Book Review

The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

  • Author: Anne Rice
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 13, 2015
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • Series: Lives of the Mayfair Witches #1

Rating: 4 out of 5.

From the author of the extraordinary Vampire Chronicles comes a huge, hypnotic novel of witchcraft and the occult through four centuries.

Demonstrating, once again, her gift for spellbinding storytelling and the creation of legend, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of witches—a family given to poetry and to incest, to murder and to philosophy; a family that, over the ages, is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being.

On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking… and The Witching Hour begins.

It begins in our time with a rescue at sea.  Rowan Mayfair, a beautiful woman, a brilliant practitioner of neurosurgery—aware that she has special powers but unaware that she comes from an ancient line of witches—finds the drowned body of a man off the coast of California and brings him to life.  He is Michael Curry, who was born in New Orleans and orphaned in childhood by fire on Christmas Eve, who pulled himself up from poverty, and who now, in his brief interval of death, has acquired a sensory power that mystifies and frightens him.

As these two, fiercely drawn to each other, fall in love and—in passionate alliance—set out to solve the mystery of her past and his unwelcome gift, the novel moves backward and forward in time from today’s New Orleans and San Francisco to long-ago Amsterdam and a château in the France of Louis XIV.  An intricate tale of evil unfolds—an evil unleashed in seventeenth-century Scotland, where the first “witch,” Suzanne of the Mayfair, conjures up the spirit she names Lasher… a creation that spells her own destruction and torments each of her descendants in turn.

From the coffee plantations of Port au Prince, where the great Mayfair fortune is made and the legacy of their dark power is almost destroyed, to Civil War New Orleans, as Julien—the clan’s only male to be endowed with occult powers—provides for the dynasty its foothold in America, the dark, luminous story encompasses dramas of seduction and death, episodes of tenderness and healing.  And always—through peril and escape, tension and release—there swirl around us the echoes of eternal war: innocence versus the corruption of the spirit, sanity against madness, life against death.  With a dreamlike power, the novel draws us, through circuitous, twilight paths, to the present and Rowan’s increasingly inspired and risky moves in the merciless game that binds her to her heritage. And in New Orleans, on Christmas Eve, this strangest of family sagas is brought to its startling climax.

While a lot of the book bloggers I interact with first came into contact with vampires through the Twilight series, Anne Rice was my introduction. And after that, I wanted to read more of her work. The next book I came across was The Witching Hour and absolutely devoured this book. Over the years, I’ve reread this one so many times that my paperback copy fell apart. And I decided that I was about due for a reread, but decided to try this massive tome in audiobook version this time around. 

It’s narrated by Kate Reading, who did an outstanding job. She narrates a huge range of characters, both male and female, with so many different accents, and nails nearly all of them. I was so impressed with her performance in this audiobook, which was so long—just over 50 hours.

Despite how long the book was, and the fact that I pretty much knew what was going to happen every step of the way, I was completely hooked by this book. I had so many other things to do, and just couldn’t stop listening to this book. I was pulled into the story and the audiobook format just brought me a whole new level of attachment to this book. It’s hard to even classify this as a single genre—it’s got strong elements of fantasy, historical fiction, paranormal romance, romance, sci-fi, and even horror.

I do have to say, it was originally published in 1990, and the writing reflects that. Since I was listening to this as an audio reread of a book that I have read multiple times, I wasn’t originally planning to do a blog review of this and didn’t track trigger warnings. But … there are a lot in this book. Death of a parent, grief, murder, rape, incest, and forced drugging are a few that come to mind. However, I do have to say that these aren’t just inserted into the story for shock value—they do play a major role in the story’s plot. And since the book spans the period of enslavement in the Caribbean, that topic comes up since the family owns a plantation and slaves, even though it’s justified with the slaves being treated “better.” 

And now, onto the story. There are multiple plot lines in this story that all intersect at some point, but they all take place at different locations and periods in time. We meet Deirdre Mayfair, who is being drugged into submission at the behest of her aunt Carlotta, and her new doctor, who is questioning the wisdom of this course of treatment. Then the story moves into the present day (or the late 80s), where we meet Michael Curry, who is struggling after a near-death experience and a new sensory power that he has gained, which he is convinced has a purpose. And finally, we’re introduced to Rowan Mayfair, a brilliant neurosurgeon who was adopted immediately after birth to a distant relative, but has no information about her birth mother, and has been kept from any contact with her family. These characters are all developed, and as Rowan and Michael get to know each other, it felt like Michael’s sensitive side complements Rowan’s tendency to rely more on scientific facts and logic rather than emotions. In fact, Rowan comes off as cold and masculine in a lot of ways, while Michael is so in touch with his masculinity that he isn’t afraid to indulge in things that were typically viewed as more feminine at the time, such as reading, listening to classical music, crying, and being in touch with his emotions. 

But then the tone of the story shifts, and we’re thrown into the distant past, tracing the story of the Mayfair witches over the last 300+ years. This is by far my favorite part of the book, seeing how the story develops so thoroughly, traveling across Europe and into the New World, and how information was collected about this family as it grows and spreads. And while the family is a sprawling mess of connections, it follows an unbroken line of female witches over many generations, tracking their powers and abilities, as well as picking up any other information that can be gathered as best they can, as outsiders. 

But then it’s returned to the present, into Rowan and Michael’s love story as it unfolds in New Orleans while they’re being welcomed into the family with open arms. Everything seems to be working out beautifully, and I loved the way these connections are being built between all the major players in the story, even while a growing evil feels inevitable, and it’s pervasive in the atmosphere built by Rice. Her writing is gorgeously descriptive, evoking vivid images in my imagination, and she creates a building sense of tension throughout the story. Despite Rowan being convinced that she’ll be able to outsmart this evil spirit, Lasher, that has bedeviled so many of her ancestors, she falls into the same beguiling trap that they did, leading to a major cliffhanger at the end of the story. I can’t talk about plot twists, because I remember so many of them the first time around, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series with fresh eyes.

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