|Chelsea Quinn Yarbro|
|Tor Books, 382 pages |
|A review by Steven H Silver|
It may be assumed that this time, if not the place, is more familiar, historically, to Yarbro's readers than many of the more esoteric periods and places Saint-Germain has dwelled. It is surprising, therefore, that 14th-century France should appear to elude her writing abilities. This is one of the few novels in the series which really does not seem to capture the feel and attitudes of a specific period. Saint-Germain, of course, continues to have 20th-century sensibilities and knowledge in the world, but those around him do not seem particularly 14th-century. Perhaps one of the reasons Yarbro fails to capture the feeling of the 14th-century is that her narrative focuses on Saint-Germaine and his Iberian-born ghoul manservant, Rogres. Her failure to provide a "local" viewpoint weakens the historical novel aspect of Blood Roses.
As mentioned earlier, Yarbro assumes the reader will know about Saint Germain's nature. This continues a trend which has decreased the role of his vampirism throughout the past several novels. Instead of being a "demon lover" or a creature of the night, Saint-Germain has become a sensitive 90s-kind-of-guy whose purpose is to provide pleasure to his lovers. References to his vampirism are limited to coy comments about his... blood and his need to wear thick-soled shoes. This also vexes because, while Saint-Germain's attitudes should be affected by his long life, he should not be prone to attitudes which have not existed prior to the setting of the story, nor should he have knowledge which was unavailable prior to the setting.
Saint-Germain's medicinal knowledge dates back to his centuries as a slave in the healing temple of Imhotep (chronicled in Out of the House of Life, 1990). The only detail Yarbro goes into really is his collection of a variety of herbs and his seeming belief that moldy bread -- penicillin -- is a cure for everything, up to and including the Bubonic Plague. While Saint-Germain professes a desire to help as many of the dying as he can, he'll only help those who ask for his specific assistancee with the result that he actually saves very few people. If a small lie would result in somebody accepting his help, Saint-Germain refuses to tell them what they want to hear.
One of the nice things Yarbro does in Blood Roses is show Saint Germain in a non-noble role. Throughout the series of books, Saint Germain has commented on the many times that he has had to make his way in the world based on his musical abilities, however, aside from short scenes in which he performs as a nobleman (i.e. in Writ in Blood, 1997), Yarbro really hasn't demonstrated this to us. In Blood Roses, Saint-Germain finds himself making his way across plague and war-torn France on the strength of his mandolla playing.
Another change from her normal plotting is the role of the villains in Blood Roses. Yarbro's antagonists are generally unremittingly evil men with sexual depravities. In Blood Roses, the main opponent is the Bubonic Plague. Saint-Germain's human adversaries, such as Eudoin Tissant, the tax collector and later leader of the village of Orgon, come across as petty men who are trying to carve out a tiny spot for themselves in the world. Unfortunately, while it is nice to see Yarbro trying a different type of villain, these men come across more like angry gnats than like opponents worthy of Saint-Germain's abilities.
The Chronicles of Saint-Germain have been focussing more and more on the historical fiction aspect of the stories. While this is not a problem, and has probably extended the lifespan of the series, if Yarbro's novel doesn't stand up as an historical fiction, as is the case with Blood Roses, the books need to work as vampire novels. Yarbro's apparent resistance to continue to explore her character's vampirism means the book can not work on that level either. While it is not clear that Yarbro has reached the point where she should retire Saint-Germain, she does need to decide if she is writing vampire stories or historical novels and focus on whichever decision she chooses to make.
Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.
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