AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In An Embarrassment of Riches, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro places her immortal Saint Germain in the middle of a a family dispute in thirteentyh-century Bohemia. In this particular case, Saint Germain finds himself caught between King Bela of Hungary, who has exiled him to serve his daughter, the Konige Kunigunde, and her husband, King Ottokar of Bohemia, who spends most of the novel outside Praha, waging war against his father-in-law. The novel is set not long after Saint Germain's return from the Far East, as described in Yarbro's 1981 novel The Path of the Eclipse.
Saint Germain is trapped in Praha by the terms of his exile. Although Saint Germain and Roger (here Hruther), his faithful manservant, could theoretically leave the city, King Bela of Hungary is guaranteeing his loyalty and behavior by his hold on Saint Germain's native fiefdom. For Saint Germain to break the terms of his exile would not only mean punishment of his serfs, but also his inability to access his native soil and the possible loss of his lands. This situation is enough to keep Saint Germain in Praha as surely as putting him in prison would. It also serves to limit the actions that he is able to take, compounded by his status as a foreigner in a xenophobic society.
Sant-Germaniu spends much of the time almost being seen as a gigolo by the ladies in waiting at Konige Kunigunde's court, first by the married Rozsa of Borsod, than by the marriageable Imbolya of Heves, and finally by Iliska of Szousa, a young girl who rebels against the role her family has chosen for her. Although his relationships with each of these women offer their own dangers if they are discovered, the primary tension in An Embarrassment of Riches comes from the fictitious Episcopus Fauvinel, the bishop of Prague. Fauvinal epitomizes the xenophobia of Prague's citizens and compoundsit with the desire to gain secular power in addition to his spiritual power. His placement of spies among Saint Germain's household only heightens the threat he presents, not only to Saint Germain, but to Konige Kunigunde and her court.
In many ways, An Embarrassment of Riches is a strange novel. It is a vampire story in which the word "vampire" never appears and few acts of vampirism are described. It is a novel in which the nominal protagonist, Rakoczy Ferancsi, Comes Sant-Germaniu spends the entire novel responding to the actions of others rather than taking action. Although Yarbro's earliest Saint Germain novels, published more than thirty years ago, focused on his vampirism and contrasted it with the evil done by mortal men, in more recent books, such as An Embarrassment of Riches, the novels are more straightforward historical, although Saint Germain's true nature does play an important role in the novel's denouement.
While An Embarrassment of Riches may be a little slowly paced, it offers an enjoyable historical novel with just the right amount of tension as the reader waits for one of Saint Germain's enemies to finally decide to make a move against the powerful and wealthy foreigner who's protection is limited by the political mechanizations of King Bela and Konig Ottokar and the pervasive role of religion in the society in which he finds himself.
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