“I am the vampire Lestat.”
– Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
These words are iconic. Across the globe people have used the name Lestat, as pseudonyms, pet names, and – even in the secrets of their minds – calling themselves by it, trying to draw closer to a world that thrills and entices them. But as prolific as the name may become, we all recognise its source, the man that gave us shivers in the dark with these opening syllables.
Lestat is a fearless vampire, a vociferous young man who displays self-assurance in the face of any and all obstacles. When the reader encounters him in The Vampire Lestat, he is embedding himself into human society as a rock superstar and using his considerable wealth to publish a successful account of his life. A tribute to his companions, wherever they may be, as well as a goad to those monsters that still hide in the shadows of the world.
Lestat is the youngest son of a noble family presiding over land in the Auvergne. Unlike his brothers, he is ill at ease with a simple existence in the country, free from the complications of knowledge and beauty. The only member of his family that he can connect with in any fashion is his mother, the marquise.
His story opens as he rides into the forest to hunt down and destroy a pack of wolves terrorising the village. Lestat is forced to face his own mortality, and the knowledge that he is alone in his struggle as he fends off the beasts and finally escapes with his life, having killed eight animals that very nearly killed him. A strange sort of acclaim greets him, however, within days of his success. His mind may be in turmoil, and his brothers and father scarcely believe the radical tale, but some of the wealthier villagers choose to lavish him with gifts in their gratitude.
Lestat is changed, however. A part of him, he muses, died in the snow along with his horse and his hunting dogs. He can find solace only in Gabrielle, his mother, who handles his newfound melancholy by offering him her own opinions of pain in solitude (granting him a seldom seen comfort), and his new friend, Nicolas de Lenfent. A kindred spirit; in familial shame, just as Lestat believes himself to be.
It isn’t too long before Nicki and Lestat’s daily philosophical conversations on the nature of immortality and the devilry that is art become a trumpeting drive to flee a dismal existence in Auvergne and run away to Paris. With Gabrielle’s assistance, they leave their home on an impulse that will surely have them disowned.
It is in Paris that Lestat’s desire to be on stage in a theatre is finally realised; it is there that his personality thrives as it was meant to, drawing in the world at his feet. But it is also there that he meets his death in the arms of Magnus, a magician who chose to steal immortality for himself and has recently taken to seeking out an heir to his fortune and eternal gift.
Lestat is thrown into a journey down the Devil’s Road, and along his path, he brings his mother and Nicki into immortality with him when they encounter the Children of Darkness: a coven of satanic, God-fearing vampires led by Armand. It is here that we bear witness to the first encounter between these two iconic characters and we watch with dismay as their relationship is forged in a stand-off between love and loathing. We know from later novels that the two have an unwavering love for one another, despite their numerous differences. But from this first meeting, we can see how remarkable it is that they do not try and rip each other apart at every opportunity.
“Beauty was a Savage Garden.
So why must it wound him that the most despairing music is full of beauty? Why must it hurt him and make him cynical and sad and untrusting?
Good and evil, those are concepts man has made. And man is better, really, than the Savage Garden.”
– Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
Meanwhile, Lestat’s relationship with Nicolas has soured beyond repair, though he does not yet realise it. He brings Nicki to him, changing him into a vampire after saving him from the thirst of the Children of Darkness and the pyre upon which they intended to burn him. What Lestat does not understand is that Nicolas’s irrationality in the face of the question of good and evil is only exacerbated in the face of what he is. What Lestat is. He becomes fervent, and his love for his friend sours into something akin to disgust.
Finally, Lestat sweeps Paris beneath his travelling feet as he seeks out the vampire Marius, taking Gabrielle with him, and leaving Renaud’s theatre – now dubbed the Theatre of the Vampires – in the care of Armand. As he does too with Nicki and the lost Children of Darkness. But there is a conflict of interest in this journey. Gabrielle wants him with her, body and soul. She attempts to defend him against the obvious: that things are not well in Paris. That Nicolas suffers a malady of the mind and that Armand is (occasionally) impatient with him. And finally the news becomes clear, that Nicolas de Lenfent is dead. A package is delivered to the man who loved him: his Stradivarius and the account of his death.
Gabrielle is ever more intent to keep Lestat from Paris, even to the extent of hiding the revolts in France from him, those that endanger his family. It is inevitable that he should find out that she has been keeping information from him. And in a fury, after discovering the state his home is in, he sends her from him in a towering rage.
Alone, again, Lestat continues his search for Marius, the vampire that created Armand. But the pain of losing Nicki and Gabrielle hounds him and he finally gives in to his need to let the world slip away. He goes to sleep, seeking solitude.
And when he has fully given up the search for Marius, the ancient that Armand believes to be dead, he is awakened by the very man himself.
On Marius’s island, Lestat finds a kindred spirit, as well as vampire secrets that Marius has been keeping for centuries. But he cannot keep the curiosity of his nature from this new companion. He, enamoured with the figure of Akasha, approaches the shrine of Those Who Must Be Kept and plays Nicki’s violin for her. Both unearthly parents awake from their dreadful sleep. One to embrace him, the other – goaded by his Queen’s passions – to destroy him. With the assistance of Marius, the situation is diffused, but he sends Lestat away regardless. As always bound by responsibility.
The Vampire Lestat is the opportunity that the world’s idol required to repair a severely damaged reputation, following the publication of Interview with the Vampire. We are granted an entirely new side to Lestat. And a nostalgic version of the tale told to us by Louis. Lestat finally allows the reader a peek into his life with Louis and Claudia, as his memoirs draw to a close. We also have the advantage of revelling in him in a modern world, where he takes the world by storm with the thunder of his voice and the eloquence of his life.
“Words. Borne on the ever swelling current of hatred, like flowers opening in the current, petals peeling back, then falling apart.”
― Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
A beautiful tale, rife with loss at the misery of an eternity alone, wonder at becoming an instrument of blood and preternatural strength, but also a story of discovery and impulse, told from the very lips of the ‘Brat Prince.’
Lestat is an icon, both on the pages of this book and without. From his eagerness to learn, to his fearlessness in the face of danger: The Vampire Lestat begins with a supernova crash and ends on an exquisite cliff-hanger, which tingles up and down the spine.