OUT OF THE HOUSE OF LIFE
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

 


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Orb/Tom Doherty Assoc., 1990
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Vampire. Egypt 1825, etc.

Readers of the Saint-Germain stories know that the vampire prince spent a thousand years in the temples of ancient Egypt. Rather than tell us the millennium-long tale, author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has arranged to have it excavated.

No one believes a woman can be a dedicated scholar, so Madelaine de Montalia is determined to show them – in both senses of the phrase. She is fascinated by the ruins of ancient Egypt and resolved to prove the worth of her scholarship. The men around her, conditioned to believe women are light-minded fools, are further misled by Madelaine’s beauty and seeming youth. She has not been undead long enough to learn the ways of blending into a society, as her mentor the Comte de Saint-Germain has.

At first Alain Baundilet has nothing but contempt for the rich young woman who has paid for the privilege of joining his archaeological expedition. Surprisingly, she is not deterred by the sand, the sun, the deadly creatures – not even by Baundilet’s contemptuous attempts at seduction. She applies her archaeological skills with intense dedication. Baundilet begins to find intolerable her “unsupported theories” about their finds – taken from Saint-Germain’s letters describing life as it was then – and her choice of her German physician neighbor as a lover instead of himself. The last straw is when Madelaine publicly opposes Baundilet’s dishonesty. He is selling many of the artifacts they discover to private collectors, and his writings grab all the credit from his staff members.

One of Yarbro’s habits, in the four Saint-Germain books I have read so far, is that matters become critically dangerous surprisingly early in the book. Madelaine’s lifestyle, even in Egypt, is freer than most European women; Egyptian men call her an abomination. If she weren’t spellbound by the Egyptian ruins, she would listen to the warnings of her friends and clear out in time. But her headstrong ways are part of her verve. Madelaine is an ardent heroine who stimulates the reader’s adrenaline.

Yarbro provides us with two other women characters to make Madelaine’s uniqueness more visible. The first is the fiancée of one of the archaeologists on the dig. Honorine loves Jean-Marc in defiance of her father’s orders. Left behind in France, she exchanges passionate love letters with him, which only serve to show what an inadequate wife she would make him. Her tales of society and her preoccupation with dress and jewels are insipidly normal. One gets the impression Jean-Marc doesn’t even mind that his future wife’s life will be non sequitur to his own – a comment on the state of marriage in that culture.

The second contrast is Rida, lovely daughter of Baudilet’s Egyptian ally. Raised by her father to fit into both Egyptian and European cultures, she will inevitably be out of place in both. Willful and unable to tune her behavior to both cultures, Rida blunders pitiably, in ways that endanger Madelaine’s life.

There are other characters in OUT OF THE HOUSE OF LIFE who radiate vitality. Madelaine’s physician lover Egidius Falke, and the ungainly English noble Ferdinand Trowbridge, are both heroes. The priest Erai Gurzin serves his vampire friends with all his ability. Seeming almost another character is the ancient temple of Imhotep, refuge of the sick and dying. Here Saint-Germain’s soul was healed so long ago, and here Madelaine’s soul is tempted almost beyond bearing.

Those readers who will be satisfied with no one but Saint-Germain should take note. Saint-Germain is a secondary character in OUT OF THE HOUSE OF LIFE. Oh, he is here, a loving, supportive presence, mostly from afar. But this is his book only in the sense that Madelaine is investigating his past. It is Madelaine’s drive that galvanizes the story. The compass needle vibrates to Madelaine’s attraction.

Character and a sense of history. Both of these stand out strongly in OUT OF THE HOUSE OF LIFE. Don’t set boundaries to what you will allow Yarbro to do, or what you are willing to enjoy. Give the power over to these undead and let them revitalize you.

March 2006

 

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