Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220

Yarbro's Saint-Germain series falls easily into the category of historical romance, with the added interest of a vampire hero, or in the case of this subtrilogy, heroine. These books are unique among vampire novels in that the author uses the longevity of the central characters to take advantage of every historical setting that appeals to her. Her intent is to recreate the period and its particular brand of oppression in order that her protagonists may war against the establishment of that day and either help illustrate the brutality of men or to combat it. The vampirism becomes less important with each novel, and the ironic contrast between the view of vampires as terrifying and dangerous and the reality of how humans can massacre enormous numbers in short periods of time, becomes less significant.

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A reviewer commented that A Flame in Byzantium is not a horror novel because "any horror stems not from vampirism but from human acts in an age of religious persecution." The reviewer felt that Olivia's vampirism was "a subplot in an excellent historical novel." Another critic, however, complained that fans of the occult would feel cheated, while lovers of historical fiction would consider Yarbro's work inadequate. "As history," said the Kirkus Review, "her novels are like tales heard over a car radio, vaguely entertaining but quickly forgotten."

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Yarbro's picture of society is clearly summarized in the most popular of her works. Hotel Transylvania, the first novel of the vampire series featuring the elegant and learned Count Ragoczy Saint-Germain. The human beings, and especially the males among them, are the cause of the bloodshed and suffering throughout the novel, and by extension, since the series ranges, in order of publication, through Renaissance Florence, Nero's Rome, Jenghiz Khan's China, and Nazi Germany, with other stops added in each of the novels, they are the cause of suffering through all of history and on every continent. Compared to the slaughters that have been perpetrated by human beings, the vampires of the earth seem almost harmless, and that is in fact the situation in these works.

The Count, who has put his many centuries to good use academically, is more intelligent and sensitive than ninety per cent of the "normal" people he meets. There are always oppressed (or endangered) women who are in need of someone strong to rescue them from their (male) enemies. This is not always possible, but whether Saint-Germain fails or not (he usually does not), he manages to fall in love with the woman as a rule, and this love is reciprocated. Occasionally the woman becomes, as in the flagship novel and in Blood Games (1980), a vampire herself as a favor from the Count, so that she may remain devoted to him forever, even as he leaves to travel about with his ghoulish valet, Roger.

In Hotel Transylvania the damsel in distress is one Madelaine de Montalia, who is sought after eagerly by a group of Satanists led by the evil Baron Clotaire de Saint Sebastien because her father, in the waywardness of his youth, had promised his first-born child to the devil-worshippers, and they have never forgotten. Their intent is to make her the subject of a ghastly and painful sacrifice to Satan. Enter Saint-Germain, who loves and saves Madelaine at great risk to himself, permitting her to join the ranks of vampirism as a reward for her devotion.

In the third book of the Saint-Germain series, Blood Games, Olivia Clemens appears as the oppressed wife of an important man, who repeatedly brutalizes her and allows her to be raped by gladiators. Saint-Germain saves Olivia from this brutality, and they fall in love, demonstrating Yarbro's persistent theme that no vampire has ever wreaked as much havoc as mortal men. At Olivia's insistence, Saint-Germain makes her a vampire {not immortal, but with a very long life span). Olivia then flees Rome with her vampire bondsman, Niklos, when the Ostrogoths invade.

A Flame in Byzantium takes place five hundred years later. Olivia and Saint-Germain have settled in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian and Theodora. There, they discover that the city has been newly converted to Christianity. Conditions have become severely restrictive of women's rights. The city is infested with spies. Olivia's pagan Roman customs are seen as threatening, and her self-confident femininity causes her to become the victim of persecution.

As the Saint-Germain novels have made clear, water is particularly dreaded by vampires, though not nearly so much as fire. Sentenced to be drowned, she nearly dies, but is saved by Niklos. A brief love affair with a mortal. Captain Drosos, ends sadly.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 285

The Saint-Germain series, like any vampire novel, ultimately is traceable to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but beyond that there is little here that will seem familiar to devotees of the traditional vampire-as-child-of-Satan-blood thirsty-killer stories, or even to those who have come to appreciate the more recent vampire stories in which the vampires are intensely aware of their isolation and loneliness, and sometimes even fear that they will eventually be damned for their inevitable murders of their victims. While an occasional nod is given to Saint-Germain's world-weariness and other common vampire traits like a fear of running water and a need to sleep on his native soil, the emphasis in these novels is definitely action on the field and in the bedroom, combined with political intrigue and lengthy descriptions of gore. Further, because Saint-Germain never stalks a prey with whom the reader identifies (although the evil antagonist may), suspense is held to a minimum. One reviewer, in fact, insisted that the sequels were really "prequels" since they all covered an era earlier in time than the original novel, and that it hurt suspense for the reader to know that Saint-Germain would survive his various crises in some way or another.

Yarbro loves to use letters in her novels. In Hotel Transylvania this epistolary technique is successful, with the letters helping to move the plot forward. In the more recent of the series, however, they become too lengthy and cumbersome, and begin to impede the forward momentum of the work. Reviewers have complained about the later novels as they did not about Hotel Transylvania, and by the fourth novel one was already commenting, "this series has run out of steam," in part because of the slow moving events.

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