ANNE RICE — CHRISTOPHER RICE — RAMSES THE DAMNED, THE PASSION OF CLEOPATRA — 2017
This is a very strange book and it is difficult to see what Anne Rice brought to it and what is typical of Christopher Rice. The expertise on old Egyptian and Middle East culture is, of course, typical of Anne Rice. Typical too is the invention of a new eternal species of human beings. After vampires, witches, angels, werewolves, Anne Rice reaches out here for immortals from Egypt and even before Egypt, immortals made so by some kind of potion from the “garden” of Bektaten, the immortal queen of that kingdom that existed before Egypt. This queen is black and her two immortal servants are just as black as her. This is a common heritage from the two authors who have never been color blind or color shy.
What is more typical of Christopher Rice is the suspense story, the crime mystery, the plot among immortals, half immortals and humans, a plot that brings the police into the business regularly. Typical too of Christopher Rice is the setting in some rather modern version of our world, in cities like Monte Carlo, Rome, and London. But then we enter a crisscrossing network of references that makes the novel really the work of two authors. The most striking element is the fact it is situated in 1914 just before the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany. This very fact is closer to Christopher Rice’s tradition. Anne Rice always works on older historical contexts and events. Note the epilogue of the book leaves many doors open for a sequel. Que sera sera.
The world in which this book throws, soaks and even drowns us is a world of broken families. The main question is “Where are the parents of these younger characters?” And the answer is always: dead, absent, deficient. Alex Savanell is the only one who has a mother, Edith, who is so self-centered that she does not really care anymore for her son — or her husband. This Alex Savanell has a father who has been made eternal and as such is able to win a lot of money in casinos and save his family estate he abandons to his wife’s care. This father, Elliott, is totally and exclusively self-centered if not egocentric and egoistic. He is pathetic in his pushing his own family away from himself though he takes care of his estate in his immortal state with his immortal capabilities.
This Alex was supposed to marry a certain Julie Stratford, the daughter of the boss of the Stratford Shipping Company. That was an arranged marriage to finance Alex’s family estate with the money of Julie’s company, since it is hers after the death of her father, though she seems to have to do with a brother who is unable to actually do anything and particularly manage a business. She has to do it, alone. Unluckily for her, Ramses made her an immortal because he falls in love with her when he is woken up from his long slumber in his sarcophagus and wrapping. That sounds very childish on the side of Ramses, supposedly Ramses the Great, turned Ramses the Damned. He makes his lover immortal to be on equal footing with her. That sets them both totally aside in society, aside and self-centered as a couple.
Add to that Sibyl Parker, an American writer, without a father or a mother, without a husband, but with two bloodsucking brothers who live on and upon the money she makes with her books. She is fascinated by Egyptian old history and she writes books on these gods and rulers of Pharaoh’s times. Four titles are quoted: The Wrath of Anubis, then The Fire of Thoth, then The Storm of Amun, and finally Horus Rising. It is, of course, a family story. Let’s have the very beginning of the story.
“The Story of Osiris, Isis, and Horus: The Egyptian Myth of Creation from Geb, the sky god, and Nut, the earth goddess came four children: Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Osiris was the oldest and so became king of Egypt, and he married his sister Isis. Osiris was a good king and commanded the respect of all who lived on the earth and the gods who dwelled in the netherworld. However, Set was always jealous of Osiris, because he did not command the respect of those on earth or those in the netherworld. One day, Set transformed himself into a vicious monster and attacked Osiris, killing him. Set then cut Osiris into pieces and distributed them throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. With Osiris dead, Set became king of Egypt, with his sister Nephthys as his wife.” (https://www.laits.utexas.edu/cairo/teachers/osiris.pdf).
The least we can say is that the people in this “family” are notoriously nefarious if not plain abominable and atrocious. With such a background you can imagine the hectic mess if not frantic chaos they create in England in 1914. I can’t really say more about it without just telling you the story.
We have to note, yet, that Cleopatra is a side-effect of the story. Revived from the dead with some filter, she is shown as an empty vessel that has lost her soul and her memory to Sibyl Parker whom she accuses of stealing her memories, her soul. She was resuscitated by Ramses in a moment of reckless vanity. Alex fell in love with her and his love is nothing but absolute hypnosis and possession of a young man who is doing nothing at all in life and is living on the family’s estate’s wealth. She is chased by so many others that she becomes an item in the setting of the plot more than a character. She is pathetic and miserable, in no way open to any normal empathy, except of course that of Alex. In a way it is a shame because her search for her son, Caesarion, could have been a very strong asset in the story (especially in his tragic and miserable end), and it is not. It is just a gimmick to give Cleopatra some human dimension she does not deserve to be granted. I don’t think a plain reader can feel any sympathy for her. That makes the plain reader very resentful at Ramses resuscitating her from the dead.
Note part of the initial action takes place in Cairo in 1914 or just before and it revolves around a performance of Aïda by Giuseppe Verdi there. We are not told if there were elephants or not, but this is another gimmick, though the general plot of this opera can be compared to the general plot of this novel.
“Ancient Egypt. The Egyptian general Radames is in love with an Ethiopian slave, Aïda, a love that is threatened by an imminent war between their respective countries. The other threat they face is Amneris, the daughter of the King of Egypt, who is also in love with Radames. Aïda is her slave, and also, due to a twist of fate, her rival. The Egyptian troops are victorious, representing a triumph for Radames, to whom the king betroths his daughter as a reward. But the glorious hero will soon be an outcast, accused of betraying his country by revealing military secrets to Aïda, who is the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, Amonasro. Sentenced to be buried alive, Radames accepts his fate, to the dismay of Amneris, who is willing to do anything to save his life. In the darkness of his tomb, Radames finds Aïda who has come to join him and die by his side.” (https://www.opera-online.com/en/items/works/aida-ghislanzoni-verdi-1871).
Apart from that which reveals conflicting directions in the story, we regret the great art of Anne Rice to shift from a present plot to past events, history, and settings rendered in flamboyant or at times toxic and noxious colors. The past, hence the mythology and ancient history are reduced to circumstantial references to more or less support the present story that is neither fantastic nor mesmerizing. A sort of out-worldly mystery and crime story. In spite of the rather open ending, I do not see how it could produce a sequel and I am not sure it would be worth even trying. But why on earth do parents who are famous writers want to promote their children into the profession, children who are far from the level of fame and probably value of their parents? Stephen King did it for one of his sons, the one who kept the “King” name, and here Anne Rice does it for her son who has kept the “Rice” name. At least this book will be copyrighted till seventy years after the death of the younger author if he survives the older one, so probably for the one hundred and twenty years to come. Good business indeed provided it becomes a bestseller for that length of time.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU