The Vampire Armand
Once again, we have a vampire relating his life story to the reader (he's actually dictating it to fellow fanged one David Talbot, who is writing the manuscript). This is the first time we have heard Armand speak directly to us, and he makes a fine narrator. Less mournful than Louis de Lioncourt, the narrator of 'Interview', and less flamboyant than the ubiquitous Lestat, he makes a refreshing change if you've read a lot of Rice. There are those though, who might not appreciate the change. Among Rice's habits as an author is a tendency to dwell overly on setting, detail and mood, and Armand is a perfect vessel for her to indulge this. Where the exuberance of Lestat counteracted the sometimes pointless lingering on minor moments, and Louis' ever-present doubt injected a different and more moving counterpoint in 'Interview', the author has here created the perfect witness to that which she would like to show you. With previous books, I've had the distinct impression that the characters she has chosen as narrators have reigned in her descriptive habits, pushing her to get on with their story. Armand likes to stop and look at the world just as much as she does.
Partly, this is because of Armand's obsession with beauty. Whether it be the beauty of an artefact or the beauty of a soul, Armand will fall in love with it. There's no artifice here, no false motivations to allow the opportunity for authorial indulgence - it's built right through the character to behave in this way. After a prologue set in the aftermath of 'Memnoch', and alluding to Armand's miraculous escape from the fate we had assumed him to suffer in that novel, we get to the part Rice loves best - back story. Most of this novel deals with Armand's earliest years as a vampire.
It all begins, so Armand tells us, in Constantinople, with a teenage Armand being sold into slavery. Where he comes from, he's not entirely sure, as the memory of his former years is at first deeply repressed. In many ways, he starts life from scratch on the slave ship. Fortunately for him, the man who buys him is Marius, who the reader already knows to be a vampire (it's in the prologue - I haven't blown a surprise here!). Teaching Armand the nature of beauty and love, Marius seems torn as to whether to make his slave into a fellow vampire. While previous vampire narrators have been wrenched by the notion that they are by nature evil, Marius is a worshipper of goodness. Eventually, almost by accident, Armand is turned, and his upbringing by Marius means that he too has no crisis of identity during his early life as a creature of the night.
Disaster soon visits upon the vampire duo though (as previously described in 'The Vampire Lestat'), and Armand is torn from his loving master and hurled into a coven of vampires with a mirror philosophy. Far from being equal in God's eyes, they believe it is their duty to be agents of evil, to visit terror on mankind, to deprave and horrify. Bitter and lost, Armand falls into their cult, and begins on the path which eventually leads him to his position as head of the Paris Theatre des Vampires in 'Interview'.
Having covered the ground since then in previous novels, Rice then leaps forward to the end of 'Memnoch the Devil', and Armand's seemingly fatal fate in that novel. How he escapes that fate (or rather, suffers it) will end a lot of confusion for the reader.
The conclusion of the novel, pulling together Armand's religious beliefs with his experiences in 'Memnoch' are very satisfying, if peculiarly quasi-mystical for a Rice finale.