Two New Remarkable Vampire Novels: Blackwood Farm by Anne Rice and A Coldness in the Blood by Fred Saberhagen
by Massimo Introvigne
The number of novels added yearly to the vampire genre is quite astonishing (we are awaiting J. Gordon Meltons forthcoming bibliography of 21st century vampire books for precise data), but not all are created equal. Two very different novels published in 2002 are, each in their own respective subgenre, outstanding.
The first is Blackwood Farm by Anne Rice, yet another instalment in her Vampire Chronicles. Rice is at her best when she talks about New Orleans and old homes (I believe her masterpiece to be The Witching Hour rather than Interview with the Vampire), and the novel is aptly named after a Louisiana country estate. Just as in The Witching Hour, the old home is the real main character of the book (a country home, here, in contrast with the Garden District villa of the Mayfair family). Quinn Blackwood, the newly created vampire who tells his story to Lestat and seek the latters help to get rid of a familiar spirit, is mildly interesting as a new addition to Rices vampire universe, but Blackwood Farm is a jewel. Additionally, we got a fresh glimpse of the Mayfair family: not only Merrick, who became a vampire in Rices previous Vampire Chronicle, but Rowan and Michael themselves. And Mona Mayfair, a precocious young witch in the Mayfair witches cycle, becomes a full-blown, crucial character. The Talamasca is there, too, and much more than Merrick the book is a complete crossover of the two main universes created by Rice. The New Orleans author wondered whether the Mayfair witches had not exhausted their story after Taltos. The answer has now apparently come to her: the only possibility for some Mayfair witches to go on is to become vampires. The literary value of the novel rests with the lengthy evocations of Louisiana enchantments, from villas to swamps, antiques, and collections of cameos. Apparently, to Lestat Rice shall return in order to sell well, and to Louisiana in order to gain accolades from critics.
A Coldness in the Blood by Fred Saberhagen makes no claim to enchant literary critics. This new chapter in Saberhagens postmodern Dracula saga (with Dracula, aka Matthew Maule, as the good guy almost) is a page-turner, spellbinding thriller where an Egyptian vicious crocodile god and two competing sets of vampires, each with their human allies, hunt the legendary philosophers stone in the U.S.A. Of course, Egyptian crocodile gods may sound preposterous, Saberhagen should exert great care to avoid falling into ridicule, and Montana is not the most likely place where you would hunt for the philosophers stone. Saberhagen, however, succeeds admirably in navigating around cliché without really falling into it. For those familiar with his previous novels, his Dracula has become believable and Mina Harkers descendants are now accepted just like old friends. High literature this does not claim to be, but Saberhagen can face without shame competition by non-vampire thrillers currently in the bestseller list. Two welcome additions to any self-respecting vampire library.
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