August 02, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Servant of the Bones

Current Status
In Season
Anne Rice
Horror, Fiction
We gave it a F

Warning to all Anne Rice fans: Don’t read this review unless you want to get really angry. I am a relative newcomer to the Rice oeuvre and, God willing, I won’t be back too soon. I haven’t read any of the five books in the ”Vampire Chronicles” — though I have surreptitiously leafed through some of the alarmingly hardcore Beauty trilogy, a paean to sadomasochism Rice wrote under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.

But after plowing through Rice’s latest, the voluminous (385 pages) and often incomprehensible Servant of the Bones, I found myself longing for a few of Beauty‘s helpless medieval maidens and humiliated stableboys — just for some diversion.

This much can be said about Servant of the Bones: It’s not about vampires. The story opens when Azriel, an ancient spirit, accosts an archaeology scholar named Jonathan in a remote mountain cabin a few hours outside New York City. Azriel — who has materialized to avenge the murder of the daughter of a modern-day cult leader — proceeds to tell Jonathan his own strange and terrible story. And tells him and tells him — for 24 (out of a total 26) mind-numbing chapters. Each chapter is arranged as a virtual soliloquy by Azriel, who apparently did some hard time in places like ancient Babylon, Jerusalem, and Persia. Azriel roamed palaces in fine jeweled slippers when he wasn’t worrying about the location of a valuable Canaanite tablet or about being boiled alive in gold.

Servant of the Bones perks up when Rice finally allows Azriel to get to the point and explain what he’s doing in New York in 1996. This bizarre nonplot within a nonplot has to do with the evil leader of a cult called the Temple of the Mind and his plan to annihilate the world by releasing fatal viruses. The evil leader, Gregory Belkin, seems to be based on Shoko Asahara of Japan, the psychopathic guru arrested last year in connection with releasing nerve gas in Tokyo subways. Belkin, we learn, also has mysterious roots among the Hasidim in Brooklyn and a secret identical twin. Doesn’t everybody?

Of course, Azriel stops Belkin just in time. He also manages to have quasi-necrophiliac sex with Belkin’s dying wife. ”Perhaps the story is chaos,” Azriel muses toward the end of the book. ”It is another chapter in the endless saga…of the stunted yet dazzling ambitions of little souls.” I couldn’t have described Servant of the Bones better myself. F

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