Anne Rice * Blackwood Farm Book Review

From the Vampire Chronicles comes this wonderful book about Tarquin Blackwood, the last heir to the Blackwood fortune and young master of Blackwood farm and how he’s become a vampire, in love with one of the Mayfair witches and tortured by a spirit called Goblin.

The book is wonderful (maybe because of its narcissism, self-obsession that is so specific to Anne Rice’s vampires) and also due to the setting in the Southern part of US. The young Tarquin writes to Lestat to inform him of his becoming a vampire and upon his arrival, proceeds in telling him his entire history (from moment of birth) to the moment that he met Mona Mayfair.

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Blackwood farm

Welcome to Blackwood Farm: soaring white columns, spacious drawing rooms, bright, sun-drenched gardens, and a dark strip of the dense Sugar Devil Swamp. This is the world of Quinn Blackwood, a brilliant young man haunted since birth by a mysterious doppelgänger, “Goblin,” a spirit from a dream world that Quinn can’t escape and that prevents him from belonging anywhere. When Quinn is made a Vampire, losing all that is rightfully his and gaining an unwanted immortality, his doppelgänger becomes even more vampiric and terrifying than Quinn himself.
As the novel moves backwards and forwards in time, from Quinn’s boyhood on Blackwood Farm to present day New Orleans, from ancient Athens to 19th-century Naples, Quinn seeks out the legendary Vampire Lestat in the hope of freeing himself from the spectre that draws him inexorably back to Sugar Devil Swamp and the explosive secrets it holds.
A story of youth and promise, of loss and the search for love, of secrets and destiny, Blackwood Farm is Anne Rice at her mesmerizing best.

Patsy Blackwood - country singer
Patsy Blackwood – country singer

Tarquin Anthony Blackwood was born in 1980 to Patsy Blackwood who was only 16 at the time. Quinn is looked after by his grandfather Pops, grandmother Sweetheart and Jasmine, a servant, who helps run the house, Blackwood Farm just outside of New Orleans. Quinn has spent his entire life accompanied by a spirit named Goblin. The first clear memory Quinn has of Goblin was his birthday party when he was 3 years old which is also the first instance known of Goblin being able to physically touch Quinn by pushing his hand and forcing him to ruin a birthday cake. He is given a harmonica for his birthday by his grandfather, Pops which he loves to play although Goblin hates it because Quinn pays him no attention whilst playing it. At the age of 7, whilst playing in the old cemetery with Goblin, Quinn sees a group of ghosts huddled together. Quinn is quite interested in these spirits which fade only to come back again, but as they don’t move or talk he simply leaves them, much to the relief of Goblin.

It is around this time that it is decided that Quinn should begin his education. Pops takes him to a private school only for Quinn to be kicked out which Quinn is pleased about because all he wants is to stay at his home, Blackwood Farm. This process is repeated a few times until Aunt Queen comes to visit and meets Quinn for the first time. Quinn immediately loves Aunt Queen and is also convinced she can see Goblin although she denies it. Quinn is taken to a psychologist for the first and last time, they say that Goblin is just his imagination and will fade over time. Whilst Quinn is being taught at home, by his family, to read and write , they discover that Goblin knows more words and their meanings than Quinn does. Goblin can now write quite competently using Quinn’s hand and can speak to Quinn in his mind.

Aunt Queen soon leaves Blackwood Farm but hires people to teach Quinn at home in Blackwood Farm. These people are soon forced away by Goblin and Quinn until at the age of 10, a teacher comes who they both love: Lynelle Springer. She pretends to talk to Goblin to keep him happy. Soon everyone in the house loves Lynelle, including Patsy who begins spending more time with Quinn on account of it. Soon Quinn gets a computer which Goblin can type on using Quinn’s hands. It soon becomes apparent that Goblin is getting stronger as other people can feel him touch them and can turn electrical things on and off. Quinn also discovers, with the help of Lynelle, that although Goblin learned words faster than Quinn when they were younger, he can’t understand the bigger words that Quinn uses.

When Quinn is 16 years old his Aunt Queen invites him to go to New York with her and he accepts the invitation gladly. On the way to New York Quinn notes that Goblin is getting weaker the further away from home they get. Soon , when Quinn is 17 years old, his teacher Lynelle dies in a car crash.

Soon before Quinn’s 18th birthday his grandmother, Sweetheart, becomes very ill and goes into a coma and dies soon after Quinn turns 18. Quinn finds out his mother Patsy was pregnant but had an abortion.

Quinn goes into the attic at Blackwood Farm and finds lots of things belonging to “Rebecca Stanford” who apparently lived at Blackwood Farm years ago and disappeared quite suddenly. Quinn is then visited by the ghost of Rebecca who sleeps with him and wants him to find out how she died, and also manages to trick Quinn into starting a fire which is quickly put out.

swampQuinn decides he wants to visit “Sugar Devil Island” which is part of Blackwood Farm but is in a dangerous swamp and no-one knows exactly where in the swamp the island is. Quinn soon manages to find the island and inside finds the remains of a woman (Rebecca) which is held up by a hook and suggests that the woman was tortured before she died. Quinn also, to his surprise, finds evidence that someone has been living in the house on the island.

Quinn returns home and tells everybody what he found. It is then that Aunt Queen explains the full story of Rebecca to him and that she was supposedly thrown out of Blackwood Farm by Manfred Blackwood, his great great great grandfather.

Quinn soon goes back to the island but there is still no sign of whoever has been living there. Quinn leaves a letter behind to explain that the house belongs to him and that he would like the trespasser to leave. Quinn falls asleep inside the house and dreams that he is Rebecca enduring the torture and dying. After waking, Quinn finds that it is dark and outside he sees someone in the swamp who appears to be dumping bodies in it. Goblin leads Quinn home in the dark.

Quinn insists on telling the sheriff what he saw but no-one seems to believe him. The trespasser from the island comes into Blackwood Farm and leaves Quinn a letter telling him to stay away from the island.

Quinn decides to open the island to everyone and the police search the swamp and take the remains of Rebecca away for analysis. Quinn’s grandfather, Pops, dies after arguing with Patsy. Quinn sleeps with Jasmine.

Soon the stranger from the island returns to Blackwood Farm and attacks Quinn but Goblin attacks the stranger and makes them leave Quinn alone. Quinn is hurt quite badly so is taken to Mayfair Medical where he witnesses the ghost of Rebecca again but this time he ignores her and tells her to leave.

Mona Mayfair
Mona Mayfair

Whilst still in Mayfair Medical Quinn meets his new teacher Nash. Here he also meets Mona Mayfair and Stirling Oliver who can both see Goblin. Quinn finds out that Stirling Oliver is a member of something called the Talamasca and that Mona is a “witch”. He also falls in love with Mona as soon as he sees her.

The story interweaves Mrs. Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches. Quinn meeting Mona Mayfair and falling madly in love feels very far fetched. He experienced a ghost sexual situation and lost his virginity. He had a same sex experience with his doppelganger later revealed to be his donor twin, his mirror twin. Tarquin still loves Mona Mayfair with all his crazy heart.

Quinn attends the reading of Pops’ will where Patsy is left a lot and Quinn learns that Pops had a child with a woman named Terry-Sue and the boy is called Tommy who would technically be Quinn’s uncle.

Quinn decides to go visit Mona Mayfair who is surprisingly waiting for him. Mona and Quinn sleep together and Quinn is surprised by Mona’s “experience”. Quinn also learns a little about the Mayfairs and takes Mona back to Blackwood Farm with him. Quinn says that he wants to marry Mona who then explains that she is already going to marry Pierce Mayfair. Quinn also finds out that Mona had a baby who was then taken away from her. Quinn says he’ll help her find her child but Mona doesn’t seem to think its possible.

Michael Curry and Rowan Mayfair arrive at Blackwood Farm to take Mona home and despite all Quinn and Mona’s protests she goes with them in the end. Quinn encounters the intruder from the island again who tells Quinn to get rid of all the people who are on the island and to refurbish the house there. The intruder says if Quinn does this he can have the island during the day but the intruder keeps it during the night.

Quinn orders that the Hermitage on the island be refurbished. Quinn goes to visit his uncle Tommy and leaves his mother money to put Tommy into a good school. Quinn goes to Mona’s house again and there encounters Julien Mayfair. Julien then tells Quinn that Quinn’s great grandfather was actually Julien’s son which makes Quinn a blood relative to Mona. This is dangerous in the Mayfair family due to the fact if they had children they may not be entirely normal. Quinn then finds out from Rowan that Julien was a ghost.

Quinn has dinner with Rowan, Michael and Mona. Quinn then discovers that Mona is sick and is having ongoing treatment at Mayfair Medical. He arranges to visit her there the next day. Quinn then goes home to find the intruder from the island sitting with Aunt Queen who clearly doesn’t realise who she is talking to. The intruder introduces him/herself as Petronia and says that he/she is both male and female.

“If I could, I’d deliver you from old age and death, from aches and pains, from the blandishments of ghosts, from the torment of your familiar, Goblin. I’d deliver you from heat and cold and from the arid dullness of the noonday sub. I’d deliver you into the placid light of the moon and into the domain of the Milky Way forever.”

Quinn tells Stirling Oliver everything that has happened with Petronia and the island. Stirling Oliver visits Blackwood Farm and finds out Aunt Queen wants to take Quinn on a trip to Europe. Also Stirling Oliver tells Quinn that it will be Aunt Queen’s last opportunity to go with him as the doctor says she soon won’t be well enough for travel. Quinn therefore agrees straight away to go on the trip and also invites Tommy who accepts.

The trip is organised for the next day and when Quinn tells Mona he is leaving, she tells him she thinks it’s a good idea and they arrange to keep in contact through e-mail and telephone.

The trip through Europe lasts for three years which is longer than Quinn expected. At the beginning of the trip Goblin was forced to leave Quinn as he couldn’t travel that far. Goblin returns to Blackwood Farm and starts breaking things until Quinn, via computer (and Jasmine), tells him to stop and that they can speak through the computer, also by e-mail. There is also a night in Europe where Quinn thought he saw Petronia but wasn’t sure of it.

They return at the end of three years after Aunt Queen becomes too ill to travel anymore and has to go home. Quinn is also worried about Mona because she hasn’t been returning his e-mails recently. On returning he discovers that Mona’s sickness had gotten much worse and because she is too sick he isn’t allowed to see her.

Also Quinn is surprised to find that in his absence Jasmine has given birth to Jerome, his son. Quinn also makes a trip to the island and finds Petronia there again. Strangely Petronia welcomes Quinn this time and lifts him up and flying (!) takes him against his will. Quinn wakes up and realises he is in Italy and that there are people cleaning him. There are two girls and a boy doing this who tell him to stand up to “her” tests but Quinn doesn’t understand them. Quinn is drugged and upon awakening finds himself in a “glorified round cage made of gold”.

Quinn’s villainous maker is highly impressive as a character,managing to be creepily seductive and dangerously abusive, at the same time.

Bad bits

There was too much going on, for one thing. You’ve got a vengeful spirit, a poltergeist/doppleganger, the return of the Mayfair witches, and a fantastically wealthy Louisiana family, with all the dark family secrets and Anne Rice’s constant daydreams about renovating houses and showering money on poorer relations. There are vampires, of course, but they show up in about a third of the story, maybe as little as a quarter. It’s as if Rice couldn’t decide what she wanted the book to be, so she tried to cram everything that fans might have been asking for into one book. Between the family histories, and the fabulous amounts of money, and the wondering about what the main character’s spirit companion was all about, and then Quinn having sex with every-damn-body and falling desperately in love with the dying Mona Mayfair OUT OF NOWHERE (not kidding, he proposes to her in a hospital restaurant before he’s even been introduced), I didn’t know where to turn.

And that’s a shame, because there’s a section towards the end of the book that deals entirely with the vampire characters, and it’s really good. Excellent writing, with fascinating characters and beautifully described scenes. There’s a section that takes place by candlelight in a grand impossible palace in the middle of a swamp. I got a nice chill from reading that, seeing the marble floors and Roman furniture and high ceilings, and total blackness just outside the room. The Maker vampire was a completely unexpected character with a backstory I enjoyed reading (I’ve got a new fascination with cameo jewelry now, thank you very much, Rice). But the whole vampire section maybe lasted sixty pages, and then it’s back to Quinn and his wealth and his family and how EVERYBODY loves him, except the people who don’t, and they’re not likable so they don’t count. I wish Rice had used a little more focus and maybe written this as three or four different books, rather than making this mess of a plot with one.

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