The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Digital Audiobook narrated by Kate Reading
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on October 16, 1990
Series: Lives of the Mayfair Witches
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Witches
Length: 965 pages or 50 hours, 1 minute
Source: Borrowed from Another Source
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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.
I first read The Witching Hour in a two-year struggle between my last year of high school and freshman year of college. At the time, I loved Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I loved the vampires themselves, the richness of the settings (from New Orleans to France and Italy). I figured I’d love everything by Anne Rice, but The Witching Hour was such a drag… I had to force myself through.
Let this be a lesson to you all – always write a review when you read a book. If you write a review, you’ll remember all the reasons you loved and hated a book. If you write a review, you’ll know why you really don’t want to pick the book back up for a re-read, if if it has been 10 years.
So, lets talk about why I don’t like The Witching Hour.
The first 75% of this book is an extended family history. It drags away from the story. Most of the ancestors are interesting and could be standalone novellas, but rather than going that route, Rice opted for a really long book. I don’t dislike all the narratives, so please don’t misunderstand. I liked Debra’s story, and Stella’s, and Antha’s. I feel like there’s a lot more that could have been said of Marguerite and Charlotte, and Julian’s is fascinating. All these character’s could have been fleshed out more into standalone pieces, and they would have been interesting. Instead, they overrun Rowan’s story.
The parts of this book that aren’t family history (and some of the parts that are) are all sex. And not just like… normal sex. Sex with a possessed person. Sex with a possessed corpse. And a lot of incest. No. I don’t feel like much more needs to be said of this, but that it is not my cup of tea.
Finally, when we get to Rowan and Michael and their story in the present, I just… didn’t care. I didn’t connect with Rowan because she is one of those characters who talks a lot of big talk, but wilts like a flower. She’s also the sort of sex-driven woman that builds these unrealistic expectations in relationships. Like, I’m sorry, I don’t want to wake anyone up with a blowjob? Michael on the other hand was all doom and gloom. He’s a bit preachy in his personal morals, but most of all – Michael is boring. I don’t know what either of them see in the other, except for maybe lust? But it doesn’t matter, because there’s instalove to keep you from thinking about it too much. Within about a month, they meet, plan a wedding, and finally conceive a child.
My timing may be a bit off here. With all the jumping back and forth into family history, I got a bit lost in the present timeline.
For a story about witches, there’s not a lot of witchcraft – mostly just issues with the family’s personal demon. I do believe I remembered that aspect, so any disappointment I have on this count is on me.
For all these negative bits… Rice’s worldbuilding is very good. The First Street house is practically an entity of itself. You always get a sense of atmosphere, whether it’s in Antha’s New York apartment or the street where they’re building Debra’s pyre. I like that sort of immersive atmosphere, but I don’t think it forgives the other aspects that are very much not for me.
The ending, though? The ending was just pure ridiculousness. Not only does Rowan completely give in for no apparent reason for her own change, but just the events? I rolled my eyes a lot. Blood everywhere, giving birth to a full-grown man… then running off to Europe right after? She’s a neurosurgeon for goodness sake – at the bare minimum, Rowan should have gone to a hospital.
I just didn’t dig this book. I know a lot of people love this book, but I just… didn’t like it. I wanted to DNF it, but I didn’t because I wanted to write this review talking about how I didn’t like it… and if I’m being mean about a book, I guess I should finish it.