the Saint-Germain Cycle
Tor, Sep 2006
Reviewed by Joy
Vampire. Rome, 218-222 A.D.
Saint-Germain, now known as Sanct-Franciscus, carefully returns to Rome. A previous stay here, described in BLOOD GAMES, was perilous for him and his friends. Now the laws controlling foreigners are becoming more strict, and the tone of Roman society more paranoid. But a vampire must live somewhere, and there aren’t many societies large enough for a two thousand year old man to hide his peculiarities.
This time, Sanct-Franciscus is avoiding the imperial court. The Senate’s new policies make corruption inevitable, and Emperor Heliogabalus is capricious and self-indulgent. Sanct-Franciscus tries to keep his head down, concentrating on his international trading firm and on his physician skills. It is to be expected that his wealth will attract predators.
As always, Sanct-Franciscus finds people who need his help, among them a prostitute and a thief. Most especially, he tends the dying noblewoman Adicia and her daughter Ignatia. Adicia’s illness gives her a disordered suspicion of her closest caregivers, including her daughter. The lonely Ignatia and Sanct-Franciscus could find solace in each other, if circumstances will allow.
Ignatia certainly won’t find solace from her brother. Octavian was a teenaged brat until he converted and joined a Christian youth group. Now he finds it thrilling to roam through the city with his friends, carrying sticks with which to beat people they call sinners. Eventually beating isn’t enough. The people who knew Octavian growing up have no idea how bad he can get. All the menace that is gathering around Sanct-Franciscus is preempted by Octavian.
The theme of author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is good vampires vs. the evil to be found in humanity. Wherever brutality, hate, and injustice run rampant, Saint-Germain has either been in the middle of it or will get there eventually. His stubborn defense of friends in need puts him into dangers he could easily have avoided. But then, Saint-Germain feels, his long life wouldn’t be worth living. He needs people to care about as much as they need his care.
Almost from the beginning, ROMAN DUSK is suffused in gradually developing menace. Even though we know from previous books that Saint-Germain’s life will continue for many centuries, there is the burning question of, “How bad will it be?” To be alive is not to be unscathed, in body or spirit. Every friend is a hostage to fortune.
It is obvious that Yarbro loves doing research, but it is rarely intrusive. She uses the facts to carefully recreate whatever time she is placing her vampires in, with a lot of her knowledge relegated to a several-page glossary at the back. She is accurate when she shows Octavian’s gang attacking “sinners” with sticks in the street. During this period, Christians were so aggressive that they were in bad odor with a government that preferred to tolerate all religions.
Yabro does not write her books in chronological order: STATES OF GRACE, written just before ROMAN DUSK, is set thirteen centuries after this. However, she does keep Saint-Germain on a consistent line of psychological development. In ROMAN DUSK he is a long way yet from acquiring the civilized world-weariness of STATES OF GRACE. His basic nature remains the same, probably learned at the knee of his father the king. He needs to protect the friends he has gathered around him.
The Saint-Germain Cycle made a racing start with its first title, HÔTEL TRANSYLVANIA, and acquired a large following, drawn by a kind, noble hero who has learned from thousands of years of experience. I am feeling a need for a change from the climate of the “few menaced by the many,” but not enough to stop reading the series. If I may risk nagging, it’s time for that Julius Caesar story that Yarbro keeps hinting at!
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