Over thirty years before today’s vampire phenomenon struck, Anne Rice was changing the vampire’s reputation. Romanticizing the stock character, giving the vampire a human edge, was a largely unique point-of-view to take then, so all the Twi-hards out there may want to discover the roots of the pipsqueak Edward Cullen in Rice’s sensual and dangerous Lestat, Louis, Armand and others. However, Anne Rice has ended her long-running Vampire Chronicles and has turned her pen toward religious subject matter. After a pair of so-so novels about the life and times of Jesus, Rice has taken up the new series called Songs of the Seraphim. Her first novel in this series, Angel Time, introduced us to the general concepts, characters and format of the series, while also providing a really interesting take on religion. While the Fundamentalists out there will surely condemn Rice for this series, it seems to me that Rice really gets what this God thing is all about. And in Of Love and Evil, Rice raises the stakes and makes a more interesting plot to boot.
Songs of the Seraphim follow reformed assassin Toby O’Dare as he begins to work with an angel named Malchiah to travel through time and work out religious quandries and dilemmas for Jewish people in extreme times of need. Last time we visited Medieval England with mixed results. In Of Love and Evil, however, we find ourselves in a Renaissance-era Italy. Rice’s work has always dealt with the supernatural, so finding a dybbuk (a kind of Hebrew poltergeist) tormenting a home with a poisoned son in another shows that Rice remains true to form. Her use of the supernatural in a religious context is a great way for Rice to deal with her feelings on the Catholic faith, as she has had several fallings out with the Church. And it’s pretty good for her readers, too, as the mystical portions of the novel are its strongest.
Rice raises the stakes in this series by introducing a clear protagonist who will likely resurface in future Songs of the Seraphim novels, that being a wicked demon. Through temptation and lies, this demon nearly seduces Toby, who only through the protection of a mysterious guardian angel (not Malchiah, who guides him through his time-traveling adventures) is able to escape and return to his chronologically correct time. Providing a menace outside of the villains who antagonize the Jewish people Toby serves to help, Rice makes the series much more pleasurable to read.
We also see a great deal of personal content from Toby. The early portions of the novel include a meeting with a woman he once loved and the son he never knew. While the love in these scenes is compelling and profound, I felt that she was too forgiving after not hearing from Toby for ten years. A separate plot that involves a conspicuous stalker leaves the novel ending on a very tense and emotional moment. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger, necessarily, but this ending did excite me for the next novel in Rice’s new series.
Bottom Line: In this slim volume, Rice has really accomplished quite a bit. She proves that she can make the “good guys” just as interesting as her bloodsucking bad guys in series past. Maybe thirty years from now Stephenie Meyer will be writing about angels. Let’s hope not. Four stars.
You can find Of Love and Evil at your local chain bookstore, online, or click here to find a list of independent bookstores in your neighborhood.