The Servant of the Bones
Reviewed by Michael Cornett
By Anne Rice
Rating: none given
The Servant of the Bones has one very scary element in it. And
I mean really scary - scarier than anything else Ann Rice has ever
written. The scary thing is this: Anne Rice has found religion.
It's hard to say exactly what religion - it's some sort of Gothic
version of Catholicism and Judaism mushed together with sprinklings of
other philosophies. While she expounded on her world-view in Memnoch
the Devil, she still told a compelling story in that novel. However,
while The Servant of the Bones adds more definition to her philosophy,
it's rather limp.
Structurally, Servant is similar to Interview with the Vampire,
being that the story is told to a Jewish history professor, trapped in
a cabin by a snowstorm and sweating through a fever, by a mysterious Azriel,
the "servant" of the title.
We hear Azriel's tale of growing up a Hebrew in Babylon, of befriending
the god Marduk, of being murdered as part of an ancient spell to create
a servitor spirit. We hear about his education and experiences with various
sorcerors that he encounters, until he shows up in modern Manhattan in
time to do battle with the leader of a cult called "The Temple of the Mind
of God." This man, it seems, wants to release poison gas and take over
the world. Rice talks a lot about how spirits function and what powers
they have; but a lot of this was covered in The Witching Hour.
All throughout, we hear stuff about God, about souls rejoining the flame
of the divine, of how we are on this world to love and learn and be kind
to one another. Rice incorporates recent news events into the novel - the
Oklahoma City bombing, the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, other cult
activities, and even the Balkan war and the Simpson trial. Rice has noble
motives. Azriel is taught to be kind and to observe a Hebrew exhortation:
Altashheth (meaning: "Do Not Destroy").
Which is exactly the problem. Azriel is so damned good, so freaking
nice, that he has become Rice's blandest hero. He lacks Lestat's
compelling amorality - or the moral ambiguity of the Mayfair witches. Unlike
her other books, Rice's Servant takes a firm moral stand. A noble
motive, but it doesn't make for a good story.
Not to say it's all bad. Azriel's relationship with Marduk (and the
presence of the other Babylonian gods) is intriguing. Rice's portrait of
ancient Babylon and of ancient personalities (like Nabonidus, Belshazzar,
and Cyrus) are good and well-researched. And her story occasionally reaches
dreamlike states; but all too often, it falls with a thud to the floor.
There is very little mystery about what happens in Servant. Nearly
everything is explained. The aura of the unexplained that made some of
her eariler books so unsettling is completely absent here.
The Servant of the Bones is a disappointment. Rice retreads too
much material from The Witching Hour; and her narrative verve has
fallen victim to moralistic preaching. Dump the didactic, Anne, and give
us a good, meaty story. Stop moralizing and have some fun.