Well, it’s been a little while since I last read a horror novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Anne Rice’s 1999 novel “Vittorio, The Vampire”.
I ended up finding a second-hand copy of this book a few weeks ago, shortly after enjoying Rice’s “Pandora” and wanting to read the other novel in this short spin-off series from Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series.
Interestingly, although “Vittorio, The Vampire” is a spin-off novel, it can still be read as a stand-alone novel – especially since even the opening chapters point out that it has little to no connection to Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series, other than it is a novel narrated by a vampire. So, you can read this novel without having read any other Anne Rice novels beforehand.
So, let’s take a look at “Vittorio, The Vampire”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in rural Italy in the late 1990s. A vampire called Vittorio sits in the ruins of his ancestral castle and, at the request of some vampires that he barely knows from New Orleans, he decides to set his life story down on paper.
He begins with his idyllic childhood in the mid-15th century, where he was both a young scholar and a knight in training. His father was wealthy, his castle far from any place of strategic importance to any of the bands of mercenaries who fought wars between city states. Yet, in the midst of this idyll, young Vittorio begins to hear frightened whispers amongst his father’s friends and also begins to have nightmares about holding the severed heads of his younger siblings.
Shortly after Vittorio turns sixteen, there is a mysterious high-ranking visitor to the castle one night. Vittorio’s father meets him at the gate and sends him away, before rushing to the chapel and gathering his family around him. The night passes safely.
The next night, they are not so lucky. Vampires storm the castle and begin to massacre everyone. Vittorio hides in the crypt with his siblings, but cannot protect them. Furious, he tries to kill one of the vampires – a woman called Ursula – but fails. To his surprise, she persuades the other vampires to spare his life.
Alone in a castle filled with corpses, Vittorio swears revenge and begins a journey to find the vampires…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a horror novel than I’d expected 🙂
I’d expected something similar to the rich, sumptuous splendour of Rice’s “The Vampire Armand” and, whilst “Vittorio, The Vampire” certainly has elements of this, all of this novel’s beauty is also counterpointed by a decent amount of exquisitely creepy horror too 🙂 Plus, it is also a slightly faster-paced novel than I’d expected too 🙂
So, I should start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and they are excellent 🙂 In addition to vampire horror, paranormal horror and a few moments of gory horror, this novel also includes lots of unsettling moments involving things like creepy places, moral horror, body horror, tragic horror, religious horror, sexual horror and psychological horror 🙂 Seriously, it is so good to see a gothic vampire novel that is actually scary 🙂
A lot of the novel’s creepiest horror elements revolve around themes of moral corruption and compromise, with the best examples of this probably being Vittorio’s character development throughout the story and a brilliantly disturbing segment set in a walled town that is just slightly too idyllic. If you’ve read dystopian sci-fi novels about flawed utopias, then you’ll probably know what to expect here, but the segment is still surprisingly creepy thanks to both it’s unexpected appearance in a historical gothic vampire novel and the very deft and subtle ways that the town’s horrifying secret is revealed to the reader.
Not only that, the novel’s horror also relies heavily on the contrast between beauty and disgust. But, unlike a 1980s splatterpunk novel, this isn’t achieved through the use of elaborate gruesome descriptions, but instead through the use of settings and places. As you would expect from an Anne Rice novel, this story is richly atmospheric and this is used to full effect here – whether it is a sumptuous castle populated by a court of satanic vampires or the contrast between the beautiful architecture of Florence and the deterioration of Vittorio’s mind, this novel uses the settings as a chillingly brilliant source of contrast 🙂
Another theme in this novel is the passage of time with, for example, the contrast between Vittorio’s outward youth and extreme age at the beginning of the novel or – even more dramatically – the fact that, during the progress and innovation of the renaissance, the main group of vampires in the story still lives like a medieval court and arrogantly assumes that this can continue forever. Given that vampire novels are often about the perks and perils of immortality, these background elements really help to add a lot of extra depth to the story 🙂
The novel also uses religion as both a source of drama and horror. Whether it is the “evil church” that the vampire court worships in, the fact that the ordinary church cannot protect Vittorio from the vampires, the religion-based inner conflict that rages in Vittorio’s mind for most of the novel, the way that the benevolence of a group of monks is contrasted with the evil of the vampire court or some unnervingly surreal psychological horror sequences featuring angels, this novel uses religious themes to brilliantly dramatic historical effect here.
Although I haven’t studied the history of renaissance Italy in great detail, the novel’s setting certainly feels complex, atmospheric and realistic enough, thanks to the excellent writing and a few well-placed references to various artists, the Medicis etc.. Interestingly though, this novel also sets itself apart from “The Vampire Armand” (which is also partially set in renaissance Italy) thanks to the fact that most of the story takes place in forests, castles and rural towns rather than opulent cities. This rural setting also lends the novel a slight medieval fantasy-style atmosphere too 🙂
In terms of the characters, this novel excels 🙂 Not only does Vittorio have a lot of personality and character development throughout the novel, but he also feels like a realistically flawed person who suffers from the earnestness and emotions of youth.
The novel’s vampire romance elements are also handled reasonably well, with the relationship between Vittorio and Ursula being a complicated and conflicted one, with some creepiness added to it by the subtle, bizarre and/or sneaky ways that Ursula tricks or manipulates Vittorio at various moments in the story. Yet, for all of her evil, Ursula is also more of a complicated – and sympathetic character than she first seems. Likewise, all of the novel’s background characters also feel like realistic people too.
In terms of the writing, this novel’s first-person narration is splendid 🙂 One of the cool things about this novel is that, at the beginning, Vittorio explicitly points out that he won’t be telling his story in some antiquated “historical” style (mostly because he has 500+ years worth of linguistic knowledge). What this means is that the novel not only contains the beautiful, sumptuous and descriptive gothic prose that you’d expect from an Anne Rice novel, but also more of an informal and “matter of fact” style too – which really helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace. The narration here is atmospheric, personality-filled and an absolute joy to read 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 339 pages (excluding the bibliography), this novel feels fairly lean and efficient 🙂 Plus, although the novel is relatively slow to start, it is much faster-paced than I’d expected 🙂 This is one of those horror novels that gets more and more compelling as it goes along, so expect to read more pages than you plan to whenever you pick it up 🙂
As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting, the story itself feels pretty much timeless – not to mention that the decision to mix more modern-style faster-paced narration with sumptuous, formal etc… descriptions means that this novel contains the very best elements of both modern fiction and slightly older fiction. Not only that, most of the novel’s horror still remains brilliantly creepy when read these days too 🙂
All in all, this novel is excellent 🙂 If you want an atmospheric, gothic vampire novel that also contains a decent amount of actual horror too, then this one is well worth reading 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.