Anne Rice and The Vampire Chronicles

I’m a huge fan of Anne Rice, and her novel Interview With The Vampire is one of my favourite books of all time. Published in 1976, Interview With The Vampire stands the test of time, even surviving a film adaptation in 1994 starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas. The book was the first in what would become The Vampire Chronicles, a series of now 12 books, with the latest, Prince Lestat just released.

With this new release, the first in more than 10 years, I thought it was a good time to take a retrospective look at the series and hopefully inspire a few of you to pick up a book by Anne Rice, if you haven’t done so before.Interview With The Vampire book cover Anne Rice

The Vampire Chronicles series of books in order of year published:

Book 1. Interview With The Vampire (1976)
Interview With The Vampire is where it all started, so, what’s it about? The vampire of the title is Louis, and he tells his life story (all 200 immortal years worth) to a young reporter. Made into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt for a companion in 1791, Louis’ life takes on many unexpected twists and turns across the decades and themes of love, companionship, loneliness, betrayal, suffering, revenge, horror, value of human life and immortality are all present.

Louis finds that he is tired of being immortal but at the end of the interview, the reporter asks to be made into a vampire, obviously having learned nothing from Louis’ personal story and infuriating Louis beyond belief.

Book 2. The Vampire Lestat (1985)
As the title suggests, the second novel in the series is the story of Lestat de Lioncourt, as he narrates his own life story. He was given the Dark Gift by Magnus. He later meets Armand (see Book 6) who tells Lestat he was made into a vampire by a very old vampire called Marius. Lestat becomes fixated on finding Marius to ask him questions about the history and origins of their kind. He does get answers (no spoilers here) and by the 1980s (time of publishing) Lestat is living life as a rockstar vampire.

Book 3. The Queen of the Damned (1988)
Following on from The Vampire Lestat is The Queen of the Damned, the third in the series (also made into a film). Akasha is the mother of all vampires and the Queen of the Damned and has been ‘woken up’ by Lestat after sleeping for 6,000 years. The reporter, Louis and Lestat are back and find that Akasha has her own agenda. We learn how the mother and father of vampires were created, and Akasha threatens to destroy all vampires.

Book 4. The Tale of the Body Thief (1992)
Lestat is depressed and lonely and takes great risks which almost cost him his immortal life. The body thief of the title is Raglan James who offers to switch bodies with Lestat. Lestat’s relationship with David Talbot (Head of the Talamasca Caste) is explored and he eventually reunites with Louis.

Book 5. Memnoch the Devil (1995)
In one of my favourite novels in the series, Memnoch the Devil, Lestat is approached by the Devil (calling himself Memnoch) and is offered a job of sorts.

Memnoch ‘takes Lestat on a whirlwind tour of Heaven and Hell and retells of the entirety of history from his own point of view in an effort to convince Lestat to join him as God’s adversary. In his journey, Memnoch claims he is not evil, but merely working for God by ushering lost souls into Heaven.’ (Source: WikipediaMemnoch the Devil ‘reinterprets biblical stories to create a complete history of Earth, Heaven and Hell that fit neatly with the history of vampires given in The Queen of the Damned.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

This is a book to make you re-think everything you know, consider life after death and our purpose on the planet and is one of my favourite books by Anne Rice.

Book 6. The Vampire Armand (1998)
In Book 6, we learn more about Armand’s back story, first featured in Interview With The Vampire. Telling his life story to vampire David Talbot, we learn Armand was born 500 years ago and was living and painting in a monastery before being kidnapped by slave traders and later purchased by the vampire Marius. There’s a lot of sex and sexual references in this novel, and when Armand is given the Dark Gift there is a repeat of the theme only to feed on evildoers and the struggle between good and evil.

Book 7. Merrick (2000)
Merrick Mayfair (of the title) is a witch, and features in the Mayfair Witches series also by Anne Rice. Louis, Lestat and David Talbot are back in Book 7 and the novel contains the backstory of Merrick’s relationship with David as well as her yearning for the Dark Gift.

Book 8. Blood and Gold (2001)
Another of my favourite novels of all time by Anne Rice, is Book 8 in The Vampire Chronicles, Blood and Gold. The reason I love it so much is the amount of art and history that is featured. Essentially, it’s the story of Marius.

Book 9. Blackwood Farm (2002)
Book 9 is unusual in that it introduces an entirely new character in Quinn Blackwood, a young boy haunted by a nasty spirit he calls Goblin. Quinn seeks help from Lestat who then contacts Merrick when he can’t rid the boy of the spirit.

Book 10. Blood Canticle (2003)
Quinn is back in Book 10, Blood Canticle, a story narrated by Lestat. Quinn is in love with Mona, a Mayfair Witch and Lestat has a love interest of his own. Mona is dying and Lestat turns her into a vampire to save her.Prince Lestat book cover Anne Rice

Book 11. Prince Lestat (2014)
Fans have been waiting more than a decade, but all the key characters are back in the newly released Prince Lestat, the latest book in The Vampire Chronicles. Apparently the vampire world is in crisis and their only hope of survival is our beloved Prince Lestat. (I can’t wait to read it).

Book 12. Blood Paradise (expected in 2015)
Said to be a sequel to Prince Lestat.

I hope this summary has given you a reading pathway into this series, and I’d love to hear from readers already in love with Anne Rice’s Lestat and other characters. It’s not hard to believe that in November 2008, The Vampire Chronicles had sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, and I’m sure that number will continue to increase with new books 11 and 12.


Third Time, Er, Lucky With The Trilogy

Dark and Hollow PlacesWere I the superstitious type, I’d say I wasn’t meant to read The Dark and Hollow Places, the third book in first-time and break-out author Carrie Ryan’s trilogy. I’d read the first two books, which were classed as ‘zombie romances’ and, having already invested significant time and energy and interest, I figured I should finish the reading journey.

I’ve blogged previously about these zombie-themed young adult books penned by someone afraid of zombies. I’ve confessed that I have an overactive imagination, am absolutely terrified of zombies, and have to run and jump into bed in the middle of the night lest I be bitten by the ones I for some reason think might be lurking about in my apartment. I reasoned, though, that it’s not like I can be any more scared of zombies than I am now, ergo reading book three would be easy.

But knowing the third book was coming out and getting my reading hands on it were two very different things. I emailed Ryan twice to request an interview. Tumbleweeds. I emailed the Australian distributors three times to request a review copy and perhaps an interview with Ryan. More tumbleweeds. I pre-ordered the book with my own moolah so it would be shipped to me as soon as it was released and tried to give Ryan and her publishers the benefit of the doubt—maybe my five emails got lost in the internet ether.

Forest of HandsThen I checked my mailbox daily (sometimes twice daily) once Boomerang Books had started the book on its merry way. No book. No book for 10 days. I followed up and confirmed that it had been delivered. Within two days of being shipped. I checked with the post office just in case they’d withheld the package as it may not have fitted in my mailbox (they know me well; I buy a lot of books; they hold a lot of my packages), but this time came up empty-handed.

I have a theory about what happened to The Dark and Hollow Places, but can’t prove it. Let’s just say I find it a little suspicious that my highly anticipated package went missing the same day as one of my other neighbours’. And that both packages’ non-arrivals coincided with the departure of our sketchy, sketchy neighbours who’d inflicted the whole apartment block to six months of unhappiness and who were finally, after much legal wrangling and served notices, being turfed out.

But regardless of my alleged, impossible-to-prove theory, I remained book-less. So I re-ordered The Dark and Hollow Places and waited for Boomerang Books to re-ship. They were quick as always, so I didn’t have to wait long, and the new package arrived without issue. I guess you could say it was a case of third time, er, lucky with the trilogy.

I offer this background simply because it kind of upped the expectation ante. Waiting so long for the book to be released and having to work so hard to get it into my hands once it was meant that I was always going to want it to rock my reading world. That and the fact that I’ve recently read some absolute page turners that cover similar themes. I’m talking, of course, about Vampire Academy and The Passage, both of which I’ve blogged about here before.

EragonI hadn’t encountered these books when I found the first Ryan book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and while I inhaled The Dark and Hollow Places—all 370-odd pages in a five-hour reading frenzy—when I stack it up next to these other books it doesn’t seem so amazing. It’s good and it’s compelling, but I can’t help but think it lacks a bit of the sophistication and downright cleverness of the others.

I also can’t shake the gnawing (no pun intended) feeling that there are only so many scenarios you can prop up with zombies—faceless, personality-less antagonists that are a dime a dozen and that stick to a formulaic script of moaning and shuffling and biting. It gets a bit tired (or maybe I have) by the third book and I found (without revealing any major plot devices and ruining the story for you) that Ryan was coming up with increasingly unbelievable scenarios to try to propel the story forward or get herself out of a dead end.

Specifically, I was confused by how everyone seemed to suddenly be scrambling over rooftops and then scurrying through pitch-black subways without any kind of light. I rolled my eyes at how one island could still be standing when the massive, unstoppable horde took what is, I think, meant to be New York City. And Ryan pretty much lost me when she had the characters building life-saving but insanely complex contraptions. None were particularly feasible and the characters seemed to be avoiding almost certain death by zombies like, er, the plague.

The PassageTo be fair, though, I did devour the book in one burning-the-midnight-oil sitting and I am pleased to have finally read the book after a very, very long wait (there’s a lot to be said for discovering a series only after they’ve all been written and released so you’re not waiting on tenterhooks for years in between).

It’s also worth noting that I foolishly didn’t refresh my knowledge of the trilogy with a quick re-read of the first two books and perhaps some of the nuances and interwoven plots were kind of lost on me. I know. All this time spent waiting and I could have been prepping with two re-reads. Shame on me.

So, the verdict is that The Dark and Hollow Places is worth a read, including after much difficulty in obtaining a copy. I think it’s the end of the trilogy—I was a little worried Ryan was going to pull a Christopher Paolini, who talked up his tale as a trilogy and then extended it beyond the doorstopper of a third instalment; the fourth and maybe/who knows final book has just been announced for release in November. At least, I hope it is the end. Ryan’s left it pretty open-ended, but while it’s been fun, I think even she is starting to realise there are only so many ways you can tackle zombies.

I Wish I’d Never Discovered This Series (AKA Happy 100th Book Burglar Blog)

Vampire Academy‘I wish I’d never discovered this series of books’ is not the phrase with which I expected to open my 100th blog. Yes, 100th. I can scarcely believe it either. Where has all the time (and typing) gone?! Anyway, that’s the opening I’m going with, because I’ve discovered the all-consuming, sleep-depriving, social-event-cancel-worthy young adult fiction Vampire Academy series.

Please, don’t roll your eyes or click away. I was like that too until I cracked the spine of the first book (handily also called Vampire Academy, with the subsequent books taking different titles and having ‘a Vampire Academy novel’ as the subtitle). I figured that vampires had kind of been done to death (no pun intended) and, Twilight excepted, am also not overly interested in them. Some of you would say that, Twilight included, you’re not overly interested in them.

Sure, Stephenie Meyers’ series isn’t going to win any ‘best writing’ awards (unless you count some sort of dubious, razzy-style ones that pillory cliché-laden, guffaw-worthy clunkers), but there’s something incredibly compelling and addictive about the books.

I will actually admit that I didn’t think I’d find a vampire-themed series that I enjoyed as much as them. Then my friend Nat gifted me the first book in Richelle Mead’s series. I’ll even admit that that first book sat on my bookshelf for nigh on six months until a week ago when, following on my from I-need-a-break-from-human-trafficking-books blog, I plucked it from the pile of 50-ish to-be-read books. And I haven’t slept or stopped read since.

FrostbiteOh. My. Goodness. Vampire Academy is kind of what Twilight would be if a talented writer composed them (or a good editor whipped out the clichés and clunkers that make us chortle). The Vampire Academy series diverges from the traditional vampires v humans storyline and focuses instead on three types of vampires: Moroi, who are magic-wielding, royal vampires who live off humans who willing give up their blood in exchange for the endorphins a vampire bite offers; Dhampirs, who are half vampire, half human, and whose job it is to protect the Moroi; and Strigoi, the bad-guy, un-dead vampires who are created through all manner of evil means and who think nothing of killing Moroi, Dhampirs, or humans.

The books’ protagonist is Dhampir Rosemarie Hathaway, who’s training to be a guardian for her best friend and Moroi princess, Lissa. They share a psychic bond (of course) and a nose for trouble, with the two ending up in various challenging situations—some of their own making, some of the bad guys’ who are after them.

Which is where spunk and Strigoi-slaying guardian-god Dimitri enters the fray, tasked with bringing Rose up to speed on her training and, in the process, into line. He’s an Edward-like character, but much less wooden and much more three-dimensional. He’s also a fair bit older and is technically Rose’s teacher, which complicates things, and Mead propels him, Rose, Lissa, and their cast of friends through some tightly-woven, well-executed plot twists. Oh, and did I mention that the books are refreshingly full of sassy one-liners (seriously, I wish I could come up with those) and don’t come over all, well, moral and subtly (some would argue unsubtly) Mormon?

Shadow KissI’m not normally a YA reader, nor a vampire-fiction one and consider myself no expert in this area. I will also concede that I’ve been so embarrassed at the veritably juvenile nature of the covers and titles that I’ve nearly done myself an injury trying to read them while concealing the cover from others’ eyes on public transport (Where’s an adult Harry Potter cover when you need one?).

Still, this series has been so extraordinary I not only haven’t slept, I’ve bought every single book in the series and am obsessively working my way through them at the rate of about one book every two days. This is wreaking havoc with my ability to sleep and function normally—if I owe you an email, I’m sorry, but you won’t be seeing one until I’ve made it all the way through. I also apologise to those of you who saw me sitting reading in my car until the last possible minute instead of coming in to socialise before playing netball—I can loan you the books after I’ve finished them if you’d like and then you’ll understand.

So, happy 100th blog (and thanks a bunch for reading all this time). I’m hopping back offline to finish the series and suspect I’ll only return once I’m mourning having done so. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that’ll be the not-so-happy theme of my 101st blog…

Self-publishing Success Stories

I’ve generally been quite sceptical of self-publishing success stories in the past, largely to do with the prevalence of traditionally published authors turned self-publishers among their ranks. However, as was pointed out on JA Konrath’s website the other day, there are a number of self-published authors finding success using new digital publishing techniques who cannot be claimed by traditional publishing in any way shape or form.

One of those success stories is Amanda Hocking. According to the figures linked to above, Hocking sold – hold on to your hats people – over 100,000 copies of her books (both digital and print-on-demand) in December of 2010 alone.

Hocking sells her frontlist digital books for $2.99 and backlist for only $0.99, and sells the paper copies (through Createspace and via Amazon) for only $8.99. Considering Amazon’s cut for digital royalties is 70%, this means that Hocking made a minimum of $US70,000 in December alone – and it’s far more likely to be significantly higher than that.

This incredible success story looks to have only started in the last year – according to Amazon, the first book came out in March 2010, and she has put out more than a book a month since then (I presume some of them, at least, were written before she started putting them up on Amazon for sale – perhaps after she failed to attract a traditional publisher – but perhaps not). They’re not short either – the first book in her vampire series (pictured above) is just a mite over 80,000 words – respectable for a YA author.

Now, I haven’t read any of these books yet (although I’ve bought one, and am looking forward to having a read), so I can’t attest to their quality. But I don’t think that this issue is especially important. Selling a hundred thousand books in one month – even if they’re cheaper than a magazine – is something almost any traditional publisher would be willing to put aside their delicate sensibilities for. But it’s hard to imagine why Hocking, or those like her, would ever be tempted into the world of traditional publishing when they’re making a 70% royalty rate by self-publishing and selling in such volume.

And it’s not just the royalty rate. Without a traditional publisher behind her, Hocking is free to sell her books to any international market (Australian Kindle readers will be happy to know her books are available here for the same price as the US), she can experiment with pricing, release schedules, giveaways and social media in ways traditional publishers can’t hope to compete with purely because of the hulking bureaucracy such large companies drag along behind them means they’re just too slow.

Obviously it’s not all roses. I don’t know the full story here. It might be that these sales figures aren’t quite accurate, or there’s another missing piece. And it’s also the case that stores like Amazon are packed to the rafters with millions of self-published authors who have never (and will never) achieve this kind of success. However, this is the first time I have seen how and why a self-published author might get this level of success and not be lured into a contract with a traditional publisher.

At any rate, I look forward to reading Amanda Hocking’s books and having a chat with the seemingly delightful young author at some point in the future.