Book review: Anne Rice’s “Of Love and Evil”

I was an Anne Rice fanboy.

I still remember reading “interview with a Vampire” on the jeepney home from school, and thinking that there couldn’t possibly be anything more awesome than gay vampires who sleep in coffins together.

Since then, she’s had a devoted follower in me. I have almost all of her books, and those I couldn’t buy, I stole. Even if some of her books kind of started to dip in quality after “The Queen of the Damned”, I still bought each and everyone, being one of the Anne Rice faithful.

Her return to Christianity, however, was sort of the line in the sand for me. I didn’t pick up any of her “Christ the Lord” books, and definitely didn’t even venture anywhere near “Called Out of Darkness“. I just felt like it was a betrayal.

I did, however, give “Angel Time” a chance. And to put it bluntly, I thought it sucked (haha), especially since I had been reading John Lindqvist’s excellent “Let The Right One In” alongside it. It just paled in comaprison.

I thought that I wouldn’t even bother reading “Of Love and Evil” once it came out, but then I thought that if I could give Becca Fitzpatrick a second chance, surely Anne deserved it as well?

“Angel Time”, the first book in a planned trilogy of books called “Songs of the Seraphim”, has been cheered and jeered by critics and readers alike. While some praised its meticulously researched historical details, others chided it for being a flat mishmash of genres and an inferior work when put beside her previous vampire novels.

Rice, however, remains undeterred. Just recently, she came out with “Of Love and Evil”, the second book in the “Songs of the Seraphim” series. Will this finally end Rice’s lengthening list of literary duds? Or is this yet another book better put in the bargain bin?

“Of Love and Evil” picks up right where “Angel Time” left off. Fresh from accomplishing a mission in the Middle Ages for the seraph Malchiah, former assassin Toby O’ Dare is waiting to meet the son he never even knew he had, born out of an old relationship he had as a teenager.

And while this reunion with his son gives him a moment of happiness, it is quickly cut short by yet another mission from Malchiach, who now sends him to Renaissance Italy, in the city of Rome, to aid a Jewish doctor being accused of poisoning his wealthy Gentile friend. Complicating things even further is the presence of a “dybbuk”, a demon that refuses to vacate the Jewish doctors house.

Time isn’t even on Toby’s side, as  the local population and the Roman Catholic clergy grow restless and demand answers for both the poisoning and the haunting going on. As a volatile population closes in on the charges he is meant to protect, Toby has to rely on all the knowledge and experience he’s gained from his life as an assassin if his mission is to succeed.

“Of Love and Evil” clocks in at a little over 200 pages, and is something that can be read within the space of three hours or less. Unfortunately, this has more to do with the novel being short rather than with it being a gripping page-turner.

Just as with “Angel Time”, there are no serious challenges that stand in the way of Toby O’ Dare as he seeks to accomplish his mission. It’s hard to sustain any tension in the story when the poisoner is obvious the moment Toby lays his eyes on him. And when the crime is solved in less than 50 pages, what else will the readers look forward to?

Believe you me, Toby was plenty preachy in this book.

As a hero, Toby O’ Dare certainly lacks the charisma of Rice’s previous protagonists. Treacly and a little preachy, it’s hard to imagine O’ Dare spawning a following as rabid as the vampire Lestat’s, much less become a pop culture phenomenon.

Rice’s prose also leave much to be desired. While her departure from her florid style in “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” was roundly praised, what began as an economy with words in that book has turned into a stinginess that leaves her fantasy world looking flat and uninspiring.

What will be even more frustrating to longtime Rice fans is that “Of Love and Evil” still has flashes of Rice’s former brilliance. There are enough instances of it in the book for Rice fans to reminisce about the good old days when Rice was still relevant.

The opening chapter, for instance, is reminiscent of the beautiful “Baby Jenks and the Fang Gang” sequence from Rice’s 1980s bestseller “The Queen of the Damned”, with its descriptions of an angelic host darting across time and space to grant the prayers of the faithful.

Rice’s attention to detail also makes a brief appearance during Toby O’ Dare’s entry into Renaissance life, as well as in a chapter wherein Toby is briefly tempted by a demon to discard his newfound Christian faith.

However, these good parts are not enough to save the whole work, which would probably have been better received if it came out as part of a short story collection. As a novel, it seems too much of an imposition on readers to shell out money for this lacking pice of literature.

“Of Love and Evil” may please Rice’s newfound Christian fans, but readers who grew up with her existential vampires will only be sorely disappointed. While the ending “Of Love and Evil” sets up events for a third book, it’s hard to imagine any of the old guard of Anne Rice fans sticking around to read it.

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