DARK OF THE SUN
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

 


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17th in the Count of Saint-Germain Cycle
Tor, Nov 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Vampire. From China to Eastern Europe, 535 – 538 AD

It is a precarious business, being a foreigner in China, especially in this fragmented time. There are two emperors imposing the usual high taxes and tariffs on merchants from outside China. Most traders arrive from the Silk Roads to the West, but anyone not Chinese is strictly controlled and must expect to dig deep in his sleeve pockets for government officials.

Zangi-Ragozh is more foreign than most, but as always, he has mastered the ways of this new country. He is a successful merchant, founder of the Eclipse Trading Company. Our vampire friend, born Ragoczy Franciscus 2,500 years ago, has been summoned by the emperor in western China to discuss trade. Unfortunately, nature has other plans.

The South Pacific volcano Krakatoa has been simmering for months, and while Zangi-Ragozh is on his way to Chang’an, it blows its head off in what must have been one of the supreme eruptions in recorded history. Dust blocks the sun all over the world. Sulphur poisons wide sections of Asia. Torrential rains, landslides, terrible cold, and famine set in, to last at least two years. In the midst of disaster, Zangi-Ragozh decides the only place for him is home, in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. Even a near-immortal could die on a trip like this one.

The overwhelming mood of DARK OF THE SUN is dislocation and deprivation. Death is a daily event, from sickness, hunger, and predators human and animal. Rain seems a constant condition even when it isn’t raining; the gloom strikes into the bones of the reader.

As Ragoczy Franciscus nears his home, we learn about his roots as the son of a doomed king, and his acceptance to the then-honored condition of vampire. In the times in which we know him, he must desperately hide his identity, with the exception of a few treasured friends. The widow Thetis is one, appearing providentially in his life at a time when he might not have survived without her. Dukkai, shaman of a plains tribe, is almost another; she understands him just too well but not well enough for both their good. The most important person in Ragoczy’s life is long time companion and fellow immortal Rojeh. Rojeh is body servant, confidante, majordomo, and just about anything else Ragoczy needs. It is hard to imagine Ragoczy without him.

It is Rojeh who triggered the puzzles I began to feel as I read DARK OF THE SUN. Ragoczy has a debilitating sensitivity to sunlight and running water. He must remain in contact with pads of his native earth in order to endure them. Rojeh does not have this vulnerability, and I wondered why until I ran across a mention that Ragoczy is a vampire and Rojeh is a ghoul. There is no further comment on this, and no explanation of what a ghoul is. It seems from the information in DARK OF THE SUN that a vampire has weaknesses that a ghoul doesn’t – so how does it come about that Ragoczy is the dominant character? The answer must lie in personality, but I can only speculate about that. I have the impression that reading the entire series in the order it was written would give us necessary information that isn’t available to one who starts out with a later book.

In comparison with STATES OF GRACE, which was written just after DARK OF THE SUN, I felt less vividness of characterization, less striking imagery. The focus in DARK OF THE SUN is on the natural disaster and the practical ways our immortals find to deal with the new conditions. The Introduction is an interesting article on the effects of the eruption. Author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has researched the few remaining accounts of life during these times, and scientific projections of the effects of a catastrophic eruption, to create an unnerving reading experience. In spite of the spiritual chill, I read steadily, held by the magnetic pull of Ragoczy Franciscus, Count of St. Germain.

March 2006 Review

 

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