17 August 2011

Review: Anne Rice - The Witching Hour

Format: Hardcover, 965 pages
Published: November 4th 2004 by Arrow (first published January 2nd 1985)
ISBN: 0099471426 (ISBN13: 9780099471424)
language: English
original title: The Witching Hour
series: Lives of the Mayfair Witches #1
characters: Rowan Mayfair, Michael Curry
setting: New Orleans, Louisiana (United States)
Read a copy from my personal library.


The first in the Mayfair Witches series, The Witching Hour introduces the fictional Mayfair family of New Orleans, generations of male and female witches. This tight-knit and deeply connected family, where a death of one strengthens the others with his/her knowledge. One Mayfair witch per generation is also designated to receive the powers of "the man," known as Lasher. Lasher gives the witches gifts, excites them, and protects them. Unsure as to exactly what this spirit is, the Mayfair clan knows him variously as a protector, a god-like figure, a sexual being, and the image of death. Lasher's current witch is Deirdre, who lies catatonic from psycological shock treatments.

Deirdre's daughter, Rowan, has been spirited away from this "evil" and has happily become a neurosurgeon and has an uncanny gift to see the intent behind the facade. Rowan also has a gift few doctors possess--she can heal cells. Yet, though she uses it to save lives, she also fears that she hs caused several deaths. She rescues Michael from drowning. Michael then develops some extraordinary powers that compel him to seek New Orleans and to seek Rowan. He finds both, and pulls the tale closer together by meeting people connected to the Mayfair family who now fear Rowan because she is the first Mayfair who can kill without Lasher's help.

Michael dives into learning the history of the Mayfair witches: Deborah, Charlotte, Mary Beth, Stella, Antha, and many others across hundreds of years and three continents. When Michael looks up from his reading, he learns that Rowan has come to New Orleans to attend her mother's funeral. Rowan learns of her family history, her ancestral home in shambles, and Lasher waiting for the next one. Rowan dedicates herself to stopping Lasher's reign. Michael too has his own mission, but it is foggy and unclear to him. But Lasher is seductively powerful and Rowan's gifts offer him the opportunity to achieve his ultimate goal.

My Review:

For four days I have been consumed by the imaginative force that Anne Rice contains. The Mayfairs are not a simple family saga. It is where the occult meets fascinating characters whom are manipulated by a spirit and are watched by a mysterious order. The Witching Hour is a twelve hundred page long story and it is divided up in four episodes. The first introduces some key characters and sets up the mystery. The second part takes us back how it all began and the readers bears witness of all that happened in the Mayfair family. The third part takes us back to the present where the romance between Michael and Rowan deepens. And the fourth part is where the plotline of Lasher culminates and gives birth to the second story in this trilogy.

Since this is such a monstrous length story it will take the endurance of a reader. The beginning might be confusing with its cameo of characters and it will take quite a few chapters to get a grasp of the storyline. This is why I loved the very gradual pace of the detailed storytelling. Anne Rice allowed me to accumulate to the extensive setup of this story. It all begins in New Orleans with Deidre Mayfair. The fact she is a shell of herself is a mystery to me and various characters relay their memories of her and "the dark-haired man". I instantly got the sense there was more to this man and my curiosity flared. Questions popped in my mind how Deidre got so doped up, sitting in her chair, day in and day out. What happened to her? Who was that man at her side and what was the Talamsca? Slowly but surely I got entangled by the sumptuous storytelling. There was a mystery to unravel and dark events to come to understand and surely Anne Rice courted my curiosity with it. I wanted to know how all the things were interconnected; how did the blooming romance between Michael Curry and Rowan fit in with all that happened in that house on first street New Orleans?

This is what the second episode did. It gave me the extensive history of the Mayfair witches. How they grew from one woman who did a ritual to a rich, powerful and extensive clan. I loved the attention to detail, the lush time periods and settings. Via the Talamsca, an order who observes all things occult, I got an intimate portrayal of each strong Mayfair witch. Their history goes from Ireland, to France, then a daughter flees to Saint Domingue and ultimately the Mayfairs end up in New Orleans. Deborah, Charlotte, Jeanne-Louise, Angelique, Marie-Claudette; each had their strength and weaknesses. The Talamasca's observations got an intimate twist when one of their own got involved with the Mayfair witches very early on. Anne Rice imbeds story twists of incest, of cultivating a family line that ultimate results in the strongest witch ever. It may not be for every reader but the dark twisted elements, the sometimes crazed characters, their flawed perception and actions just mesmerized me. Each new mystery, each account or personal experience led me deeper into the world of the Mayfairs.

I was fascinated by the distinctive voices of the characters, rekindling the past and present events. There were various point of views, from the Talamsca to the individual characters like Petyr van Abel, Aaron, Rowan, Michael, Carlotte. Ever so slowly each point of view construes a complete picture for me. Sometimes I seriously disliked a character for certain actions, like I did Carlotte Mayfair. Yet later on via her POV she sheds a different light on the matter. It doesn't make her more likeable but it gives me one more piece to fit in the puzzle. It also happened that I liked characters like Julien or Cortland but later on I was divulged of information that gave way to their dark side. I was fascinated by the multi-dimensional characterization. I feel like I'm barely touching upon the extensive cast of characters or all the major and minor story threads. The Witching Hour just swallowed me up whole and released me in awe. I was on edge, many things didn't seem what it was and often I felt like one of the Talamasca, slowly unraveling this enigmatic yet disturbing family. Their history is brimming with power play, the occult, violence, eroticism and the devilish scheming of one apparition. I was absorbed wholly and I had no objection to it.

While many characters come, play their part, and go, three characters are a constant for me. Aaron Lightner from the Talamsca whose pleasant demeanor and quiet strength instills trust. Michael Curry who was a restorer of old homes and a self-made millionaire. He is a charismatic and intelligent man who is very likable. Rowan Mayfair does not only have an indomitable will and has a logical mind, there is an ever present hint of danger that kept me on my toes. The third and fourth part bring me back to the present where Michael and Rowan's story continues, but while love burns bright I also got a sense of foreboding. There are atmospheric scenes that give of the subtle warning of an eerie danger. Because I now know the past I am forewarned and wonder. Lasher may not be a character who is much in the spotlight dialogue wise, his presence does have a profound effect on the characters and storyline. He is an unknown factor who amps up the tension what will happen with Rowan.

With that fourth part Anne Rice masterfully leads me to an ending where romance had its beautiful moments, where I cried out in anguish and I was sitting on the edge of my seat. I was so in to the story, in to the world this author created with all these colorful characters, I lived each moments with them. The intricate plotlines reach a pinnacle in The Witching Hour which is rife with torment and with finally knowing some definite answers. I knew there and then this story and these main characters would not let me go until I read both Lasher and Taltos as well. This is the magic of Anne Rice. She writes an absorbing tale I just have to see to the end, for better or worse! I know this author will give me much more darkness before there is some light. She'll make me step outside my boundaries, give me much more craziness but also a story that is so rich it will overwhelm all my reader senses.

Anne Rice doesn't give me conventional. Not in the characters, not in the romance, not in eroticism or in the plotlines. I was spellbound by it all from start to finish!

4.5 stars

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  1. This is my favorite Anne Rice book, I read it back when it first came out. The sequels don't come close to this one, unfortunately. I had already read the first four of her Vampire Chronicles before this and the Talamasca shows up in them as well, so I liked the overlap and Aaron is a dear. Glad you liked this, it made me want to go to New Orleans and see the house - which I did!

  2. I agree 100%. This was the first book that made me PANT for the sequel which sadly fell short. I still own my original copy.

  3. I have never read Anne Rice, I was told those books can be scary, and I don't really do scary. But you sure captivated me with your review Leontine! And I now do have a boyfriend whom I can cuddle with after a nightmare ...

  4. Big book o_O Now why am I like that, I read fantasy books this long still here it feels like a lot

  5. An absolute favorite of mine by Anne Rice. I agree with other comments, the following two installments don't even come close to the masterpiece that is THE WITCHING HOUR. When I went to New Orleans recently, the book and all the setting elements came alive for me in a whole new way. Love the city and the book. I still have my old ratty copy too.

  6. WOW!! What a great review, thanks. Like Aurian, I actually haven't ever read Anne Rice *hides* Maybe now that I am so into paranormal, I should pick it up for light reading - HA! not at that book length!!


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