Before Twilight, even before Anne Rice…there was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Specifically, there was Sanct’ Germain, the vampire who lived through a good many of the human historical epochs.
Le Compte St. Germain is an ancient vampire, old even in Yarbro’s novel set first chronologically, Blood Games, set during the era of Nero in the Roman Empire. Here it is evidenced not only by his Egyptian servant, who writes in the hieroglyphic style long vanished even in this time when Christianity was no more than a furtive underground sect but more importantly in Germain’s own hard-won skills in navigating the intricacies of politics in an age when “throwing you to the lions” was not a timeworn expression but a very real threat. In Blood Games, Sanct’ Germain is a foreign wealthy nobleman residing in Rome, adroitly sidestepping many of the intrigues of the Roman Court while indulging in a taste for participating in the Circus Maximus Games via his slaves, when he falls in love with an abused and battered wife, Atta Olivia Clemens, married to a debauched and corrupt senator. (Watch this character: she shows up in later books.)
Blood Games is fairly typical of the series as a whole: a blend of vampire supernatural lore, historical fiction about geopolitical issues, with more than a slight leavening of romance and vampire kink. There’s just enough about the vampires and vampire nature to remind us that the hero and central character of the series IS a vampire, but he (and his ‘family/children’) are, not surprisingly, reluctant to reveal their true nature to the humans around them, for fear of being lynched as supernatural/evil beings. While Sanct’ Germain’s vampiric nature is important, nay central, to the plot, the novels themselves are as much historical and romance as they are supernatural in tone as Germain’s vampire nature serves equally to support the supernatural and the historical genre aspects of the fiction; how else would an immortal being fit into fiction? The series as a whole will be interesting to those interested in vampire books, though individual books will be of interest to readers who concentrate on specific historic eras. Yarbro started the series in pre-Revolution France and worked her way backwards and forwards in time as her series progressed, so there’s something for fans of ancient and comparatively recent history, for those who prefer novels at the beginning and at the recent end of the author’s writing career. Blood Games is a good book with which to start the series, despite not being the first written, as it’s the first chronologically (at least for now) and is therefore the one in which Yarbro sets up the relationships which thread their way through the rest of the series.
Yarbro’s series has more action and more historical background than Rice’s books, and a great deal more characterization and relationships building than Twilight, in addition to more realistic description of how vampires may “pass” in a human dominated world than the majority of vampire novels which I’ve read. Indeed, how else would vampires manage to survive more than a natural lifespan or two? Surely the suspicious amongst us would notice if someone didn’t age or sleep or eat? Use of the cross to affect a vampire does not figure in Blood Games, but then since this is only a few decades after Jesus’ death, the cross had not yet come to serve as a religious symbol rather than a literal form of Roman torture. How would one kill a pre-Christian vampire? This series might appeal to readers who’ve only just graduated from the Twilight series, even though strictly speaking all the books are intended for older readers. It’s not for readers who dislike repetitive or formulaic books–how many times do we really need to know that Germain is short and has delicate hands?–but then at 30+ years, a certain amount of “shopworn trope” is to be expected….as these are the authors who created just those tropes in the first place.