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The Vampire Armand
By Anne Rice
Knopf; 384 pages; $26.95 cloth

Anne Rice returns to her roots in her newest book

By Trystan L. Bass

WHEREAS STEPHEN King tries to scare readers with his supernatural thrillers and gore fests, Anne Rice attempts to seduce readers with the glamour of evil. Her monsters are clad in velvet and drip with pretty words. She writes of bloodsuckers who mourn their lost humanity and wax philosophical about the evil they do each night.

Her first and most famous vampire novel, Interview With a Vampire, was full of misery and railing against the fates, all inspired by the very real death of her young daughter. That novel dressed up her own wrenching human pain in the inhuman guise of a vampire wondering about his existence and purpose in the world.

The next four books of her Vampire Chronicles have dwelled on much less intimate topics. The Vampire Armand marks a return to the philosophical roaming of Interview. This latest novel details the history of Armand, a boy born in Eastern Orthodox Kiev in the 1400s and turned into a vampire in Renaissance Venice.

Slave traders capture the pretty peasant boy for use in brothels, but he is soon discovered and saved by Marius, an aristocratic vampire of immense power. Fully half the book dwells on the young Armand's tutelage and how the boy is groomed into a highly educated and hedonistic protégé vampire.

But despite the Venetian splendors, Armand never loses track of his deeply religious upbringing. As a child, he was destined to live the strict life of a monk and ikon painter. He had accepted and cherished this destiny. He is troubled by the contrast between his new position and his childhood faith in God. His inner conflict between Christianity and the world of the flesh persists throughout his long vampiric life.

Sensuality is always at the forefront in a Rice novel. She is never explicit, but her softcore, romanticized bedroom scenes still inspire plenty of heat, usually between men. Ironically, her vampire's undead state makes physical love impossible. Instead, Rice plays up the vampiric act of killing and blood drinking into something sweeter and far more satisfying than intercourse could ever be. She makes murder incredibly sexy.

Some of the passages in The Vampire Armand read like a cheap romance novel. Flowery language has always been one of Rice's shortcomings. But the deeply conflicted character of Armand is appealing, and not just because he is a beautiful Creature of the Night--his soul-searching is universal.

In the course of his 500 years, Armand tries to reconcile faith in a flesh-denying Christian god with the sensuous pleasures native to the human body. He vacillates between total renunciation and passionate indulgence, seeking to taste the very blood of Christ, only to learn that the real power of Christianity is simple brotherhood. In the end, ironically, it is the love and affection of fellow beings that brings peace to the Vampire Armand.

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From the February 25-March 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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