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Servant of the Bones (1996)

by Anne Rice

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4,298282,748 (3.46)25
In a new and major novel, the creator of fantastic universes o vampires and witches takes us now into the world of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the destruction of Solomon's Temple, to tell the story of Azriel, Servant of the Bones. He is ghost, genii, demon, angel--pure spirit made visible. He pours his heart out to us as he journeys from an ancient Babylon of royal plottings and religious upheavals to Europe of the Black Death and on to the modern world. There he finds himself, amidst the towers of Manhattan, in confrontation with his own human origins and the dark forces that have sought to condemn him to a life of evil and destruction.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
After reading the majority of Anne Rice’s vampire books, and knocking out the saga of the Mayfair witches, I picked up SERVANT OF THE BONES, a seeming change of pace for the legendary Mistress of the Gothic, as there is nary a blood sucker or a witch to be found in its pages. The supernatural creature this time is a Djinn, who in Rice’s universe is an immortal spirit who can make itself physical by pulling atoms out of the atmosphere at will while possessing the ability to teleport across vast spaces and distances. This protagonist is named Azriel, who was once a young Hebrew man in ancient Babylon at the time it was conquered by Cyrus the Great. Young Azriel, who, as a mortal, can see other spirits, is betrayed by his own people in a scheme that would result in their return to ancient Palestine. In a deliberately botched ceremony where Azriel was to impersonate the statue of a deity come to life, he is transformed into an earth bound entity, bound to his gold encrusted skeleton and forced to do the bidding of whoever possesses them—hence the title, SERVANT OF THE BONES. The book takes Azriel from ancient Babylon through history to modern times, where he becomes embroiled in the deadly plans of a genocidal cult leader in New York City.

This book, published in 1996, feels like Rice wanted to try a change of pace after writing all those books about vampires and witches and New Orleans. A brief stopover in Miami is as close as the story gets to the exotic Deep South, with most of the action taking place in the ancient Middle East, Medieval Europe, and modern NYC. Of course, the story unfolds in Rice’s typical fashion as a tale related by one character to another, in this case Azriel to a contemporary scholar after all to the book’s events have occurred, and this allows for a good use of the first person POV, another aspect of Rice’s writing she did very well. Through Azriel’s eyes, the ancient world and its sometimes obscure history come vividly to life, a testament to an awesome amount of historical research. Nobody ever accused Anne Rice of not doing her homework. As usual, the author can’t resist a detailed description or pass by an adjective, which is a strength or a weakness of hers depending on the reader. I think the strongest and most compelling parts of the book are the sections dealing with ancient times with its rich world building along with a deep dive into the arcane beliefs of Hebrews and pagan Babylonians. When Azriel wakes up in ‘90s New York City, the story looses momentum with the introduction of some incredibly verbose characters, though when Gregory Belkin, the Messianic leader of the Temple of the Mind of God and the story’s Big Bad, reveals his big plan to remake modern civilization in the manner of a latter day Alexander the Great, the story kicks into a higher gear. It’s a subplot that could have been the main focus of another book. And there is a gratuitous sex scene that reminds the reader that if Anne Rice had written nothing but erotica, she would still have been a success. I found what Rice had to say about faith and God and the mystery of death to be an interesting take and food for thought. Yet, there were times where I didn’t wonder if this story hadn’t started out as another tale of Lestat before Rice decided to switch out her famous vampire for a djinn and go in another direction. Though I prefer her tales of blood suckers, as it is, she wrote a decent standalone historical/fantasy/horror novel that certainly left her fans wanting more. ( )
  wb4ever1 | Jun 15, 2023 |
Not the first Anne Rice book I would have picked to read, but I had limited options. I liked the premise a lot--the idea of a human who became an immortal spirit and was coping (and not coping) with eternity--and I thoroughly enjoyed the sections set in the past. Once the story hit the present, though, it started to get bogged down. There were several agonizingly long conversations involving Gregory that just went on and on for pages without giving us much new information. For example, when he's with Azrail in his Temple of the mind, he spends about six or seven pages saying how much he wants to explain his grand plan...only to NOT do it. And I didn't get the sense from the text that the character was taunting, just that we never got around to it. Also felt that the divide between good and evil was a bit too obvious at the end, which made Azrail's sacrifice seem to count for less--it seemed like something almost anyone would have done in that situation, unlike his better-structured decision to sacrifice himself for the Jewish population of Babylon several thousand years earlier.

My biggest beef, though, is the uneven presentation. For about the first third of the book, Azrail's telling his story to Jonathan in quotations--literally every paragraph has quotation markes, though Jonathan doesn't interject nearly enough to justify this decision. What editor failed to tell Rice that this set up was a bad idea? And then we inexplicably lose the quote marks partway through. Azrail still addresses Jonathan from time to time, so why didn't a copyeditor point out that the book should be made internally consistent?

The uneven presentation applies to the narrative as well. It's a big deal that Azrail can't remember his past--but that's the first part of his story that he tells Jonathan, so he then has to remind us in the rest of the story that he doesn't remember this or that. It makes for a confusing read--we know more than he does, but we're asked to sympathize with him not knowing. Frustrating! A good editor should have had a serious conversation with Rice about moving the big reveal to later in the story. Or just not bothering with it--after all, if the reader already knows Azrail's past, then there's really no reason, narratively speaking, for it to be a secret. There wasn't really a purpose to his being suspended in time--and I know that Rice could have done it, I definitely got that vibe from the quality of the writing that survived the lack of editorial intervention.

A long read with good foundations, but I'm not going to rush out and insist that everyone read this book. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Oct 29, 2021 |
Great stand alone book. This book will keep you hooked from the beginning from to end ( )
  LVStrongPuff | Nov 29, 2018 |
Azriel is a restless Jewish spirit, born almost 2500 years ago in Babylon, who can be called forth by whoever holds and understands the arcane mystery of the casket of golden bones he is tied to. Caught between heaven and earth, Azriel is forced to bear witness to the long and troubled history of Western civilisation, from the household of an ancient Greek philosopher and the deathbed of Alexander the Great, to the Mongolian Steppes and fourteenth century Strasbourg, where Jews were made scapegoats for the Black Death. And finally in the present, he is summoned to witness and avenge a brutal murder on Fifth Avenue. The dead woman is Esther, step-daughter of Gregory Belkin, fanatical messianic leader of a worldwide cult, the Temple of the Mind. Belkin is known to be the son of Holocaust victims, but he has a secret history which binds Azriel's fate to his.
  Cultural_Attache | Jul 27, 2018 |
This is the story about how a Babylonian boy becomes a demon/god. The act of the transformation is fairly gruesome. Because of that, he is an angry spirit who could wallow forever in his anger, but due to some wonderful tutors and other encounters in his life he sees that he can be more. I think my favorite line is from one of his 'masters', Zurvan, who teaches him that "If an activity is not grounded in "to love" or "to learn," it does not have value." I just enjoy that idea. Otherwise, I found it to be an interesting read, typical of Anne Rice's style.
  GretchenLynn | Feb 13, 2017 |
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Epigraph
The Bones of Woe

Golden are the bones of woe.
Their brilliance has no place to go.
It plunges inward,
Spikes through snow.

Of weeping fathers whom we drink
And mother's milk and final stink
We can dream but cannot think.
Golden bones encrust the brink.

Golden silver copper silk
Woe is water shocked by milk.
Heart attack, assassin, cancer.
Who would think these bones such dancers.

Golden are the bones of woe.
Skeleton holds skeleton.
Words of ghosts are not to know.
Ignorance is what we learn.

-Stan Rice, Some Lamb 1975
Dedication
This book
is
dedicated
to
GOD.
First words
This is Azriel's story as he told it to me, as he begged me to bear witness and to record his words.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

In a new and major novel, the creator of fantastic universes o vampires and witches takes us now into the world of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the destruction of Solomon's Temple, to tell the story of Azriel, Servant of the Bones. He is ghost, genii, demon, angel--pure spirit made visible. He pours his heart out to us as he journeys from an ancient Babylon of royal plottings and religious upheavals to Europe of the Black Death and on to the modern world. There he finds himself, amidst the towers of Manhattan, in confrontation with his own human origins and the dark forces that have sought to condemn him to a life of evil and destruction.

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