IT’S TIME. IT’S TIME AGAIN AT LAST TO TALK ABOUT MY BOY.
…..Perhaps I get ahead of myself. I believe we left off with Lestat making one of his usual Good Decisions, didn’t we?
Gabrielle is a vampire now, promptly threw identifying as a woman out the window as soon as she had a chance, and had a minor panic attack when she realized that her hair was doomed to be long forever. As someone who promptly freaks the fuck out the moment their hair gets too long, I feel for this intently. TL;DR, Anne wrote a genderqueer character without realizing it, and there was much rejoicing.
At least trying for a hot second to be a good boy, Lestat took her out to town to do a few murders and calm down, and as they tried to head back to the tower they realized that they were being stalked – by the same “presence” that shot Lestat in the theatre.
AND THEN A CHASE SCENE BREAKS OUT.
“It’s stronger!” she said to me quickly. “And it is not one alone.”
“Yes,” I said, enraged, “and it stands between me and my lair!” I drew my sword, bracing Gabrielle in my left arm.
“You’re not riding into it,” she cried out.
“The hell I’m not!” I said, trying to steady the horse. “We don’t have two hours before sunrise. Draw your sword!”
Lestat the writer peaks through again, reminding us that he’s writing his autobiography as a self-insert adventure novel with all the WHAT FOR and TALLYHO he can possibly muster. The nerd.
Then he makes a shitty comment about how Gabs holds her sword as well as any man and I grit my teeth twice as hard because nowhere in this book is there a clear line between misogyny of character (i.e. Lestat thinks women are weaker because of his socialization, with the reader meant to understand this is bullshit) and misogyny of text (Anne Rice consciously or unconsciously believing a woman is less adept at combat etc., even as an immortal vampire). These books have a heavy undercurrent of Not Like Other Girls, which will be something of a theme this go-round.
The race back to the castle is a surprisingly well-written action scene, with clear evocative imagery and well-paced tension. I keep saying things like “surprisingly” because the later unedited books have muddied my memory of what Rice’s prose can do when guided and restrained by editorial oversight. But here it is, in plain ink – Lestat and Gabrielle race back to the tower and barely manage to lock themselves in while their pursuers climbs the walls in an attempt to reach them; with Lestat finally realizing (the horror, etc, which mainly works from a character perspective even if the reader figured it out long ago) that the ragged, dirty things chasing them are, in fact, other vampires.
They manage to light a fire under the one window the mobpires are trying to use to get in, trapping themselves in to keep their attackers out. And there’s a rather excellent reveal on the banality of these thus far faceless, almost elemental attackers.
The flames shot upward. The howling stopped in a frenzy of ordinary speech.
“It’s fire, get back, get down, get out of the way, you idiots! Down, down. The bars are hot! Move away quickly!”
Perfectly regular French! In fact an ever increasing flood of pretty vernacular curse words.
What an amazing breaking of the spell without dispelling the threat of the scene. This mob of vampires can absolutely still murder Our Heroes if they get in, after all. But it takes the air out of their power and makes them something that can be fought. Much of Lestat’s story is bound up in fighting against damaging hierarchical structures (except for the one time when he REALLY REALLY SHOULD HAVE AND DOES NOT – but we’ll come to that), and this moment of the loss of awe is a crucial one, whether it’s undoing a cult or Lestat railing against dogma while still searching for some sense of “goodness.”
Lestat de Lioncourt, temporary winner of a literal flame war
They mull over what to do, and we are granted another moment of You Almost Tried.
I looked up and saw the figure of an unearthly young boy, an exquisite young boy, pacing the floor of the chamber.
Of course it was only Gabrielle.
LESTAT I NEED YOU TO COOL IT ON ABOUT SEVENTEEN DIFFERENT COUNTS HERE. The return of the book’s infantilizing use of “boy” for what I think is meant to be a young man/18 to 20ish is practically the least of them.
Just. Just let me enjoy genderqueer Gabrielle for another second. I need the strength.
Alright, so Lestat doesn’t want to seal them up in the crypt for the night because he’s afraid that the other vampires will break in and find their secret hideout….somehow. Even though they can no longer get to the only window, and they can’t move around in the day either. The answer is “Anne wanted to do a scene in a church like that one that was in the last book, so shut up and go with it, okay?”
They go out to the stables to find that the mobpires killed their stable boy out of spite and draped him in a fancy red velvet frock coat. Lestat doesn’t recognize the RED VELVET motifmotifmotif because we’re saving that reveal for a few pages from now.
With precious little time to spare they head to the village church, because they know for sure that the mobpires won’t go in there, and break into a crypt that’s apparently under the altar itself. Because shut up, that’s why.
I have….difficulty with this scene. Not because of its actual content: they wake up the next night to find an evening mass going on above them, Gabrielle freaks out at the idea of being under the altar while communion is happening, they burst through the floorboards and scare the hell out of people while escaping. Fine, whatever, this is about how “God isn’t in the House of God,” as Lestat puts it, and is meant to help us understand that he’s a rebel who holds no reverence for the stultifying hold of the Church etc. etc.
But it feels forced, is the thing. Not a dozen pages after this we’re back in a church to hide from the mobpires, which also conveys Lestat’s lack of reverence versus his pursuers. Likewise, the fact that Gabrielle is so bothered by this doesn’t sit right and never really comes up again. This is a person who stopped going to church when Lestat was still a child and seems to have been going through the motions as much as he was rather than being a true believer like Nicolas.
Gabrielle’s eagerness to throw away her possessions along with the constraints of gender on being turned show no love lost with regards to society. In fact, her moments of panic up to now were centered around being forced back under those chains of social conventions, and beyond that she’s cuttingly pragmatic. But we’re supposed to believe she’s afraid of blasphemy?
I don’t buy it. The strings show too clearly: Lestat needed someone to force him to act in a big showy way rather than just waiting for the service to end, and there also had to be someone audibly worrying about damnation etc. so that Lestat could be held in contrast against them. In other scenes that’s the mobpires. Here, Gabrielle happens to be the only one around, so she gets forced into the role. Sigh.
Hey, remember when I said we were waiting for the Obvious Foreshadowing to be a reveal? Gabrielle gets to share the big news.
That damned red velvet coat…
“I have seen it,” she said. “I had looked at it for hours at my bedside in Paris. It was Nicolas de Lenfent’s coat.”
I looked at her for a long moment. But I don’t think I saw her at all. The rage building in me was absolutely silent. It will be rage until I have proof it must be grief, I thought. Then I wasn’t thinking.
That’s it, Lestat, you dissociate from that problem like a champ. It’s been doing pretty well for you as a survival tactic up to now. Of course, this coping mechanism is more of a problem when he’s the one in power rather than the powerless one (hello, Rue Royale years), but for now it’s keeping him alive and moving in the face of “hey, your boyfriend might’ve been horribly murdered because of you.”
If this were Louis, he’d use that fire to burn down the entire cult
He decides to face them head on, which last for about two pages until they get ambushed and are forced to hide out in Notre Dame. See what I mean about the church redundancy?
Separated by the walls of the church (please to keep in mind there are parishioners and visitors just chilling while this entire scene is going on), a game of mental NO YOU SHUT UP ensues, where the mob tries to psychically bully the vampires de Lioncourt into coming out of the church. And who, dear friends, do you call when you need a cannon on the field of mental warfare?
But as I stared past her at the open doorway, I saw a small figure appear. Compact it was, the figure of a young boy, not a man.
IT’S MY BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY.
Also a Very Serious Investigator
But wait. Wait, wait. This is the book where Anne really cemented her idea of what Armand looks like: curly red hair, tiny and wee, so on, as opposed the rather singular description of “amber eyes” from IWTV. But she also included a descriptive element that never gets picked up on. That I in fact missed until this very readthrough.
I ached for it to be Nicolas, but I knew immediately that it was not. It was smaller than Nicolas, though rather heavier of build. And it was not human.
Friends, this is a pudgy boy. The image of the “Botticelli angel” extends to a small, round, stocky frame; probably muscular, but from a “lifted heavy things in life” kind of way rather than a “spent many hours in the gym so you can count the abs” way. This here is a thick boy. Can’t knock him over with a feather, no sir. To put it more thrillingly, the character every narrator falls over themselves to describe as heart-stoppingly beautiful is f-a-t.
Now, all this is complicated by the fact that he was killed as a still-pubescent seventeen-year-old to keep him looking young and cute, and probably some of that is baby fat, but shhhhhhh. Let me have this for a second.
If you read Interview or the recaps I did for it, you’ll remember that Armand’s main skill is mental manipulation, implicitly to make up for the fact that he’s so small and comparatively weak physically. Louis didn’t stand a chance against him, and that was Armand in love. What does pissy Armand look like?
Well, it looks almost the same to start with. Lestat finds himself entranced, and it’s hard to tell how much is sincere magnetism and how much is Armand using himself as a honey trap.
I felt my eyes becoming opaque as if a wall had gone up to seal off the windows of my thoughts. And yet I felt such a longing for him, such a longing to fall into him and follow him and be led by him, that all my longings of the past seemed nothing at all. He was all mystery to me as Magnus had been. Only he was beautiful, indescribably beautiful, and the seemed in him an infinite complexity and depth which Magnus had not possessed.
Armand is real good at his job, y’all.
The conflict plays out, with Armand apparently shocked by Lestat’s ability to resist him. “My disgust was withering him,” Lestat says, at which point I go into overdrive wondering how stung Armand is that this fascinating new source of knowledge finds him apparently repugnant.
Armand gets a glimpse of Magnus, whom he apparently knew, and Lestat confirms that yes, Magnus sure did light himself up like the 4th of….Bastille….Day. I didn’t think this sentence through.
Wanting to impress his new crush, Armand shows off by moving through the cathedral and up to the altar without being seen. Lestat, being Lestat, follows him just to see if he too can do this thing. He can.
I think we both found it simpler than we had imagined it would be. Yet he was clearly startled when he saw us at his side.
And in the very act of being startled, he gave me a glimpse of his great weakness, pride. He was humiliated that we had crept up on him, moving so lightly and managing at the same time to conceal our thoughts.
But worse was to come. When he realized that I had perceived this…it was revealed for a split second…he was doubly enraged. A withering heat emanated from him that wasn’t heat at all.
YES, ANGRY PRIDE. THAT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE ANYONE WE KNOW.
HOW DARE YOU NOT BE IMPRESSED BY MY OBVIOUSLY SUPERIOR MOVES
YOU TALL, TALL INTERLOPER
Even Gabrielle rolls her eyes, because she’s amazing.
Gabrielle made a little scornful sound. Her eyes flashed on him for a second in some shimmer of communication between them that excluded me. He seemed puzzled.
But he was in the grip of some greater battle I was struggling to understand.
I’mma be perfectly honest with y’all. Armand and Lestat’s coulda-woulda-shoulda chemistry is one of my absolute favorite things. They are the embodiment of that one song about spite-flirting. And like, say, Shinji and Asuka, they’re similar sorts of people with the potential to balance each other out were they in a better mental state….but instead they’re just similar enough and bad enough at communicating to continually hurt each other.
In fact, this very scene is a perfect example. After Lestat observes Armand having his “greater battle,” Armand tries to get them to come with him without anyone seeing; Lestat mocks him, assuming he’s just trying to save face and keep the other cultists from knowing Armand was able to enter the church. Armand gets pissy and tries to brute force the pair into going with him, he and Lestat fight, and Armand eventually chucks the two of them out into the courtyard with a sucker punch.
The most fascinating thing in the Vampire Chronicles is often the character who doesn’t get to speak. So let’s dissect Armand for a minute here, shall we?
While we’ll be digging into his backstory later, it’s enough for now to say that Armand’s been indoctrinated into this cult for centuries. He can see it’s not working (as we’ll discover in a bit), and this new opportunity has him hungry for answers – the very same thing he ended up doing successfully with Louis, at least at first, many decades later. But he’s still the leader of the cult and can’t be seen to be palling around with these heretics, so he tries to sneak them out with the probable intention of picking their brains. And because Armand is someone who has a very hard time surviving outside of a system (tying into that headcanon of him being on the spectrum that we also discussed in the last book), he probably wants to know if Lestat will make a viable teacher before he throws the cult away.
Meanwhile from Lestat’s view, not unreasonably given the tactics up to now, this is all a trick meant to hand him over to the goon squad outside. And as someone who’s always had the strength to roll with the punches, to him refusing to throw away 400 years of existence and fly blind is an act of utter cowardice. Because remember, Lestat Cannot Empathy is essentially his fatal flaw.
This’d be the point where things go sour, as is wont to happen when you have two proud, stubborn people butting heads. Armand tries to get his way without actually explaining, Lestat digs his heels in and doubles down by calling all of the cultists to come see what Armand’s been up to. And then, as I said, we’re out in the courtyard, where Lestat takes one more stand at being an idiot.
Gabrielle said: “Lestat, don’t fight. It’s useless to prolong it.”
And I knew she was right. But I’d never surrendered to anybody in my life. And pulling her with me past the Hotel-Dieu, I made for the bridge.
They’re caught about five seconds later, as you can imagine. But at least this is “charming idiot Lestat” rather than “harmful bastard Lestat.” Vampires never say die, it seems.
Lestat “BECAUSE YOU TOLD ME NOT TO, THAT’S WHY” de Lioncourt
They get hauled down to the catacombs, and Lestat’s fear of death comes back up with a vengeance: he can’t stand the smell and sight of rotting corpses as they head down into the crypts, to the point where he’s vomiting blood long before they arrive. He does get a good quip in, though.
“Don’t be a fool for the devil, darling!” I sneered. “Unless he treats you a damn sight better than the Almighty!”
…Thinking about the later books in conjunction with this quote makes me extremely sad.
For now though, he manages to catch the favor of a “dark-eyed female” who we know will be important down the line because she has a sense of humor and also Lestat thinks she’s hot.
There’s a real party in swing down there, with a drumbeat and torches and a pyre waiting to be lit, and another teenage boy vampire who apparently exists now and wants Lestat to be burned as a heretic. These vampires are the Children of Satan, y’see, a vampiric cult that believes they’re minions of the Devil meant to live among death and never enter churches and torture the living, yadda yadda yadda. It is, basically, a more creative version of the knock on Dracula Anne did in the IWTV. They’re all convinced they’re evil and have elaborate rituals to get new initiates, and are super pissed that Lestat isn’t as miserable as they are. Also, they’re keeping Nicki in a wee little cage on top of a giant pyre, and Nicki is holding up about as well as you’d expect.
In the midst of holding them all off with his fancy clothes and bearing, etc, Lestat takes time to flirt.
The dark-eyed female was enthralled. I winked at her. She would have been gorgeous if someone had thrown her into a waterfall and held her there for half an hour and I told her so silently. She took two steps backwards and pulled closed her robe over her breasts. Interesting. Very interesting indeed.
…Okay. Okay, I want to get back to talking about Armand, but no. Nope, we have to talk about this first. So, there are a lot of breathtaking immortals in this book, you may have noticed. Lot of descriptions meted out as part of that southern gothic charm. But the way the prose describes men vs women (which it treats as a binary, whatever Anne managed to accidentally achieve with Gabs) is markedly different. You may recall, for example, that Magnus is a scary old fucker with wild hair and teeth missing and so on who still manages to be entrancing to Lestat, while when Gabrielle dies we’re treated to the assurance that her breasts plumped back up etc.
Why that. WHY DID WE HAVE TO KNOW THAT.
As a general rule, there’s a divide wherein the beauty of men/masculine beauty is seen as inherent – Lestat observes that men ARE beautiful for x and y reason, and that’s the end of it – while the beauty of women/feminine beauty is something that has to be either cultivated or acknowledged. The “dark-eyed woman” is beautiful because Lestat can see how he could change her into something appealing. Later, Armand comes in with a very old woman who Lestat dreams of washing and putting in modern fashions so that he could reveal her beauty. But Armand, who’s wearing the same rags and who apparently has a shit-ton of dust in his hair, is recognizable as beautiful despite those factors. He would be MORE attractive were he clean, but his inherent beauty isn’t diminished by living among the cult, the way that Lestat thinks of the women. Remember, ladies and femme folk, your looks only count if they are being used to attract someone, and if you work constantly and rigorously to keep them up to standards!
Moving on, before I become too depressed. I mentioned that Armand brought an old woman with him, who turns out to be the oldest member of the coven. She’s been predicting for years, it seems, that everything would fall apart. And Lestat is just the upstart to do it, claiming that they have no power to punish him because by their own beliefs he should’ve been struck down for entering a church. And yet, nothing.
“I shall never harm you, young one,” she said. “Either of you.” She looked lovingly at Gabrielle. “You are on the Devil’s Road to a great adventure. What right have I to intervene in what the centuries have in store for you?”
The Devil’s Road. It was the first phrase from any of them that had rung a clarion in my soul.
That phrase will be showing up a lot, mind, eventually transitioning to Lestat justifying himself as the Devil either to mock the superstitious or to craft a kind of persona to feel better about his monstrous existence.
Through all of this Armand sits back and watches, saying nothing as Lestat decries all of the cult’s beliefs as false superstitions and urges them to live among mortals. And when things are utterly in disarray and no one can fight Lestat’s claims…
I looked at the small forlorn figure of the leader. And all eyes turned away from me to him. Even the mad queen vampire looked at him.
And in the stillness I heard him whisper:
“It is finished.”
IT’S OVER NOW THE MUSIC–
Armand sends them all away, refusing to hear any of their demands that he act as leader, until only he, the old woman, Gabrielle and Lestat are left.
And then Lestat makes the mistake of asking him to explain things. It…it does not go well. Like I said, Armand’s spent centuries relying on these beliefs to keep him going, to give him a means of functioning, and whether or not he believed them, he preserved them.
“You scorn these things,” he said to her. “Magnus scorned these things!” He commenced to tremble. “It was the nature of his madness, as it is the nature of yours, but I tell you you do not understand these mysteries! You shatter them like so much glass, but you have no strength, no power save ignorance. You break and that is all.”
Armand gambled on Lestat by bringing him to the coven, hoping that he would have answers better than the rituals he’d lived his life by. He discovered that Lestat was in search of answers himself, and that his only alternative to the coven’s rules was “don’t do that, find something else.” And for someone like Armand, that’s all but impossible. He’s watching his world crumble before his very eyes, shattered by the person he thought could save him.
And then Armand turns the questions on Lestat.
“No!” He shook his head. “I tell you, he is beyond all account. He knows no limit and he has no limit. But why!”
You who shun cemeteries and burst from crypts in churches. Why you! Thoughtless, arrogant, ignorant, and disdainful! You give me the explanation! Answer me!”
This is the first moment that Lestat maybe realizes that Armand, as he puts it, didn’t “believe it…he believed in it,” and he’s floundering now that Lestat’s pulled the rug out. So, preemptively shooting himself in the foot even though he doesn’t realize it yet (again), Lestat decides to share his philosophy: assume we’re evil, fine. Why shouldn’t evil move with the times? Why shouldn’t evil be “the monster who looks exactly like everyone else?”
And he even, in a move that I sincerely hope is a callback on purpose, uses the very prose that first came up in a conversation between Louis and Armand.
“I’m Gentleman Death in silk and lace, come to put out the candles. The canker in the heart of the rose.”
Armand tries to argue that living among humans, among constant change, is fatal – that being among fellow unchanging immortals is the only thing that keeps vampires from eventually trying to kill themselves.
The old woman offers her own explanation, that Magnus was mad because he loved mortals and eventually couldn’t bear to kill them. Hearing this said about his rapist, among other things, understandably sends Lestat over the edge.
“I never promised my soul to the devil for this! And when I made this one it was to save her from the worms that eat the corpses around here. If loving mortals is the hell you speak of, I am already in it. I have met my fate. Leave me to it and all scores are settled now.
“Dead things, dead things…” I said. “Come no closer. Talking of madness and love, in this reeking place! And that old monster, Magnus, locking them up in his dungeon. How did he love them, his captives? The way boys love butterflies when they rip off their wings!”
Almost 30 years later, Anne would forget this entirely in the name of heavily implying
that Lestat should really just forgive Magnus already
Here are my thoughts
She tells him that what he feels yet isn’t love, and that he’ll understand more as he becomes a monster (and perhaps that, that, is what finally kills them – to realize that what they are is finally antithetical to love; and so only the cruelest vampires are still alive. Alas, the later books take too much of a shine to excusing ever growing monstrosity to really explore this theme). Unable to take any more, Lestat grabs Nicki and gets out of dodge, stashing him in an inn and waiting out the night. Gabrielle, already knowing what’s likely to come, tries to urge him to send Nicolas away.
It’s too late, of course. Lestat’s mind is already churning with reasons as to why he must do it, that Nicki would live his life believed to be a raving madman, or that they would come to finish the job.
Or was it that I now had the excuses I needed to bring him to me as I had wanted to do from the first moment? My Nicolas, my love. Eternity waits. All the great and splendid pleasures of being dead.
It’s a heartbreaking scene. Lestat is the monster in a fairytale, remembering his life with Nicki while also struggling not to see him as meat to be devoured. And Nicki is bitter and triumphant, believing that this proves there is no good in the world, that there is only evil and Lestat being struck down is proof above all. And Lestat tells him…
“Come to me, Nicki,” I whispered. I lifted both hands to beckon. “If you want it, you must come…”
I find the feelings this engenders in me thoroughly unacceptable
So Lestat does it, finally understanding his lover’s despair by glimpsing into his mind but unable to bear it, just as Nicki always feared he would. And once it’s done, the new vampire won’t move or talk or even eat – Gabrielle has to dress him and lead him out to hunt like a mute child.
Lestat, though. Lestat can’t bear to be near him.
NEXT TIME: Things can, as it turn out, get worse, and Armand namedrops The Worst Character.