The Queen of the Vampires offers one of the more wobbly works in the Vampire Chronicles.
After a 40-page opening of heavy exposition (a glance backward that adds little but reminds us of the major players), the big attraction here is the return of gorgeous baby vamp Claudia, the 70-year-old in a 7-year-old’s body, cremated a quarter-century ago in Interview with the Vampire (1976). Lestat also returns, though, sadly, Rice keeps these two lively creations offstage until the end. Again set in New Orleans, Merrick tells of octoroon Merrick Mayfair, an orphan raised among voodoo folks but now taken under the wing of David Talbot of the Talamasca, an ancient order of psychic scholars, so her powers of witchcraft might be studied. We follow her through her first 34 years as the Talamasca’s top scholar and earner while Lestat goes comatose but for the joys of his Mozart CDs. Ravishingly handsome Louis de Pointe du Lac, his closest companion, worries that Lestat blames himself for Claudia’s death and that her spirit is in torment. Louis wants Talbot to have Merrick use her magic to bring back Claudia and free Lestat from his torpor—but first Talbot must take Merrick to a lost Guatemalan temple to recover a jade mask for this purpose. Talbot, at 75, had an affair with young Merrick, but because Lestat won’t make Merrick a vampire, Talbot sees their love as doomed. Then Merrick seemingly falls for Louis—but Louis won’t give her the Dark Gift either and lead her into Lestat’s coven. Rice whets our appetite for the wondrously seductive child, Claudia, then, to delay satisfaction, offers us Merrick’s childhood and young womanhood instead. But when Claudia does show up and Lestat awakes, both are minor figures in a thickly descriptive tapestry that engages only in bursts.
Rice has recovered from some gaily slipshod work, but this feels first-draftish, as if e-mailed straight to the printer without a second thought, while the arch dialogue already feels a hundred years old.