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Anne Rice

Knopf, 1998


Expanding on the huge success of The Vampire Chronicles the first chapters of Pandora form an extended prologue. In Paris Pandora comes across a young unfortunate bent upon suicide. She seizes the girl, drinks her blood aware that David (met in Memnoch The Devil) has been watching her. He persuades her to write the story of her life. Her story is the first in a new series of short vampire novels. This one is well endowed with Roman history; vampire episodes and fantasy come later in the book. Sadly, the story-line is very thin indeed. Pandora was born into a very wealthy, aristocratic senatorial family in Rome in 15 BC. The sixth child, with five brothers, she was not exposed. Her father delighted in his little daughter. She was a precocious child, an exhibitionist who embarrassed her father by 'performing' before his guests. In the big house on the Palatine Hill she read widely, and had read the whole of The Aeneid at an early age. She was familiar with works of philosophers and historians, taking great pride in her intellectual prowess. The novel is told in the first person, and I did not find that person particularly likeable: conceited, imperious, domineering, but clever. In her prime she would impose herself upon a group such as Socrates had gathered around him, contradict, question and strive to prove herself superior. The mythical Pandora, she of the box containing all the evils of the world, is not evident here. This lady's saving graces are her love of poetry and philosophy and her devotion to the noble, cultivated Greek slave, Flavius. She loves Marius, but there is no virtue in that; he fascinates her. For me the best feature of the book is the liberal quantity of descriptive detail. Anne Rice has researched well, enabling us almost literally to see handsome buildings, elegant and beautifully wrought furniture, marble floors and not least, the fluttering silken robes and draperies. Jewels abound, for wherever Pandora travels the vast riches bequeathed her by her father go with her. Roman emperors' lives are cheap and glory it appears is fleeting. Augustus, who loved Ovid's poetry yet banished him for life, is succeeded by his adopted son, Germanicus, who in turn is succeeded by his adopted son, Tiberius. There is much strife and bloodshed. Pandora's father kills himself, after arranging for her to be taken to 'safety' in Antioch by two Hebrews. There she lives in luxury, but is later forced to take sanctuary elsewhere, always surrounded by wealth and comfort. The second half of the book largely concerns dialogue - much of it about very little. Characters from earlier books appear, somewhat briefly. I wouldn't dream of spoiling any reader's pleasure by detailing this, but it does point to the probable contents of other books in this new series (the next on Armand). I suspect each will be based on a period in history. - Kay Sylvester From The Historical Novel Review (August 1998), published by the Historical Novel Society

- Kay Sylvester, 12/19/2005

Anne Rice is a bestselling writer of interesting vampire stories. This is a vampire story, though with very little vampiric activity, at least of the blood-sucking sort. Most of the main action is in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, principally in Antioch, but vampires have life-spans reckoned in millennia, so a small part of the narration ranges up to modern time. This is not a novel one would read to learn much about the Roman world. You do get mention of major historical characters (the most interesting choice being that of Cassiodorus), and in a few instances the actions of these characters do influence the events that involve our narrator (Pandora), but not very much. Life in the Roman world is depicted, but not with much historical background, and the Antioch setting shows more Greek than Roman influence. I’m not saying not to read the book, but don’t expect it to tell you much about the ancient Roman world that you don’t already know. Hardly anything that it says is incorrect, just that most of it doesn’t add to the historical picture. The novel gets off to a slow start (or a deeply textured one, if you prefer), partly because of the 34-page opening frame, Pandora (original Roman name - Lydia) in modern times writing her memoirs at the request of the newly-made vampire, David Talbot (a name that will be known to readers of other Rice novels), including a description of how she met David that day and how he asked her to write for him her memoirs as part of a set he was collecting (& that Rice is turning into a new series) and how she felt about all this. So there is a good bit of introspection on the part of Pandora, since initially, she says, she is not inclined to write about herself and Marius, her love, but she decides she will. Throughout the novel this frame-dialogue pops up and it closes the novel as well. The actual story starts in the reign of Augustus with Lydia, a very mortal but precocious young girl, daughter of a Roman senator. Lydia was well-educated, her favorite authors Vergil and Ovid (though later Petronius became a favorite also), and her father was rich. A tall good looking young man of the same class, Marius, visiting the household when Lydia was about 10, was so entranced by her appearance and lively personality that he asked her father to allow them to become betrothed. Her father refused, and it was another 5 years before Lydia saw Marius again, this time at the Lupercalia, then not again for another 20 years. Lydia tells about in this interim period her involvement with the cult of Isis in Rome, the betrayal of her family by delatores (informers) working for Sejanus (on the trumped-up charge of conspiring with Germanicus to undermine Tiberius), the provision that her father made for her escape and financial security before his last-ditch stand against the praetorians sent to kill him as they had his sons and their families, her escape aided by 2 Jews that her father had entrusted her to, her arrival in Antioch and the delight she found that it was a sophisticated city, with libraries, philosophers, wonderful architecture and a strong presence of the Temple of Isis. However, at sea and on arrival, she had a terrifying recurring dream, which included, among other things, her drinking blood and seeing the Blessed Mother Isis. And on arrival the city was in turmoil over the poisoning of Germanicus by the governor in Antioch, Piso. For days Lydia stayed in the house the 2 faithful Jews had bought for her. Then, when Antioch had quieted down and she could no longer stand to stay in the house, she went to the markets and bought a pair of twin young women as slaves and a Greek philosophy teacher with an artificial leg as her slave steward. Flavius proves both loyal and resourceful and they forge a strong bond between them. He also brings her the sad news, that she had been unaware of, that Ovid had died in exile at Tomi 2 years back. Lydia, who has now taken the name of Pandora to disguise her past and blend more with the Greeks, tells her dreams to the priestess and priest of Isis, who are both very interested in them and in the fact that Pandora can read and write ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, even though she has never studied them. So is a mysterious stranger whom they bring in as a consultant, because he has been helping them with various matters, including the corpses that keep turning up on the Temple doorsteps, drained of blood, left by a burned looking small man. Pandora also notices at this time a man lurking in the shadows around her, a man who eventually reveals himself as her supposedly dead brother Lucius and wants her out of Antioch or dead. She realizes a bit after that he must have betrayed the family, including his own wife, to save his own skin (and escape with his mistress). At page 170 she meets Marius again (the mysterious stranger) and he looks no older than he did 20 years ago. She is amazed that they can converse without words. He in fact is now a vampire, but a good vampire who opposes the dark order who follow the old Goddess worship which involved blood sacrifice. Good vampires execute justice and kill and drink the blood of evil mortals. But Marius has a further secret. He is hiding and protecting the now immobile founders of the order, the Fount, mother/Queen Isis (really named Akasha) and her husband/King Osiris (really named Enkil). The theology and vampirology is complex and discussed at length. Suffice it here to say that Lucius gets what’s coming to him, the dark killer vampire gets destroyed, Pandora becomes a vampire and she and Marius spend the next 200 years as a couple, but an often-fighting couple, he always seeing her as too sentimental, she seeing him as too rational. Pandora narrates high (really low) points in the imperial history up through Elagabalus and has some interesting comments to make on the development of the Christian religion and community. Eventually Pandora and Marius separate, still loving one another but driving each other crazy. The meet again many centuries later but, through a mix-up involving a non-received letter, are separated again. Readers who are really interested in vampire lore. especially its theoretical underpinnings -- at least as posited by Rice -- will find this compelling reading. Those who are more interested in either action or Roman background might not enjoy the book as much. Certainly there is a lot of talking and the monologue Pandora maintains with David as she writes the memoir for him wears after a bit. There is very little violence and almost no sex in the novel, but young readers will be put off by the talk and teachers wanting to use it as background reading for Latin or Roman history will find it too light on the historical material. There is not a great deal of plot or character development, given the length of the novel. Still, I enjoyed it, but moderately, and would probably have enjoyed it more had an editor had a heavier hand in trimming. -Fred Mench 7/99

- Fred Mench, 7/1/1999

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