The Witching Hour
by Anne Rice
“Who in God’s name are you? she thought. The incongruity of it struck her slowly, along with a completely alien thought. This is not what it appears to be. this is some form of illusion I’m looking at! And with a sudden interior shift, her anger passed into suspicion and finally fear.
The dark eyes of the being implored her. He raised his pale hands now and placed his fingers on the glass.
She could neither move nor speak. Then, furious at her helplessness and at her terror, she cried:
“You go back to hell where you came from!” her voice sounded loud and terrible in the empty house.
As if to answer her, to unsettle her and vanquish her totally, the intruder slowly disappeared. The figure went transparent, then dissolved utterly, and nothing was left but the faintly horrible and completely unsettling sight of the empty desk.
The immense pane of glass rattled. There came another boom from it as though the wind had pushed against it head on. Then the sea seemed to settle. The rushing of water died away. And the house grew still. “
Diving into a work written by Anne Rice can be a daunting task, to say the least. She has a way of writing that completely envelops you as a reader, bringing you into her twisting and turning world of the occult, vampires, and sexual deviancy with as clear a vision as if you were standing in the middle of the French Quarter yourself. Her Vampire Chronicles are legendary and her unique style at telling a tale is spellbinding and bewitching. If you’re ready to embark upon an adventure that will wind you through decades of the Mayfair family’s life, be prepared to put in the time. Anne Rice can spend three pages describing a perfectly serene and near reverent setting for you, and then challenge your sense of propriety with a shocking revelation or scandalous taboo all in the same chapter. You need time to read this book. It’s not something you’re going to fly through while lounging poolside or during quick reads while sitting in carpool. The Witching Hour is a marathon, not a sprint. But in my opinion, the novel is a perfectly woven tale with the most unique sense of mystique.
I began my journey with this acclaimed author by reading this very dense tome, the first in a series of novels known as the Mayfair Witches Trilogy. I soon learned that what I’d read about the author in my previous research was true – Anne Rice does not write anything easily. Her writing style is meaty, heavy, and full of a lyrical sense of description that can sometimes be daunting to sift through. Whether you like how she writes or not, her descriptive voice is mesmerizing and admirable. She sets scenes up with a deliberate and nearly obsessive amount of detail, but all while keeping her characters rather ambiguous and most definitely mysterious. After reading, I still felt there was much I could learn about the lead characters and I enjoyed that. Not having it all put on the table allows much room for interpretation and for growth, something that I admire in any writer. It’s not easy to hold things back from your reader and allow them to come to their own conclusions about characters; as writers our first inclination is typically to throw it all out there at once because we know our characters better than anyone. They are typically a piece of our very self. The character development of Mayfair beauty Rowan, her devoted lover Michael, and the devious ghost Lasher evolves like a previously cocooned butterfly as the trilogy spans on.
Rowan Mayfair is an accomplished surgeon living in California. She was adopted at birth by a distant relative and only later in life discovers her immediate family who are residents of New Orleans, Louisiana – the Mayfairs. Rowan has gifts she doesn’t understand, namely the power to kill or heal via telekinesis. Several incidents involving her seemingly malicious talent have traumatized her, making her closed off to others in the emotional sense. She tries to use her burden for good and through helping others and the field of medicine seems like the perfect match.
After Rowan saves a drowning man, her life takes a turn. Michael Curry is undeniably handsome, enigmatic, and charming. They soon become obsessively involved with one another. When he decides to move back to his hometown of New Orleans to work on restoring his dream house, she follows suit. The trip allows her to delve deep into the family history she wasn’t aware she had. She goes from being an only child to two less-than-devoted parents to being the heiress of a family so huge she can barely keep them all straight. They are respectful to her in an almost chilling manner, as she is the last of the female line, someone very important to their lineage.
“Once the glass doors of the restaurant called Commander’s Palace had shut behind them, and Rowan had realized they were now in a faintly familiar world of uniformed waiters and white tablecloths, she glanced back through the glass at the whitewashed wall of the graveyard, and at the little peaked roofs of the tombs visible over the top of the wall.
The dead are so close they can hear us, she thought.
“Ah, but you see,” said the tall white-haired Ryan, as if he’d read her mind, “in New Orleans, we never really leave them out.” “
In Mayfair tradition, the legacy and subsequent fortune is passed down through maternal lineage, from one woman to her first born daughter. Rowan is the last of the female line and as such bears a responsibility of the largest magnitude. Rowan becomes the designee of the family estate and eventually ruler of a strange ghost-man named Lasher, who appears to her as the keeper of the Mayfair women. The nefarious ghost has haunted and stalked the women of the family for generations using seduction of the highest form as the chief tool in his bag of tricks. His greatest wish is to become human so that he may walk the world freely and he needs a Mayfair woman to help him achieve his goal. The novel goes back and forth through time, taking the reader to different eras and annotating different Mayfair women’s battles with the spirit.
“”And Stella was the one shot by her own brother.”
“Yes, and that was a terrible thing, to hear Daddy tell it. Stella was the wild one of that generation. Even before her mother died, she filled that old house with lights, with parties going on night after night, with the bootleg booze flowing and the musicians playing. Lord only knows what Miss Carl and Miss Millie and Miss Belle thought of all that. But when she started bringing her men home, that’s when Lionel took matters into his own hands and shot her. Jealous of her is what he was. Right in front of everybody in that parlor, he said, ‘I’ll kill you before I let him have you.’ “
Aaron Lightner is a prominent member of an order called the Talamasca, an ancient group of scholars who study all things supernatural and prepare case files with as much information as they can garner. Aaron has followed the lives of the Mayfair family as part of his life’s work and is well aware of the spirit Lasher’s ill intentions. He has insight as to the spirit’s motivations and means and becomes friend to both Rowan and Michael as the story progresses. His retelling of the information he has gathered through the years is a beautiful puzzle with the elusive Mayfair family ever at the center. He knows something is about to come to a head but he isn’t sure what or how. As Aaron’s sense of urgency increases, the reality that Rowan is indeed in danger (as her female predecessors were) comes to fruition – but there is always hope of beating Lasher if one continues to push forward and doesn’t give up trying to solve the mystery.
“All these years he’d known that man wasn’t real. All his life he’d known it. He’d known it in the church. . .
“Michael, that man is waiting for Rowan,” Lightner said.
“Waiting for Rowan? But Lightner, why, then, did he show himself to me?”
“Listen, my friend.” The Englishman put his hand on Michael’s hand and clasped it warmly. “It isn’t my intention to alarm you or to exploit your fascination. But that creature has been attached to the Mayfair family for generations. It can kill people. But then so can Dr. Rowan Mayfair. In fact, she may well be the first of her kind to be able to kill entirely on her own, without that creature’s aid. And they are coming together, that creature and Rowan. It’s only a matter of time before they meet. Now, please, dress and come with me. If you choose to be our mediator and to give the file on the Mayfair Witches to Rowan for us, then our highest aims will have been served. “”
The history of the Mayfair family is so interesting and engaging, I just loved it. The way Ann Rice presents it is deep and magical and makes you feel as if you reading something you shouldn’t be privy to. The secrets are deliciously scandalous and I was thrilled to learn even more in the second book, Lasher. One characters in particular, Julian Mayfair, was extremely riveting; but I won’t give too much of his own personal story away. The story retells the lives of many decades of Mayfair women and their dealings with Lasher.
Many of the questions raised in The Witching Hour are laid to rest in Lasher. The third book in the trilogy, Taltos, I felt was unneeded. It felt as if the author was too involved in her characters and was having a hard time letting go. As a result, I had a hard time getting through the book and would not recommend it unless you are just a diehard fan. Three other books follow spurs from the Mayfair family tree- Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle. These books weave the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches Trilogy together with familiar faces and unique story lines.
The Witching Hour provides a beautiful portrait of New Orleans and the Garden District, narrating a history in such a lovely way that you never doubt the love Anne Rice has for her city of birth. She lived there on a grand property (much like the Mayfair family home) for much of her 41 year marriage, selling and making the exodus to California to be closer to her son after her husband’s death. She writes of her city as a lover recounts infatuation with their beloved; New Orleans runs through the very veins of this author and I’m sure more than one reader of her work if traveling down the French Quarter, has turned their head to see if a vampire is lurking in the shadows behind them.
I rate The Witching Hour 4 out of 5 stars, recommending it only to a reader who has the time and energy to put into reading it. It’s a book clocking in at over 950 pages and takes a few chapters before you really get into it. Be prepared to expect and accept the unexpected and throw out the idea that anything can be taken at face value. Anne Rice dictates and categorizes the natures of the supernatural in a way that makes you wonder what sort of otherworldly company she keeps.