Chelsea Quinn Yarbro continues her popular vampire series into the decadent reign of the boy-Emperor Heliogabalus as Rome totters on the edge of collapse. Bureaucracy and prejudice against foreigners threaten our hero, Rogoczy Germainus Sanct’Franciscus, known elsewhere as the Count Saint-Germain. His lady friends feel a similar pinch against women, and Christians – actually called “terrorists” at one point – threaten to purify the rotten city with fire, which, of course, is deadly for vampires.
A skillful, knowledgeable and subtle hand drew beautiful descriptions of Roman life, and it is worth seeing how Yarbro does this throughout the book. I am, however, not a Saint-Germain initiate, and this may be the cause of the difficulties I had with what appears in between descriptions. This vampire is such a nice guy, bringing his feminist and criminal-reclamation values to the Forum, that tension evaporates from the pages. Much of the threat to his alchemically funded fortune is dealt with by factotums, off stage. Other constraints and threats that make a vampire’s, um, life interesting in other tales receive the merest brush here. Instead of conflict and action, we are fed expositional dialogue. I’ve never thought I’d say too much dialogue is a problem, but here it is. The incendiarily-named Ignatia is sister to a Christian ringleader and caretaker to a verbosely ill mother. We feel the tedious pain with this impossible woman, so much so that Ignatia’s liberation at the skillful undead hands of the great lover hardly seems recompense. And forgive me if this is some secret touchstone of the cult, but this installment never satisfied me as to how a Christian name dating to the 13th century of the common era ever found itself attached to someone in pre-Constantine Rome, let alone someone who’d been undead for two thousand years prior.