Over three hundred years ago a young woman with special healing powers called out to the night and was heard by something. Before she called to it, it didn’t know that it was, and after she called to it, it existed to serve her… or so it says. And so began the Mayfair line of witches. In The Witching Hour (Lives of Mayfair Witches book 1) we learn the story of Lasher and his obsession with the Mayfair witches.
From the first, Suzanne, to the current, Rowan, Lasher claims that he exists only to serve his witches. But his words and his actions don’t always match up. Lasher has motives and plans of his own and in reality, instead of serving the Mayfair witches, they may be serving him.
[Warning: My review of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour contains some spoilers both for the book and possibly for the new AMC series!]
A rich universe from Anne Rice’s mind
Don’t quote me on this, but Anne Rice may have been the originator of the “universe” that every franchise seems to be striving for today. Her vampires, witches, wolves, mummies, and more, all live in the same world even if the stories only tangentially touch or are connected by small elements. It really is quite incredible what she built. And with today’s emphasis on “universes,” it is no surprise that AMC has picked up Rice’s ready-made world and run with it.
Interview with the Vampire has enjoyed great success as a series, with a second season already in development, and now AMC is preparing to drop their interpretation of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Mayfair Witches on January 8th. I thought it would be nice to return to the source before it hits so without further ado, let’s explore Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.
A trigger warning for some upsetting content
Before going any further I would like to issue a trigger warning for the book: Anyone who has had a traumatic birthing experience or lost a baby may want to skip the beginning of chapter fifty-one. At the very least, be prepared that the ending may be triggering. I’m not saying the book shouldn’t be read, just that those pages may be very difficult for anyone with those life experiences. I will not be discussing those events further so don’t worry about reading the rest of the review. Now, onto the rest of my review…
A man without a purpose, a woman without a past
The Witching Hour starts off with a doctor guiltily relating a tale of a patient and a ghost in New Orleans that he can’t forget. After he pours his heart out to a kindly man in a hotel bar, the man assures him there was nothing he could do and to forget the whole thing.
Then we shift focus to Michael Curry. Michael was clinically dead for who knows how long when he was rescued from the Pacific Ocean and brought back to life. He returned with a purpose he can’t remember, and a power he can’t control. Michael receives impressions and information from everything he touches and he cannot stop or control the flow. The power is slowly driving him mad. He retreats further and further from life as his power and his forgotten purpose both torment him.
And finally, we meet Dr. Rowan Mayfair. A highly gifted neurosurgeon, she also happens to be the one who saved Michael. Rowan is just as lost as he is, both her adoptive parents have passed and she has no family left that she knows and no friends – just a boat and a job. But she also has a sneaking suspicion that she has a few gifts of the supernatural kind.
Rowan stayed out of the spotlight after saving Michael, but when she learns that Michael wants to meet her, she agrees. Their meeting is the definition of fireworks. They can’t keep their hands off each other. Afterward, they are excited to learn that they both have roots in New Orleans. In Rowan’s case, she left within hours of being adopted and was never allowed to return by her parents.
A modern witch from an ancient line
Together, they decide that Michael should go to New Orleans but Rowan will stay in California, honoring her dead mother’s wishes. Micheal heads off and continues on the bender he’s been on since coming back to life. The result is him very drunk in New Orleans in front of a fancy house that he has loved since he was a little boy. A kind man helps him return to his hotel, the same kind man that reassured the doctor at the beginning of The Witching Hour, Aaron Lightner.
Lightner is a member of a very old, very secret organization known as the Talamasca. Their job, in their own simple terms, is “We watch. We are always here.” In this role, the Talamasca has built quite the dossier on the Mayfair witches. Aaron decides it is time to pass it on to Rowan, through Michael, but only after Michael has fully read and processed the file. This is my favorite part of the book because the file has been comprehensively tied together into a narrative by Aaron giving the entire past of the Mayfair witches, from the first simple cunning woman, Suzanne, to the sad witch Deirdre (Rowan’s mother), and even including what they know about Rowan, the current Mayfair witch.
The really interesting thing about the Mayfair line is that they are a family of powerful people, including healers, telepaths, and telekinetics, who are tied to the entity Lasher. Lasher helps the family to prosper and grow but they do have powers in their own rights. Which is probably why Lasher clings to them.
A Mayfair Witches family reunion
Time doesn’t stand still while Michael learns all about Rowan’s family. Rowan learns that her birth mother has died and suddenly she can’t stay away from New Orleans. Rowan hurries to her mother’s funeral and meets all of her extended kin. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. The Mayfairs have worked hard at staying together as a family and are very interconnected.
Adding to the staggering shock of meeting so much family, Rowan learns that she is the beneficiary of the Mayfair fortune (conservatively, billions) and is now the head of the entire Mayfair family.
At this point, Rowan also learns about “the man”. And Michael gives her the family history, which instead of scaring or intimating her, seems to provide her with a charge. She is determined to come out on top over Lasher, convinced that she can triumph where her ancestors failed. The problem is that she’s playing checkers and Lasher is playing chess. And he’s twelve generations ahead of her in the game.
A long lineage and history of the Mayfair Witches
Rice’s tale is a very long book that shifts between modern times (for when the book was written, 1990) and the 300 years leading up to the current events. The switching time frames is an interesting way for Rice to get us invested in Rowan, the current Mayfair witch, while simultaneously giving us all the information we need to process what is happening to Rowan and her lover, Michael, in the present.
Personally, I preferred reading about the past witches. They were fascinating and seeing how the power accumulated and was passed on each generation was a lot of fun. I mean who doesn’t dream of being able to trace their family back hundreds of years? Knowing all the amazing (and crazy) ancestors and family stories lost to history would be the ultimate excitement for me. So I have to admit that I am a little jealous of the Mayfairs for having such a long and complete family history, even if they didn’t know it at first. The powers are pretty cool too, but thinking about the history gives me chills!
Rowan herself is somewhat abrasive. She has a cold, headstrong personality. Her uncompromising views and actions are off-putting. She believes she is always right and won’t listen to others. She’s not evil, in fact, she’s trying very hard to be good, so you can’t hate her. I just don’t particularly like her.
On the other hand, Michael is a rather weak character. He spends most of his time whining about one thing or another. The only modern character that saves the 90s is Aaron. He is such a kind, generous, calm person that I wish there were some stories that focused on him and his adventures.
The Witching Hour provides a great history
Anne Rice’s history sections of The Witching Hour are undoubtedly the best parts. Unfortunately, I found the modern sections too drawn out and wordy, and her modern characters too unlikeable. But the generations that come before are very compelling. I think that easily, about half of the modern scenes or words could have been cut, and the book would have been greatly improved.
Still, the book was an interesting story overall. And who doesn’t love a misinterpreted prophecy that becomes glaringly obvious with the right clue? There is a difficult scene at the end that I think could have been done differently, but that’s just my opinion. Overall, I do recommend the book, especially for anyone who is interested in witches and spirits.
My Rating: 7/10
The Witching Hour (Lives of Mayfair Witches book 1) by Anne Rice is available now. Have you read it before? Did you enjoy it? Are you excited about the television series? Let us know on Twitter or The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our book review on another Anne Rice classic, Interview With the Vampire!
Book Review: Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire