Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has been chronicling the exploits of her semi-fictitious vampire, Baron Francis Ragockzy, Comte de Saint-Germain since 1978 through ten books (plus three associated novels). The tenth, Mansions of Darkness, is set in the New World in the seventeenth century. As the series has progressed, the novels seem to have become less about the Count and more about the period in which Yarbro has placed him. In several cases, the reader wonders why she doesn't simply write a straight historical fiction.
That said, I do enjoy Yarbro's writing. Her vampire is a well-rounded character. His approach to his vampire is very matter-of-fact. He is a vampire. This does not make him good or evil, just a vampire. He views his vampirism as a gift to bestow on those he deems worthy, not a punishment. However, it is not to be given lightly or without consent. St. Germain also grows throughout the series. Since Yarbro jumps around through history, she can show the Count's humanity and strength grow and decline depending on when she sets each book.
The entire series, as it follows the Count throughout history, is extremely formulaic, which is not to say bad. It simply means that there are very few plot twists which will surprise anybody who is familiar with 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. In most cases, the dark evil would consider a vampire to be more evil than they are. Of course, Yarbro uses the Count's humanity to demonstrate the ability of humans to perform incredibly vicious acts.
Although I generally enjoy the St. Germain novels, Mansions of Darkness was not particularly to my liking. It was not a matter of plot or writing, both of which were up to Yarbro's standards. Rather, the milieu in which she places the Count's adventure, seventeenth century Peru, is not one which I find personally interesting. In some ways, Mansions of Darkness can be seen as a companion volume to Yarbro's earlier A Candle for D'Artagnan. That novel dealt with the Roman vampire Olivia in Paris and is set concurrent with the Count's stay in Peru. Just as Yarbro refers to the events of A Candle for D'Artagnan in the current novel, she drops hints about the Count's Peruvian exploits in the earlier novel.
In Mansions of Darkness, the Count's lover is the last of the Incan princesses, Acanna Tupac. Unlike earlier books in the series, where Yarbro shows us how the Count St. Germain comes to respect a woman, his relationship with Acanna Tupac seems rushed. It is almost as if the Count chooses Acanna Tupac because she is the only woman in the novel and the first section is named for her.
St. Germain also has become a little too enlightened. His respect for women, while admirable, seems extremely out of place, even taking his extended life into account. He would give the most politically correct, sensitive 90s man a run for his money. On the other side, Yarbro continues to depict her villains as sexual deviants. A theme that runs throughout the series. Even though Dom Enrique and Van Zwolle are painted as villains early in the novel, their evilness and cruelty are set once they visit a brothel in Lima.
I'm afraid Mansions of Darkness does not capture the feel I've come to expect from Yarbro's series. Her research is give the reader a feeling of truthfulness. Her characters are three-dimensional, the story just did not appeal to me.
Yarbro's next St. Germain novel, Writ in Blood, is due out from Tor in July. I hope the setting is of more interest to me and the Count regains the ability to reflect at least some of the cultural mores that exist in that time. Although he may be considered a time-traveler of sorts, he comes from a pre-Egyptian civilization, not a politically correct America.
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