Anne Rice fans will greet Pandora: New Tales of the Vampires, the first of her new vampire chronicles, as hungrily as the Fang Gang facing a fresh new neck. Our heroine, Pandora, a senator's daughter in Augustus Caesar's day, flees to Antioch when her family gets killed and discovers the antidote to stern Roman rationalism in the occult wisdom of the East. "Something attacked my reason," Pandora writes. "The very thing the Roman Emperors had so feared in Egyptian cults and Oriental cults swept over me: mystery and emotion which claim a superiority to reason and law."
Pandora gets her sexy vampire initiation at the fangs of handsome Marius (who later inducted Rice's famed vampire Lestat). Pandora tells how a nice Roman girl became a vampire in modern Paris, but mostly the book celebrates the sights and sounds (and philosophical bloodlettings) of the classical world. Pandora is more like Robert Graves's sublime I, Claudius than Rice's The Complete Vampire Chronicles.
Yet Pandora is a logical extension of Rice's work, and Pandora is a combination of her past vampire heroes and the nakedly, horrifyingly autobiographical heroine of Rice's 1997 novel Violin. Now, Violin is remarkably messy, but it captures the volcanic passion that erupts in her best work--Rice calls it "a study in pain." Pandora is really a dramatized debate between passion and reason, which Pandora calls "male reason." She teases her vampire mentor: "Marius guarded his delicate rationality as a Vestal Virgin guards a sacred flame. If ever any ecstatic emotion took hold of me, he [would] tell me in no uncertain terms that it was irrational, irrational, irrational!"
Rice's research gives fresh blood to her storytelling. Even her chronic third-act problem scarcely slows down this brisk romp of a novel. Pandora has intellectual thirst as well as blood lust, and she conveys the high old time Rice obviously had imbibing historical lore. "It is fun to read these mad Gnostics!" exults Pandora in the early Christian era. It is also fun to read this mad Pandora. Anne Rice hasn't been this fun to read in years.