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The Servant of the Bones
By Anne Rice

Reviewed by Michael Cornett
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.

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