You might think that picking an Anne Rice vampire novel is fairly low hanging fruit for this category, but on the original iteration of this bingo card on the r/fantasy subreddit, Hard Mode was defined as: At least one main protagonist is a vampire. Well, in The Queen of the Damned, they’re all vampires, so there!
The Queen of the Damned is the third book in the 14 book Vampire Chronicle series by Anne Rice. It was published in 1988, 12 years after the original Interview with the Vampire and three years after it’s sequel The Vampire Lestat. I’ve read them all bar the last two (for reasons we’ll get to in a moment), and it really didn’t matter which one I picked, but I personally like Queen of the Damned better than the first two so I went with that one. However if you’re new to the series you might want to work your way through Interview and Vampire Lestat first, since they cover backstory glossed over in The Queen of the Damned. And boy, is there a lot of backstory.
It has been years since I’ve read any of Rice’s books, though I did devour them in hardcover the instant they hit the shelves there for a decade or so. But at a point in the early 2000’s Rice apparently decided she didn’t need an editor any more and her writing got a little … odd. Then she got (rediscovered) religion and said she would only write about the life of Christ thereafter, and she fell off my radar.
But none of that affects The Queen of the Damned, and as I started reading again for the purposes of this bingo challenge, I forgot how much I loved her writing. It’s so lush, descriptive and extremely visual. Rice’s vampires are not your classic horror vampires, but neither are they sparkly immortals who endlessly relive their teen years. These are luxury loving, hedonistic philosophers who adore being immortal and spend their nights alternately partying and agonising over the morals of their situation. Lestat de Lioncourt, very much the main character of the series, is constantly looking for redemption, and themes of the life of Christ, the Catholic mass, redemption and forgiveness are touched upon repeatedly throughout the books.
What would you do if you were functionally immortal? Pretty much anything you wanted. What Rice’s vampires do is amass vast amounts of wealth without actually working at it, purchase private islands and fill them with priceless art, and assist their descendants through millenia by repeatedly appearing as benevolent distant relatives. The Queen of the Damned rocks all of these things as it specifically focuses on the origins of the first vampires, Enkil and Akasha, the ancient Egyptian rulers we met in The Vampire Lestat. We find out how they became immortal blood drinkers and what they’re doing now (hint: at least one of them is up to no good). All of the most ancient vampires (and a couple of the newest ones) are drawn into a plot to stop Akasha changing life on Earth forever, for both mortals and immortals.
One of Anne Rice’s strengths is writing about history, particularly in a way that appeals to people who don’t like history. She really brings it to life without getting bogged down in facts (though there are plenty of detail) . The book is not too long and you really can jump in with this book and not miss too much.