Pandora

Rating: 
3
Pandora
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 27-Jul-1998

Anne Rice. Pandora: New Tales of the Vampires. Knopf, March 1998. ISBN 0-375-40159-8; $19.95.

As I was reading this book, I kept feeling as if I had picked up a historical novel by Yarbro instead. But there is one notable difference between PANDORA and Yarbro's latest vampire novel: Rice's work does not have the same darkness. Existentialism, yes; that is an ever-present theme of The Vampire Chronicles. But it is almost casual in PANDORA, not pervasive as it was in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.

PANDORA is the story of the vampire Pandora, who was born in Classical-era Rome. Knowledge of earlier novels in the Vampire Chronicles is not necessary, at least as far as I can tell. (I have read only INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and THE VAMPIRE LESTAT, and those not recently.) Framed as an autobiography written out to oblige a younger vampire, Daniel, PANDORA focuses on the human life of its protagonist. Born Lydia, a Roman Senator's daughter, Pandora grew up with a degree of freedom and education that women have achieved in few other cultures. But not even Senators were immune to the winds of political change in Rome: when a shift in power puts Lydia's family on the wrong side of the Emperor, Lydia's father sends her away with his wealth (there is no one else to leave it to) to settle in Roman-ruled Antioch. There she adopts the name Pandora and begins putting together a new life for herself.

Leaving Rome, however, does not put all troubles and enemies behind her. A traitor to her family survives and finds her even in her new home. And more persistent and perplexing are troubles from within: strange, inexplicable dreams, dreams of drinking blood, of cursing Amon Ra, god of the sun, dreams of the Queen Mother Isis fettered to her throne, weeping red tears. Pandora, once an initiate of the Cult of Isis in Rome, seeks the Temple of Isis in Antioch. Her dreams horrify the priest and priestess there, who say they reflect old legends, evil tales that Mother Isis has no part in. There is only one with knowledge of such legends: a friend of the temple whom Pandora comes to know as Marius -- Marius who loved her from afar in her youth, Marius who now is the guardian of Those Who Must Be Kept, the vampire progenitors Akasha and Enkil. And it is indeed the Mother and Queen of blood who has been sending strange dreams to Pandora and who opens her arms and veins to her as a chosen one.

Pandora's life with Marius gets short if entertaining shrift: Despite the affection between them, two more different minds could never try to share a house. Pandora is a keen thinker and skilled rhetorician, well read and a lover of learning; but no matter how much Marius respects, admires, even loves her for these traits, he refuses to be swayed by her love of pleasure and ecstasy. Pandora is convinced that his not facing this -- not confronting the ultimate lack of meaning in the universe -- was what drove a fatal wedge between them that kept them separated for centuries. But not before they shared a handful of adventures told briefly yet in touching style, particularly the fate of Pandora's faithful, resourceful slave Flavius and now fanatically Christian blood drinkers who at last found the Ancient Ones and their guardians and had to be dealt with.

As the book progresses, time passes more quickly and the narrative itself grows more (for lack of a better word) ecstatic -- although always coherent and, at least arguably, reasonable -- for surely "reasonable" is a little different for a millennium-old vampire than for most of us. Although the last part particularly is devoted to world-weaving rather than pursuit of a plot as such, it remains engaging with the momentum of Pandora's thoughts and emotions -- this is the power that Rice lends to so much of her writing, spinning out words and images given continuity by their sheer intensity.

And I couldn't help doing that old grade-school style compare-and-contrast between PANDORA and Yarbro's ANGRY ANGEL. Each narrative shows painstaking research into its historical era, and each is something of a Bildungsroman, following an individual from girlhood to adolescence or, in Pandora's case, adulthood proper. Both principals have to flee their homes (Kelene repeatedly); both receive dream-visions from a powerful ancient vampire, visions meant to bring them to the dream-sender. And ultimately each meets the source of her dreams, who transforms her to a creature of the same sort. But I think what struck me most was that each novel uses a slave market scene -- a motif they use as differently as night and day. Kelene is sold as a slave, in a scene made to be her ultimate degradation and the turning point in her life, when she falls into the Dragon Prince's hands. Pandora goes to the slave market in Antioch to buy a household and comes upon Flavius, whose situation is as desperate as Kelene's: the slave-dealer lets him wear only a filthy loincloth and will not feed him until he is sold, although the sign about his neck details his great knowledge and scholarly accomplishments. Their exchange is suspenseful, charming, and ultimately touching -- Flavius is sold into a life of servitude as different from Kelene's as could be imagined.

It is in the parallels that the differences show themselves most clearly. Although Akasha arguably uses Pandora, she certainly does not turn her into a chattel. Given a slave market, Yarbro tightens the noose around her protagonist's neck; Rice, in a scenario that could be pulled out to stand on its own as a short story, introduces and develops a new character at lightspeed while showing her protagonist's most engaging traits: her kindness, her learning, her sharp tongue, her temper.

Vampiring doesn't really enter the story until fairly late in PANDORA, but there is enough to give the novel appeal for vampire-lovers: the Ancient Ones are there, as is an old burned one, the blond Marius, and of course Pandora herself: brave and playful and perceptive of soul whatever the estate of her body. Even without the vampire elements, PANDORA is a very readable historical novel, but it is not complete without them, without the dreams of blood, without Marius's mixed feelings and Pandora's joy in her vampire powers. Whether you consider this a "new tale of the vampires" (as the subtitle proclaims) or another number in The Vampire Chronicles (as is implied by "The Vampire Chronicles will continue with THE VAMPIRE ARMAND" on the penultimate printed page), it is very much a part of Rice's vampire universe: always dark and rich, too full of the joy of life to be dragged down by its forays into existentialism.

THE VAMPIRE ARMAND is slated for October 1998 publication.

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From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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