The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

thewitchinghour

This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

The Scorpion by Gerri Hill

thescorpionThis is one of my all-time favorite lesbian romances. Of course, ‘all-time favorite’ is a deceiving term when a novel has only been published in 2009 but I feel that it will always be among my favorites because it does little things differently.

Marty Edwards is a reporter investigating cold cases and her latest endeavor brings her to Brownsville, Texas, where the local police is less than thrilled to have someone snooping into a 10-year-old case. There’s someone on the force, at least, who will help her: Kristen Bailey. She’s the outsider in the department, having only moved to Brownsville two years ago, and her collegues’ nervousness at Edward’ investigation makes her more than curious as to what they’re trying to hide. It turns out, both women become a threat to the power of a man who pretty much owns the city, a man who will stop at nothing to have Marty and Kristen kiled. And then love happens – and the stakes are getting impossibly high.

It doesn’t sound all that innovative and truly isn’t. The plot isn’t the thing that makes this book better than others, it is Hill telling an unflinching story, following through with ideas and solving possible incontinuities instead of turning a blind eye. Genre-mixes are never easy, especially when you mix crime with romance. Usually the romance is on the forefront, the crime story dawdles along and plot-holes are happening along the line. Not with Hill. She works the romance into the crime but the crime story is at the forefront and it is getting solved around the love, not despite of it.

With Marty Edwards, Hill creates a heroine who is somewhat unusual in her perception of self and sexuality. Having had an unstable childhood, she has big trust-issues and was never able to trust another person completely. This transcends into her relationships and she gave up on love and romance before she comes to Brownsville. Bailey is pretty much at the other end of the spectrum: loving family background, coming out at a fairly young age without any drama involved, she is the kind of hero we love to fall in love with. At the point when they meet, they are both alone, though, and need each other more than they care to admit, not just to survive but to reconnect with life. With all the things that have been happening in their lives, they have ceased to really live, or enjoy life.

Hill entwines the backgrounds of these two women with a thrilling adventure with the blossoming friendship and then romance. It does not stand still, it evolves, it changes course but is not showy or flashy. There are moments of fright and action but they are never out of context or over the top. Hill knows how to weave a story that is relatable and real, that’s what I like most about her stories and The Scorpion touches on some sensitive story-elements without exploiting them.

And that’s why it’s one of my all-time favorites, without being all that all-timey.