Fans of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles have come to know a few things about the "blood hunters, " at least as Rice paints them: They're immortal, save for fire and sunlight, and usually have an ambiguous sexuality.
They also look pretty.
In her latest installment, Blackwood Farm ($26.95, Knopf), the Queen of the Franchise paints a pretty picture that won't die anytime soon -- her final sentence in this newest offering sees to that. That might be reassurance to Rice devotees who hope to see this book as just another course in an unending blood feast. But Blackwood Farm stands as a meal in its own right.
Those familiar with Rice's most famous vampire, Lestat, will find his reassuring presence early in Blackwood Farm. But virgins to Rice should fear not, as her books are like art museums. The novice will find them full of attractive art; the expert will appreciate the details many of us don't need. While Lestat's appearance gives the initiated something familiar to grab onto, he quickly leaves the stage to make room for Rice's new star, Tarquin Blackwood, a young Louisiana heir in his first year of vampiric immortality. The bulk of Blackwood Farm is Tarquin's fantastically flowing narrative as he tells Lestat exactly how he came to be just another one of the boys.
Young Tarquin's tale is set largely on the titular farm, with its ostentatious manor, swamp, cemetery and proximity to New Orleans. There's also the requisite measure of eroticism that fans have come to expect from Rice. Narcissistic readers will take special interest in the unique intimacy Tarquin shares with Goblin, Tarquin's ghostly mirror image who nonetheless manages to muster enough substance for a hot shower.
Rice's books have always had a sexy edge, and she's not gone stale. Two male vampires sharing a coffin might have been scandalous stuff a decade ago or so, but Rice is keeping with the times, seemingly shrugging off the G and L in favor of the B and the T. While Tarquin has no trouble running hot for both the lads and ladies who occupy his little kingdom, he's no match for Petronia, a hermaphroditic vampire who steals the spotlight effortlessly.
Interior decorators may also take a special interest in Blackwood Farm, as Rice lovingly details the Greco-Roman restoration of a swamp house. When it comes to details, Rice's Southern sensibility screams -- this girl loves a good window treatment. When she's not describing the fabric on the windows, it's the fabric on the bodies, right down to the labels.
Blackwood Farm may not be literature, though it is a little heavier than many of its contemporaries. It seems important to Rice to make her books accessible, though so many of her teenage Goth readers have grown into adults with Ph.D.s in poetry. She sneaks in loads of praise for filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, and a little barb at those who arrogantly dismiss popular culture.
Regardless of its esoteric merits (or lack thereof), Blackwood Farm is a good story. It won't likely change your life or send you in a new direction, but it will compel you to turn its pages. And don't be surprised if after a little nighttime reading, your dreams find you living as a sexy Southern vampire with fabulous interiors.