Anne Rice’s lat­est “Vam­pire Chron­i­cles” in­stall­ment jug­gles too many el­e­ments

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE -

FIC­TION HOR­ROR a pulse, with­out a breath. But then the blood will be­gin to re­gen­er­ate and, within an hour or two, he’ll be as he is now. Healthy, whole.”

Derek is a fas­ci­nat­ing cre­ation — seem­ingly im­mor­tal, sen­si­tive, prone to fright­en­ing flash­backs in which he wit­nesses the de­struc­tion of a city, Ata­lan­taya, that for read­ers may evoke the fall of the twin tow­ers. He also re­tains mem­o­ries of sev­eral sib­ling com­pan­ions. Over the en­su­ing chap­ters, we meet Garekyn and Kape­tria, who works for a ma­jor phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany headed by (need you ask?) a vam­pire. Like Derek, Garekyn and Kape­tria pass as hu­man and have the same re­cur­ring vi­sion of the fall of Ata­lan­taya.

The chap­ters de­tail­ing how these im­mor­tals re­unite with each other and even­tu­ally en­gage with Le­s­tat and his co­hort are the best part of Rice’s novel. Where did they come from? Why are they here? And what is their re­la­tion­ship to the spirit Amel, whose role in the his­tory of both vam­pires and the lost city of Ata­lan­taya may link not just these death­less be­ings, but all of hu­mankind as well?

“Prince Le­s­tat and the Realms of At­lantis” fal­ters when it veers from su­per­nat­u­ral into sci­ence fic­tion. Rice’s fa­mil­iar­ity with that genre seems to stem from retro sci-fi movies and TV rather than sci­ence-fic­tion lit­er­a­ture, and the story that un­folds seems ready-made for “Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000.” The glit­ter­ing, domed city of Ata­lan­taya re­sem­bles noth­ing so much as an up­scale shop­ping mall — so­lar-pow­ered, with com­put­ers and a fiber-op­tic net­work, med­i­ta­tion cen­ters and restau­rants serv­ing ex­quis­ite vege­tar­ian meals, ex­cept for the an­nual Days of Meat, when ev­ery­one gorges on beef. There’s also an un­for­tu­nate whiff of pulp-era “lost race” tales by writ­ers like H. Rider Haggard and A. Mer­ritt, with a pale-skinned ruler dis­pens­ing be­nign wis­dom from above.

Rice’s novel is most af­fect­ing when it con­fronts the is­sues of mor­tal­ity, hu­man suf­fer­ing and re­li­gious be­lief, cen­tral con­cerns through­out her long ca­reer. As Kape­tria learns more about the role she and her sib­lings were de­signed to play in Ata­lan­taya’s de­struc­tion, she be­gins to ques­tion ev­ery­thing she had been taught about the city and those who in­habit it, as well as ev­ery­thing she be­lieved about those who raised her. (In this, the book brings to mind Ur­sula K. Le Guin’s great short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Ome­las.”)

Ul­ti­mately, “Prince Le­s­tat and the Realms of At­lantis” jug­gles too many el­e­ments: vam­pires, ex­trater­res­tri­als, etheric bod­ies, cel­lu­lar re­gen­er­a­tion, the­ol­ogy, Theos­o­phy, an­cient leg­end and by­gone sci­ence fic­tion among them. “It hurts my head to keep talk­ing about cells we can’t see,” Le­s­tat com­plains near the end of the book. Some read­ers may agree, and wish for a re­turn to the days when the melan­choly ad­ven­tures of a sin­gle im­mor­tal denizen of the night were enough to power a novel.

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