Spring House, a beautiful and storied plantation, sits in the quiet, lush flora of southern Louisiana. Caitlin Chaisson, heiress and current owner of the big old house, creeps upstairs as the guests of her birthday party file out into the darkness of night. At the top of the stairs, through the slightly opened bathroom door, she spies her husband in the arms of another woman. He is tearing at her clothes, his mouth on her earlobe. Caitlin slowly backs down the stairs before sprinting out of the back of the house, grabbing and breaking a champagne flute as she heads for the gazebo. She slices at her skin, and as blood falls to the floor and seeps beneath onto the ground, an ancient evil rises that has slumbered in the soil since a slave woman named Virginie Lacroix unleashed hell on the slave owner and overseer who had broken their vows to her and her people.
This is only the beginning of the journey we take with author Christopher Rice in his new novel, The Vines, released today. What follows is a novel about revenge and the myriad ways we are changed by it. Rice has proven time and again that he is a masterful storyteller and this latest work is no different. Indeed, when I first settled in to read The Vines, it was about 11pm at night and I thought I’d read for an hour before heading to bed. At 3 in the morning, I was finishing the novel as emotionally exhausted from the roller coaster of emotions I felt while reading as I was physically from staying up well passed my bedtime.
You see, reading a Christopher Rice novel is deceptive because the characters are so multi-faceted. In The Vines, you think you know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are from the beginning. Viriginie Lacroix and her connection to Caitlin via their need for revenge on those who have harmed them quickly plant the seeds of sympathy in our minds. It doesn’t take long for Caitlin to begin making decisions that force us to question that sympathy. She has certainly been a victim, but does making victims of others right the wrongs against her? Certainly she was mistreated by those around her, but she was no slave in a place and time without options for redressing those wrongs.
On the other hand, Caitlin’s gay former best friend Blake, who we discover was the victim of a violent hate crime in his teens, would seem like the one to take the violent action to seek vengeance on those who caused the death of his very first love. Instead, we find him examining the situation and the people involved and making different decisions. This may seem a bit vague, but I really don’t want to give too much away. I hate spoilers, and this is a novel that must be experienced without too many preconceptions, but at every turn of the page I was asking myself, “Would I be capable of this? Could I commit these acts even if I thought, deep down, that they were deserved?”.
I will tell you this, some of the scenes in this book brought on such a visceral response in me. Mr. Rice’s horror spawns from nature and natural places and the titular vines come to serpentine life that makes the flesh crawl, especially if you’re as phobic of snakes as I am. Insects take on a sinister quality in swarms of roaring, winged vengeance. And the very earth shifts and changes under the feet of the characters as these horrors come to life. It is a thrill ride from start to finish. The ending is ambiguous enough to leave you not only wondering when the next volume will be released but also anxiously anticipating it. If you’ve never read any of his work before, this would be a perfect introduction to Christopher Rice
If I had one complaint about the novel, it was that I found I wanted more as I read, especially about the slave woman’s story. One gets the feeling there is much more that Virginie has to say and I can’t help feel that the story would have taken on even more depth with a longer visit to this character’s time and circumstances. I can only hope that Mr. Rice will come back to this character in the future and give us more of her story.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Vines today. It’s available in trade paperback at major booksellers and on Amazon.com for direct download to your Kindle and other devices with the Kindle App.
A final word, I am excited to announce that about a month ago, Mr. Rice agreed to an interview with me for iHorror.com. It was a great pleasure working with him on this interview and it’s a great opportunity for you to hear, in his own words, some of Christopher’s own thoughts about horror, writing and his fantastic characters. Make sure to check back here on Thursday for the full interview!