Anne Rice continues to surprise in the twelfth installment of the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, which is a direct sequel to 2014’s Prince Lestat. Atlantis continues the journey that started forty years ago with Interview with the Vampire. Over the past few decades Rice has forged a mythology for her Coven of the Articulate, the main characters of her Vampire Chronicles, and in Atlantis we see this mythology shattered and reassembled into something completely new.
At the center of everything is Lestat de Lioncourt, the hero of the Vampire Chronicles. He’s known as the Brat Prince before the events of Prince Lestat turn him into vampire royalty. For new readers, keeping up with terms and mythology can be tricky. In short, all vampires are connected together by a blood-drinking spirit named Amel, who entered the body of an ancient queen, Akasha. This link means that anything that happens to the vampire holding the “core” of Amel happens to all vampires over the world. In the end, Lestat ends up taking the core of Amel into himself becoming the ruler of all vampires. Lestat plays the hero, but every hero needs a villain. This time around, that villain is Rhoshamandes.
The novel opens with Lestat dreaming of a city falling into the sea, the cries of thousands of people filling his ears. When he tries to ask Amel what the dream means, Amel can’t provide an answer. This in and of itself is not so unusual. Amel can’t, or won’t, answer a great many questions that Lestat has for him. Even some basic ones like where Amel came from and what he was doing before drinking the blood of Akasha and entering her body. Amel is a mystery, even to himself. But Lestat loves him and he believes Amel loves him in return.
Rhoshamandes has become a pariah in the vampire community. He slew two great ancient ones, falling out of favor with Lestat and the rest of Lestat’s coven. Only few remain loyal to Rhoshamandes. One of these loyal vampires has captured a strange new creature that he hopes can be used as leverage to bring Rhoshamandes back into the vampire community.
The creature’s name is Derek. He looks human and acts human. But he can’t die, doesn’t need to eat or drink. When his blood is drained to nothing, he merely resurrects a few hours later. He’s also immune to telepathy, so the vampires can’t see the secrets he hides, the most important of which is this: he is not alone.
Lestat and company soon learn more about these non-humans. Armand captures one and another had been working for a pharmaceuticals company right under another vampire’s nose for years. We learn that these characters are Garekyn and Kapetria. Together with Derek, they carry the knowledge of Amel’s origins. This is incredibly enticing to both Lestat and Amel, but Lestat hopes to use the knowledge to solve a major vampire weakness. Every vampire feels what Lestat feels and he hopes to sever that connection.
Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is an incredibly complex novel, stretching Rice to the breaking point of her ability. Like Prince Lestat, the novel juggles multiple characters but the Coven of the Articulate has grown large, and many characters are glossed over as a result. Marius and Armand, two key players in the series, have only marginal roles in this novel. Besides that, Rice also has to contend with blending elements of what she’s done well for forty years with something she’s never done before. Rice is at her most powerful when rendering tight descriptions of setting and emotion. For this reason, something like The Vampire Lestat is a masterpiece.
Atlantis is at its most powerful when dealing with introspection and really focusing on single characters. Derek’s laments are compelling and the reader feels for him almost immediately, though his role is unclear in the beginning. Lestat’s relationships are given close examination and it’s satisfying to see him and Louis actually getting along.
But Atlantis also gives Rice a lot of new ground to cover. She’s brought witches and werewolves into her mythos, but in this novel, she attempts to bring in aliens. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. For a novelist who pays so much attention to detail, a lot of the discussions on genetics and chemistry is muted. Instead, the novel focuses on what Rice does best: dialogue, conversation, and narrative. Powerful narratives. Every single one of the characters is a gifted story teller, even the ones who identify as reticent.
Another area where the novel shines is in discussions of theology and higher powers. Amel, Garekyn, Kapetria, and Derek were all created by an avian-like race of aliens. Eventually, the quartet realize that these aliens are trying to increase suffering among mammals in order to feed on it. This is explained in a kind of convoluted way: suffering creates energy waves and these aliens feed on these waves. Amel has created a great city and forged peace for most of humanity and these aliens don’t like it. I guess they can’t eat happiness waves. They want war and strife and to see humans (and other mammals) suffering. When Garekyn, Kapetria, and Derek defy orders to destroy Amel, the aliens unleash a volley of (probably) lasers and melt the entire city of Atalantaya.
The novel stumbles when it comes to the minutiae of science fiction. Amel developed some kind of plastic that grew like a plant into towers. Derek and his siblings have hydra abilities, only whenever they lose a limb, an entirely new body forms from the limb. Eventually, there’s a whole colony of Dereks, Garekyns, and Kapetrias. And this is how the web connecting all of the vampires came into existence. Amel is made of the same self-replicating material, even as a spirit. But the exact nature of this plastic is a mystery and what the new colony will do with this plastic if they replicate it is equally unclear.
All in all, I really enjoyed this latest installment of The Vampire Chronicles. It’s enthralling and spellbinding and it’s easy to ignore the spots that don’t shine as bright as the others. I’m excited to see where Rice could possibly take her vampires next.