The latest addition to the Vampire Chronicles introduces new magical forces: a spirit world, a shadowy brood of psychics, and humans with the power to rattle eternals. The witch Merrick infuses the book with human emotion, which makes the reader consider whether these vampire characters are sort of human after all.
Immortality lends vampires nobility and impunity. However, their sanity depends on fellowship with others of their kind: mere bloodsuckers, at least in the first few novels. Anne Rice's Merrick widens their social circle by exploring seductions between supernatural beings, in one or two exotic locations. And so, the reader explores the answer to that age-old question aimed squarely at the forces that flap and wallow at the edge of our sight: quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
That's Latin, folks. The same as `Talamasca', the former means "who watches the watchmen," while the latter means "animal mask." While the vampires enforce their whims on a sleeping population, humans have banded together to form a secret society with the explicit goal of observation. That is, by assuming noble aspirations and duty. But that's about as far as the moralizing goes, and it's in the subtext. The rest of novel explores the undying themes set up in the first novel, and features appearances from a now catatonic Lestat, and the ever idealistic Louis. The story is seen through the eyes of David, a former underling of the Talamasca. In this world plagued by things unknown to science, the humans have other forces to contend with, and the Talamasca's grasp on their own members seems a little frail. David recalls his earlier infatuation with one from this other camp, a witch heiress to a legacy of voodoo, and practicioner of ritual magic. Naturally, since both characters depend completely on their supernatural powers and the accompanying moral workarounds and pyschic baggage, the meeting of the two throws sparks in numerous directions, as David fondly recalls.
Working for a secret society is a pretty cushy job, it seems. Throughout more than 350 pages of text, not once is there mention of anything more than cursory paperwork, and much of traipsing off to collect artifacts, and drinking lots of... liquor at this point, though mostly in New Orleans. If you read this at the end of the day, and tend to skim the lushly described conversations, the flipping between various pasts and the present may make your head spin. Though there's plenty of emotional turmoil and anguish, given the difficulty of resolving super-powered serial killers with a realistic setting, the action builds at a leisurely pace. Until the magical powers of Merrick start appearing, and prove fresh enough to stagger the cocky and bored vampires. Of course, Lestat continues to doze, still reeling from the blood of the devil Memnoch.
Given that the romantic leanings of the book lend to the idea that love will be reunited in death, it's up to the reader to find out if the witch (whose journeys have peeled away most of her family) will overcome the spirits of her past. In particular, about a half of the book centers on the natural feelings between David and Merrick, and the inability of his formerly sixty something body to fulfill it. This changes as soon as there's vampiric blood to go around. Merrick admits to the magical powers of blood, and we are treated to a brief foray into cultural anthropology, as Merrick and D talk about whether ritual has meaning in itself, or people's thoughts give it power.
After much background of the pair, the fatal human flaw is introduced to this swirling mythological power. That person, of course, is Louis, the vampire equivalent of a bleeding heart. It seems he's having an obsession: he can't stop thinking about that lovely morsel Claudia who was obliterated by the powers of the sun. So... he calls on a witch to raise her ghost.
If all this mythological name-dropping is making your head spin, fear not! Science does in fact enter into the fray, as a stance used to investigate the comparative powers of the supernatural. Words like `investigation,' `experiment' and `test' begin to crop up, as the characters attempt to get along with each other while figuring out their counterpart's strengths and weaknesses. But most of the text exists in a surreal world, one without much reference to any of the mundane settings the characters find themselves in. except for the bit about trying their best to kill the humans who are drain on their fellows. All in all, a very well done book.