works that would usually span centuries.

The characters introduced for the first time in “Blackwood Farm” run the gamut of bland and forgettable to bizarre and memorable. The character of Quinn himself is quite strange in that he continues to share his bed quite innocently with his nurse maid well into late adolescence. I have to say that I did not care too much about the character as Quinn came through initially as a spoilt brat. I actually preferred the character of Goblin who was written quite innocently at first but would later gain a level of increasing malevolence as he grew in strength after Quinn is made into a vampire. Although it was only detailed in a few short chapters, the new vampires introduced in this installment are interesting in that they are older than the other vampires that we know of to date. This new group of vampire lived in Ancient Greece long before the oldest member of Lestat’s Troupe of the Beloved came into being. This opens up the intriguing possibility of another set of vampires that we have not seen or heard off before. Of the characters in “Blackwood Farm” I would have to say that the character of Petronia, the hermaphrodite vampire who made Quinn into a vampire, is one of the most memorable characters that I’ve read about this year.

This latest installment to the Anne Rice’s body of work shares the distinction with “Merrick” of being her attempt to fuse her two popular mythological story lines, her Vampire Chronicles with her Mayfair Witches series, together. I am familiar enough with her vampire series that I could pick up several sly references to previous books of the series that has been inserted in several points in the story. I would guess that references from the Mayfair Witches series would also pepper the work for those who know the stories well enough to recognize them. While previous knowledge of her work from other books of both storylines is not required, it would increase the enjoyment of the book to know some of the previous history that came before. This story is a perfect entry point for those who have never read any of Anne Rice’s works or for those who have long ago left her books behind due to increasing complexity of her previous story continuity. While the ending of “Blackwood Farm” seems a bit contrived and simplified, it does open the door for a sequel to the story that would be doubtless eagerly awaited by her readers.

As a whole, “Blackwood Farm” represents Anne Rice’s successful return to the literary formula that made her famous 20 years ago. An easy, fast flowing and enjoyable read, this book would easily appeal to new readers as well her hard core fans who has been waiting for her to return to what she does best, telling stories that equally enchants and repels the reader with sensual and seductive characters that we wish would come into our parlor to offer an eternity of love and adventure.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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