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The Palace
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Warner Books, 519 pages

Phil Hefferman
The Palace
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
In addition to the dozen or so vampire novels of Saint-Germain and those featuring Atta Olivia Clemens, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has written a host of terrific novels over the years including Time of the Fourth Horseman (1976), Ariosto (1980), Nomads (1984), A Baroque Fable (1986) and Floating Illusions (1986).

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Blood Roses
SF Site Review: Writ in Blood

Linköping SF Archive: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

In Fiorenza in the time of the Medicis, Francesco Ragoczy da San Germano has commissioned the most unusual and opulent of palazzos. It has secret rooms where he may work his alchemy, and where he may truly refresh himself in sleep on a bed made from his homeland's soil. He often accompanies Lorenzo de' Medici, the city leader, intrigued by the man's wisdom and love of beauty that has allowed him to make the city great. But sadly, this contentment is not to last... but you knew that already.

When Lorenzo dies, the world pretty much falls apart. A Dominican monk named Savonarola has gained great power, through stoking a passionate people's fanatical fear of damnation. He denounces everything possible -- art, clothing, comforts -- saying that all these things draw you from God and send you to hell. This, in combination with other elements, places a stranglehold on the people, making life miserable. What is most frightening for me is how almost reasonable he seems. Being fairly well versed in the Bible, it came across as both scary (Oh dear, my interpretation is rather liberal, isn't it?) and tragic, for I believe God is not that cruel. Yet, in the name of God, these people are stripped of all special possessions, forced to smother their creativity, afraid to speak one word astray. The fervor that he whips into the people is also rather sad. He gets off on making people miserable, not for God's glory, but his own, and no one is really making a move to stop him. The fear of hell is a pretty big fear. So you can understand why some of these people go crazy the way they do, and why the ones who don't still smother themselves, try to blend into the marble work.

This rising tension in the city doesn't make things easy for a Stragnero such as San Germano, nor for Demetrice Volandrai, who lived with Lorenzo and now acts as Germano's housekeeper. Demetrice loves books, and knowledge, and so she takes pleasure in learning by the mysterious stranger's side. The passion between them is a subtle thing. She truly loved the Medici and fears the creature she suspects San Germano to be. When things get too uncomfortable for San Germano, he leaves, offering to take her with him. She refuses, and eventually gets charged with heresy. Germano must return to a city, where people are willing to kill him to save his soul, in order to save the women he loves.

What makes Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's series so special is that each book, especially this one, captures a time perfectly. Renaissance Florence comes alive, filled with personalities -- Botticelli, Da Vinci, Medici -- that we read about in various histories, but never really get to experience. In these books we do. We get to see the passion for learning as it clashes with the passion for God. Yarbro creates a world that is seductive and rich, peopled with men and women of strong emotions. San Germano is the embodiment of the elegant vampire, lonely and tortured by the fact that so many he loves will inevitably die. Yet he can't keep his heart sealed from it. His incredible knowledge is something he puts to great use, tending to plague victims, attempting to prolong a dear friend's life. This makes him admirable. He does not revel in darkness, but accepts his fate and tries to live the best he can. Perhaps it helps that he can go about in the daylight. The earth in his shoes gives him greater leeway. But I think it's mostly because for all his own passion, he is far too sensible to mope.

The Palace is a reprint of the second book in the series. Warner has also reprinted the first, Hotel Transylvania, which I remember rather fondly. I'm really pleased that Warner is reissuing these books. The series is a fine one, extremely well researched, exquisite in its use of Vampirism, and well worth seeking out.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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