Come Twilight: A Novel of Saint-Germain, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2000
At last, the long-hinted-at story of Csimenae. Come Twilight is much more of a vampire novel than any of the other novels of Saint-Germain. Now, maybe I might have liked that in my Goth phase, but the reason I am still reading the Saint-Germain novels is that they are almost always a really great historical novel. The fact that Saint-Germain (or Olivia or Madelaine) is a vampire is pretty much secondary to the plot, serving mostly to give the reader an outside or modern perspective on the period the novel takes place in.
Anyway, so the storyline is, Saint-Germain and Rogerian, making their way through Visigothic Spain, encounter a village that has been abandoned due to the Great Pox, except for Csimenae, who is pregnant. She conceives of this very firmly held conviction that now the village will belong to her son, and that any former villagers who come back should have to swear fealty to her son and be ruled by her on behalf of her son. She is not in any way conciliating; this to her is non-negotiable. The villagers don't see it the same way. A bunch of them do come back and agree to her terms, but a bunch don't -- they gang up and attack the village. Csimenae is mortally wounded in the fray, and Rogerian convinces Saint-Germain to make her into a vampire for the sake of her son. Chaos ensues.
Never has Saint-Germain brought a more recalcitrant protege to his life. He tells Csimenae over and over of the precautions she must take in order to remain undetected, but she will not listen. She will not be lectured by him. Saint-Germain eventually leaves, assuming she will eventually figure it out for herself or pay the consequences. She doesn't. A century later he returns to the region, only to discover that she has created a tribe of almost 40 vampires who prey on the surrounding region. Already by this time tensions are starting to rise (I kept waiting for somebody to get voted out of the tribe). Csimenae has not changed a bit.
Saint-Germain returns to the region twice more. By the last time he visits, the region is nearly depopulated anyway due to the deforestation instigated by the Moors, but the remaining population know the vampires for what they are and know very well how to kill them. Saint-Germain escapes a vampire-killing fire by jumping into the river, and Csimenae, having contemptuously dismissed the deaths of the rest of her tribe by fire by claiming they were stupid and not worthy of being vampires, retreats unrepentant to the mountains, ready to descend and create a new tribe as soon as the old legends of vampires in the region have been forgotten.
This is the second time CQY has had Saint-Germain turn a woman into a vampire so that she could protect her son and his right to rule a specified chunk of land. Either she didn't feel that she had fully explored the theme with Heugenet da Brabant in Blood Roses, or she feels that some themes are bound to repeat themselves over the course of a 3500-year life span. Anyway, I found myself shaking my head for most of the book -- Saint Germain doesn't often misstep, but I certainly felt that he had made a series of very bad choices in this book. Sure, maybe he didn't think about what kind of a vampire Csimenae would make when he turned her, but even after that he could have done some things differently, like giving her up for a lost and dangerous cause instead of trying to give her another chance every time he went through the region. Maybe this would go totally against his code of conduct, but in his place I might have even killed her myself when I saw what a threat she posed.
Anyway, I guess this book was pretty good, judging from the reaction I had to it -- stories that make you think are always better than ones that don't. There were several other stories lurking in this book that I thought could have had more prominence -- Saint-Germain as spy/courier for various princes and kings (a la Writ In Blood), Saint-Germain as protector/sponsor of the polyglot Jewish girl Lailie, Saint-Germain as patron of arts and sciences in Moorish Spain -- but maybe CQY had a point in writing the story she did, a sort of thought experiment justifying why her vampires never live in groups. Anyway, it was pretty good, and I'm still looking forward to the next one, though I'm hoping that it will be back to the usual historical style.
Score: Three pints -- no, they are not pints of blood.