**spoiler alert** I confess, I knew little to nothing of medieval Bohemia. On a map, I could have pointed you to the general location of it's whereabo**spoiler alert** I confess, I knew little to nothing of medieval Bohemia. On a map, I could have pointed you to the general location of it's whereabouts, but that's about it. Not only does Chelsea Quinn Yarbro provide us with an interesting story of our beloved Count, she also presents her readers an historical travel log.
In the novel, "An Embarrassment of Riches", King Bela of Hungry, holds the fiefdom of Saint-Germain hostage in order to guaranty that Rakoczy Ferancsi does not make alliances with his enemies. Under orders, the Count is exiled to the Court of Kunigunde of Bohemia, King Bela's granddaughter. Using his skills as a alchemist, he has been instructed to provide jewels to the Queen and her family for their enjoyment. Though his cell is the beautiful Palace Court, it is no home; Saint-German remains very much an outsider and a political prisoner.
In 1269, Bohemia is a wealthy country due to it's natural resources of precious metals. As in most cases when a medieval King finds his coffers full, he looks to build a large military. Konig Otaker is no different and soon his impressive army is on the march; depleting the Palace Court of eligible and entertaining men to distract the ladies of the Queen's household. With looks, manners and wealth, the Count soon has their attention.
In one of her interviews, CQ Yarbro, tells us that the story of Saint-German is not just centered on him, but is also a story about the women in his life. In this novel, our Count's cup runneth over and that attention he attracts comes with great personal peril. There are four women in this story that have a strong impact on his life; three Court ladies that seek a sexual liaison and the Queen herself (who's personal story I find compelling). It would be easy to judge these women, by today's standards, as frivolous, shallow and self-indulgent. And that is true to some extent, but their personality and life were shaped by the upper-class, gilded cage constructed by culture and church. The only one with any real power was the Queen, but even she had to bow to others (the men in her family and church ) in making the important decisions and even deciding her own future. It took a great deal of courage for her to stand up to the Bishop in defending her ladies from examination from the church.
Of the three court ladies Rozsa of Borsod, I find the least sympathetic. She took personal delight in controlling Saint-Germain through the threat of blackmail, first for sexual pleasure and later for financial gain. The Count summed it up well on page 111, "He was aware of her arousal, and her satisfaction, but he knew beyond all question that she did not want to include him in her fulfillment." I did find myself questioning why Saint-Germain continued to take her blood after the first encounter when he found the taste "flat, and he knew it would provide little nourishment, for there had been no real intimacy." As the story unfolds, it finds him worried that their contact would soon reach that magical number of six, when she could become a vampire upon her death. On page 128, he speaks to Hruther (Roger) about his concerns, "..., I have no wish to bring a woman like Roszsa of Borsod into my life, but if she insists ….."
Imbolya of Hevees, the second lady to seek out the attentions of Saint-Germain, starts as did Rozsa, by using threats in order to force him to become her lover. Yet, she later backs off and merely treats the relationship as a rebellious adventure (before her family arranges a loveless marriage where she fears she will disappear). The Count is trouble by his attraction for Imbolya and tends to make excuses for her behavior, blaming it on youth. Personally, I believe he was too kind because both she and Rozsa admit that the worst that could happen to them, if discovered, is their being forced into a nunnery. But death would be a certainty for, Saint-Germain. Her lack of concern for the Count's well being was alarming. On page 182, Imbolya tells Saint-Germain, "See?" she persisted. "that's why I want you. You think of me before you think of yourself ."
The last of the three ladies is Iliska of Szousa. I'm not sure of her age, but guess around fifteen because her family were looking for a suitable husband for her. In many ways she reminds me of Jenfra, as a child, in the book "Blood Rose". Iliska is strong willed to the point of being obnoxious and no amount of discouragement from Saint-Germain seems to stop her from a head long pursuit of him. Her brother takes matters into his own hands and hires assassins to kill the Count. Fortunately, drowning a non-breathing vampire is not easy.
In this story I found the Count to be more affable then in recent memory. It warmed me to read of his insecurities about what to wear and how to entertain a female visitor. After three thousand years of being undead he still has much of the same vulnerabilities as we do. It makes him more human and I like that in an all-but-immortal hero.
Best quote: Roger, " You've been dangerous to know for the twelve hundred years I have know you." page 128
And of course: Rakoczy, "I do not drink wine". Page 50
In correspondence with another group member a few days back, I stated that the new Saint-Germain novel, “Burning Shadows”, had more of a feel of the earlier books in the series. The supporting characters appeared more fully developed, and even Saint-Germain, the protagonist, came across with more depth and passion then in recent books. It doesn’t reach the pinnacle of “Blood Games”, but it still is a good read and one I would recommend.
It begins in the summer of 438 AD, western Carpathian Mountains, close but not quite in the area of Saint-Germain’s native earth. The Huns are on the move and Attila is proving to be a far more formidable military leader then most have encountered. Rome is in decline, having been overrun by the Goths and her Byzantine empire to the east is establishing it’s own independence. Little or no help is to be had for this northern area of the former Roman territory. The Byzantine’s, who employ Huns for their military, aren’t interested in a confrontation with Attila. They fear questionable loyalty among their ranks.
In this chaotic setting, we first find Dom Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, Regional Guardian of Apulum Inferior. This office is an appointment given by Rome to one considered foreign to that area, this is to help guaranty loyalty to Rome and not to family or clan. Saint-Germain has recently persuaded Olivia into evacuating her estate to the north, in Porolissum, for a safer location near Aquileia. She seriously doesn’t wish to leave, but is unwilling to risk her household servants and slaves to the possibility of an attack by the Huns. She spends the rest of the story, (with great frustration and humor) through letters, trying to talk Saint-Germain into following his own advice. Finally, in desperation, she sends her bondsman, Niklos Aulirios, to try and locate him and to assist if needed. Another lady that we are introduced to at the beginning of the story is, Rhea Pentherkrass. I’m not clear on how she ended up in Apulum Inferior with Saint-Germain, but for the short time she is in this story I rather enjoyed her character. Too often the Count’s ladies come across as whinny or demanding, she is neither. In fact, she possesses a good dose of dry whit and common sense. To ensure her safety, Saint-Germain has instructed Rugierus to escort her to Constantinople to assist in setting up a house and staff. Unfortunately, Rugierus (Roger) ends up in jail and is not seen until the end of the story.
As the invading Huns move into Apulum Inferior, Saint-Germain is forced to lead the people in his care to an isolated mountain monastery. With the growing number of refugees, this small community balloons to a population of 978. This is a diverse group of monks, mercenaries, Goths, Gepidae, Daci, Carpi, Romans and Byzantines. The rules of conduct for this expanding refuge must be written in six different languages. Somehow in this mix the Count is still viewed as a foreigner and is treated with a certain amount of reserve and suspicion. Yet, his skill and knowledge of healing is greatly appreciated and he moves into the old chapel to set up an infirmary. A good portion of the novel deals with the interaction of this group, how they handle the division of labor, beliefs and customs, and the ever-growing fear of Huns. Physical fights are a common problem and adding fuel to the conflict, is the growing awareness that a spy in their midst is passing on information to the enemy.
In one refugee group seeking safety at the monastery, is a young shepherdess named, Nicori. An orphan without family ties, she too is viewed as an outsider. She volunteers to assist Saint-Germain at the infirmary and their mutual attraction soon becomes intimate. As their relationship becomes more passionate, Saint-Germain is able to glean from her blood that Nicori is not all she seems … she holds a dark secret. I’ve always been interested in just how much knowledge of his partner the Count is able to ascertain from a few small sips of their blood during love making. There are several lovely written passages in this novel where he tries to explain to Nicori his true nature and how he is nourished by both his native earth and blood. My frustration with the character of Nicori is that despite all the time, patience and revelation from Saint-Germain, she just doesn’t get it. There were times I wondered if she was listening at all. It seems to me that this inability is what leads to her decision to seek the true death, after she becomes a vampire. She cannot bear the loneliness and loss of self which is inherent in merging with others for nourishment. Saint-Germain does his best to changing her mind, but failing, he is heart-broken in the end. There have been a number of ladies in this series, who, after their change came to realize that they could not continue, Demetrice in “The Palace” was one of these and I was sad to see that she chose that path, but with Nicori, it seemed a poor fit from the outset.
Lastly, I want to add that I missed having one of Quinn’s maps of this region included in the book. I can find Constantinople/Istanbul on a map, but the archaic names and long vanished borders of that era were confusing at times. It’s not necessary to the story, just a personal preference.
There is much in the story that I haven’t touched on, such as the battles with the Huns, blood-bonding and the Count’s interaction with Niklos, but these can be include in our discussion of the book if you like. I really look forward to reading your comments, thoughts and insights to this novel.
Best quote: “Olivia would kill me if I died again”. --- Niklos