I have to admit to being rather disappointed with The Queen of the Damned. I came into the third book in Anne Rice’s VAMPIRE CHRONICLES fresh from the excellent The Vampire Lestat and ready for more. At the end of The Vampire Lestat, the reader is left with the distinct impression that everything in Rice’s meticulously constructed vampire universe is about to explode, and I was excited. It was the grand conclusion of the initial trilogy! Told from multiple perspectives! It was called The Queen of the Damned! (Honestly, that has to be the best title ever for a vampire novel.) In short, I was not burnt out on the series by this point. I was ready to love the novel. It just wasn’t to be.
The major problem with The Queen of the Damned is that not a whole lot actually happens. What events occur are certainly broad in scope, but they’re few and far between. The vast majority of the book consists of introducing a plethora of new characters, getting all of those characters together in a room, and then proceeding to talk in the room about vampire history for a good long while. Neither Lestat nor the Queen of the Damned herself, one Akasha, seems to be the main character of this installment. In fact, it takes Rice hundreds of pages to even catch her other characters up to Lestat’s cliffhanger ending from the last book.
There are two other flaws worth mentioning: the first is that there really doesn’t seem to be a relatable hero. Lestat’s sections are short, and he’s contracted an unfortunate case of the Louis syndrome in that he’s pushed around by a more powerful vampire for most of the book before finally putting his foot down. Maharet is about the closest thing Rice provides to a strong hero, but the trouble with Maharet is that, frankly, she’s a bit dull. The second flaw is the sheer absurdity of the antagonist. Put together, these mirroring weaknesses in both hero and villain figures send the suspense gurgling down the drain.
I don’t mean to imply that the novel is terrible. That’s not the case. Anne Rice is still in fine form as far as prose style goes, and there are some genuinely spectacular moments of writing here. Her depictions of vampirism continue to be entertaining, and of course her imagery is as stunning as ever. This book had all the trappings of a really phenomenal climax to the Akasha storyline, but fell flat in the central narrative drive. The book is like a particularly scraggly Christmas tree: it’s been decorated by an expert to within an inch of its life, but not all the artistically placed tinsel, lights, and strings of popcorn in the world will make the essential piece look less thin.
Essentially, the plot is that Queen Akasha, the first vampire (who has remained a lifeless statue for thousands of years) is awoken by an infatuation with Lestat and a driving urge to cleanse humanity of its evils. She intends to do so by obliterating most of the vampires on the planet and nearly the entire male population of human beings, reasoning that the world shall be a peaceful garden without men and monsters (and is there a difference, ha haaaa…?) around to muck things up. She kidnaps Lestat, and his actions following that moment generally add up to a lot of flouncing about and telling Akasha that if she loves him, she’ll do this and this for him (leading to the inevitable question of to whom exactly the phrase “Queen of the Damned” would be best applied). Meanwhile, every vampire and his grandmother is gathering for vampire storytime, an excessively long and angsty vampire creation story. As Akasha plots to obliterate the hated Y chromosome and Lestat struggles to dissuade her via his manly wiles, the convocation of vampires still living prepares their final struggle with their queen.
I get the feeling Rice tried to play to her strengths here by avoiding a lot of gratuitous fight scenes in favor of philosophizing, but although there are some genuinely interesting ideas here, she went a bit overboard. After a while, the points on atheism and feminism had really been made and I began to dread another argument on the subject. Also, I do think that Rice works best with one character at a time. The many point-of-view figures in this installment are all very well-characterized and distinct (a noteworthy achievement), but their contributions to the storyline could have been better balanced and organized. They also bogged down the text to the extent that suspense really had no time to develop, as we spent too much time going over vampiric recollections for the present-day narrative to ever feel central.
Overall, The Queen of the Damned is certainly not a terrible book — it’s still very much Anne Rice, and so there is much to recommend it in terms of prose style and imagery — but given the high quality of its predecessors, it falls short. It’s still very much readable and I’m not necessarily recommending that, having read The Vampire Lestat and Interview with the Vampire, you give The Queen of the Damned a miss, but expectations should be adjusted. This novel is serviceable enough, but it lacks the punch of previous installments, it’s too unfocused, and on the whole it’s regrettably just a bit boring.