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