It has been almost 30 years since Anne Rice first published The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned…thirty years since our imaginations were captured by the mysterious and immortal former pharaoh and councilor to the kings and queens of ancient Egypt as he was awakened from an endless slumber when the sun touched his skin. It was somewhat surprising, then, when Anne Rice announced that she was collaborating with her son and fellow novelist, Christopher, on a sequel to the romantic Edwardian era novel.
Still, I eagerly anticipated this latest entry in the prolific author’s body of work and was particularly interested in seeing how a collaboration, the first for both authors, would manifest. Honestly, I could not have been more pleased with the results.
Beginning almost immediately after the end of the previous novel, The Passion of Cleopatra finds Julie Stratford and Reginald Ramsey (Ramses the Great) together in London, preparing for an engagement party to be given in their honor by Julie’s former fiance Alex and his mother, Edith. Alex’s father, Elliot, who was granted the gift of immortality along with Julie by Ramses’ elixir of life,is traveling the continent acquiring a great deal of wealth with his newfound luck at the casinos.
None of them know, of course, that Cleopatra not only survived the fiery crash meant to kill her, but also vowed revenge upon Ramses at the end of the first novel. Nor do they know that her survival has set in motion a string of events that will bring a whole host of new characters together on both sides of this immortal conflict.
Prominent new arrivals include Sibyl Parker, an American who has dreamed of Egypt her entire life and used those dreams to craft stories that have made her a world famous novelist. Bektaten is an ancient immortal more regal, wiser, and in some ways more dangerous than Akasha of The Vampire Chronicles ever dreamed of being, and Saqnos, her former consort and ultimate betrayer, teaches a powerful lesson in the corruptibility of the hearts and minds of men with seemingly limitless power.
But no character is too small for development here, as is proven in the appearance of the tragic male prostitute, Michel, with whom Elliot spends an evening. In any other novel, Michel might have been a mere throw away character, a plot device to move the central story along. In the capable hands of Anne and Christopher, however, he is fully realized. We know him. We know his life, and in the few pages in which he appears in the novel, we are as inescapably drawn to him as he is into the intrigues of those who exploit him to gather information about Elliot, Ramses, and Julie.
Together, the Rices have crafted a novel that is beautiful even in its most violent scenes of brutality and savagery. The prose is perfectly evocative of the novels of the time period, beautifully blending intrigue and adventure with aristocratic society. Moreover, the two have found a way to blend their writing styles in such a way as to leave even the most ardent fans of both uncertain of which passages might have been written by which author.
As the The Passion of Cleopatra drew to its inevitable conclusion, I could not help but reflect on the themes that are often present in both Anne and Christopher’s previous separate works: the corruption of power, the pondering of the greater mysteries of life and death and all that comes between and beyond them, the scale by which we measure humanity, the fallacy that one can be all good or all evil, the existence or non-existence of the Gods and their interactions with Man.
Did they find answers in Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra? No, but few authors have ever made the search more entertaining and fulfilling, and I will gladly continue to take the journey with them each time they put pen to page whether it be with vampires, werewolves, witches, or immortals straight from the age of legends in Egypt.