Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Writ in Blood is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's tenth published novel of Franchot Ragoczy Saint Germain. Set in 1910-11, Writ in Blood shows Saint Germain in Russia in the years preceding his flight at the beginning of Tempting Fate (1982). This period also sees Saint Germain traveling throughout Germany, England and the Netherlands in an effort to secure the current peace and forestall the war everyone sees on the horizon.
Due, perhaps, to Writ in Blood's twentieth century setting, Count Saint German has a much more political role than is typically the case. He has been sent by Czar Nicholas II to negotiate an arms limitation agreement with King Edward VIII of England and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Saint German is constantly thwarted in his effort by arms dealer Manfred von Wolgast. Although von Wolgast is engaged in a smear campaign against Saint Germain, we know this only because Yarbro tells us outright, rarely showing the details or effects of the campaign.
In fact, much of Writ in Blood is written as Yarbro is telling what happens rather than showing the reader. Saint Germain's political mechinations are discussed, but Yarbro only includes the vaguest outcome of his meeting in Liege rather than detail the meeting. The Count's relationship with Rowena Saxon, an English artist, is spaced throughout the novel and almost serves to distract the reader's attention from the apparent main focus of the book. The one area in which Yarbro does not seem to stint the details is when discussing that newest of innovations, the motorcar, going into frequent detail about the types and capabilities of the autos driven by her various characters.
The supernatural continues to play a decreasing role in the Saint Germain stories as Yarbro focuses on the historical aspect of her work. While Yarbro's characters continue to display the sentiments which were current during the periods in which her stories are set, Saint German and the heroine, in this case Rowena, display more contemporary mentalities. While this may make it easier for today's readers to empathize with Yarbro's heroes, it also sends the message that today's mores are somehow "better" than those of earlier periods. Yarbro is also consistant in her definition of villains. Someone who is merely misguided will hold to the societal norms of the period, while the true blackguards will add sexual deviance to their character traits. As in Mansions of Darkness, as soon as a character enters a brothel, it is a clear indication that they are evil.
Writ in Blood follows the formula Yarbro has established over the ten novels in the series. The books generally open with the Count's arrival in a reasonably exotic location, frequently bearing a letter of introduction. He meets a women, usually someone divorced from their society, with whom he will fall in love (and vice versa) and rescue her from a dark evil. The power of Yarbro's writing has become less and less dependent on her plots as she turns her attention to writing almost straight historical fictions. An interesting note in Writ in Blood is that Yarbro includes a conversation between Rowena Saxon and Saint Germain regarding fictional vampires, most notably Bram Stoker's Dracula, published only thirteen years before Writ in Blood is set.
Yarbro continues to allude to earlier escapades of Saint Germain, some of which have been chronicled and some of which are hints for possible future works. Although many of these hints point to times when Saint Germain was not part of society's elite, so far, only Out of the House of Life has shown him as a slave. It is difficult to see where Yarbro can take Saint Germain as a character to increase his interest and appeal. Removing some of his veneer of civilization, perhaps by looking more closely at his early years, would be a start in the right direction, although the difficulty there is presenting a character who is sufficiently unlike Saint Germain that Yarbro's core readers may rebel against the idea. Following the exploits of one of Saint Germain's collateral vampires (as Yarbro has done with Olivia in three novels), may also be a way of re-energizing the series.
Writ in Blood is a well-written historical novel with a touch of supernatural thrown in. It is paced, perhaps, a little too slowly. Yarbro could have edited the manuscript to produce a book perhaps 100 pages shorter without losing content or style.
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