book review

For fans of Anne Rice who thought her literary prowess had begun to diminish in the novels following the vampire Lestat’s Dante-like voyage through heaven and hell in 1995’s Memnoch the Devil, her latest novel, Blackwood Farm, proves that the gods of supernatural literature have again bestowed her with the talented powers needed to create a sinfully engrossing narrative.

Blackwood Farm revolves around Tarquin Blackwood – an eccentric young man whose life carries the bizarre luggage of an invisible doppelganger named Goblin. Tarquin, who has been transformed into a vampire, narrates the novel to the iconic vampire Lestat. Tarquin’s haunting tale is well-paced, enabling the plot to quicken in an intensity similar to a vampire’s frenzied feeding and slow down to a luxuriant Southern tempo in all the necessary spots.

Tarquin can barely remember a time when he did not know Goblin. Tarquin’s family and their estate servants ignore his charades with the invisible Goblin. Yet, Tarquin and Goblin do nearly everything together: Tarquin teaches words to Goblin in grammar school until he is thrown out for “talking to nobody,” Goblin and Tarquin watch classic films together, Goblin makes chandeliers tremble in a jealous rage when Tarquin exits a room after conversing with another person, and eventually Goblin stimulates Tarquin to his first orgasm.

The first half of the novel revolves around the development of Tarquin and Goblin’s complex relationship and mirrors Tarquin’s sheltered upbringing. The second half of the novel offers a series of dynamic plot twists, particularly the ending, that reflect Tarquin’s growing independence from Goblin.

The riveting plot also focuses on Sugar Devil Island, where rumors are abound that the Blackwood patriarch, Manfred, built a clandestine shack in the swamp with many ancestral secrets. To quote a character from the novel incensed with strange happenings, “Lord God. We got a dead girl, a strange building, a bunch of weird books, and a regular tomb of gold with an empty coffin in it, and a crazy boy standing here!” The novel offers enough intrigue and suspense to keep any mystery reader satiated.

The work is seeped in thick Southern Gothic, and unlike many of her novels, the tales of ghosts, haunting nightmares, and bloodsucking are terrifying. Rice’s novels have a dark atmosphere permeating from them, but they offer more than just thrift store chills. She conveys the eternal theme of good versus evil in various ways: the philosophical ranting and navel-gazing of immortals, a subtle history lesson, a character’s yearning for love, and through an epic multi-generational family chronicle.

Blackwood Farm is noteworthy for its abundance of lively and sumptuous human characters. Rice is able to imbue these characters with a robust personality and charm that she has been unable to recreate since she first introduced her vampire brethren and witch coven. These include: Tarquin’s derelict of a country singer-poseur mother Patsy, the charismatic and extravagant Aunt Queen, the loving but distant grandfather Pops, the beautiful and sensible quadroon Jasmine, and family servants Clem and Big Ramona and others, that collectively flesh out Rice’s tale with a palpable vividness.

Although Blackwood Farm is billed as a “Vampire Chronicle,” it could also be considered a follow up to Rice’s Mayfair Witches trilogy.

One of the novel’s best features is that Rice spreads her appeal out to balance the tastes of her new and old fans. As opposed to several of her recent novels, a new reader can jump right into Rice’s world and feel comfortable. The novel enriches the paranormal legends Rice has worked on for several decades by bringing back many beloved characters (fans of the Mayfair family will be elated to know that Rowan, Michael, Mona, and Julien have returned to form) with fresh, contemporary scenarios. References to Wal-Mart, the FBI, and Gladiator, only serve to advance the verisimilitude these seemingly fabricated, romantic characters play in readers’ lives.

Rice’s love for the humanities has not eroded. Just as Rice is currently finding her place back in the Roman Catholic Church, her characters’ awestruck appreciation and ecstatic love for the Western World’s classic art, literature, and music is as prevalent as ever.

Blackwood Farm, like nearly all of Rice’s work, deserves a chance. Whether it is a quick peek or a close analysis, Blackwood Farm is like stepping into an enormous cathedral and absorbing the sublime trance of glorious stained-glass windows and every confessed sin.

Horacio Sierra can be reached at