Anne Rice stumbles a bit with 'Taltos'

September 29, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

To enter Anne Rice's world is to step into a subculture of vampires, ghosts, witches and warlocks.

Her characters are not the grotesque creatures of nightmares, though. They are rich, beautiful women and debonair men haunted by ancient, dark secrets.

Her vampires and witches have names, personalities and feelings. They are tortured, sympathetic souls, who often have no choice in their fates.

Ms. Rice has written four vampire books since 1976, often referred to as the Vampire Chronicles. It wasn't until 1990 that she veered from fangs to spells.

In "Taltos," Ms. Rice picks up the saga of the Mayfair witches, which she began to weave in "The Witching Hour" and "Lasher." In each previous book, she has created a soap-opera cliffhanger, hooking the reader.

"Taltos" is no different. There's clearly room for another installment in the story that revolves around the lives of the powerful, modern-day New Orleans witches, Rowan and Michael Mayfair.

The prolific author is writing about one book a year now, continuing her various series. Perhaps it's too much, too quick.

Ms. Rice's most recent effort is not as captivating as earlier works. The disjointed plot is strained as it bounces back and forth between several characters, time periods and events.

Her most recent novel also is not as seductively written as her other books. Ms. Rice, who pens soft-core pornography under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, has always managed to enticingly allude to eroticism in her vampire and witches novels.

In "Taltos," the writing style is more mundane, with declaratives such as, "Wow, the most incredible thing had happened."

The reader also does not feel the same connection to the characters. The old favorites are back: Mona, the 13-year-old flame-haired witch; Yuri, the gypsy outcast; Beatrice and Ancient Evelyn.

For the most part, they get lost in the shuffle of subplots or are mentioned and then dropped.

A recent addition to the coven, Mary Jane Mayfair, has potential: "Wanderer, buccaneer, seer, and genius, to hear her tell it, and part old lady and part fun-loving girl, at the ripe old age of nineteen and a half."

But her character also is swallowed up in the complicated storytelling and is never fully developed.

The most suspenseful tale in the book involves the Talamasca, a secret organization of scholars that Ms. Rice has incorporated into her Vampire Chronicles as well.

In "Taltos," the group has been infiltrated by traitors, who meet an Edgar Allan Poe fate when they are discovered.

The graphic scene truly chills a reader. "There lay a skull beside him, sockets staring at him, and there another, oh God! . . . his mouth opening in an uncontrollable and deafening scream."

The raison d'etre for the book, though, is the introduction of Ms. Rice's newest creation -- the Taltos, a gentle, 7-foot-tall breed who have inhabited the Earth for hundreds of years.

Ash, one of the last of the world's Taltos, has given up his search for a mate and leads a solitary, wealthy life as a toy manufacturer in New York. It's an occupation that fits his innate nature: "Of course, his breed had always been known for its capacity to play, to cherish, to enjoy."

His meeting with Rowan and Michael changes his life, and theirs, forever.

In a genetic twist, it turns out that not only can a Taltos produce a Taltos, but witches with a "double helix" chromosome pattern also can create the breed.

The witches are faced with a moral dilemma: Should this species be allowed to populate the Earth again?

Early on in the book, the reader quickly figures out who will produce the female Taltos that Ash has been seeking. It won't ruin the surprise to say that we'll probably read more about Morrigan in future Anne Rice books.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Taltos"

Author: Anne Rice

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Length, price: 467 pages, $25

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