At the end of this entry look for contest information.
About Burning Shadows
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
This twenty-third book in the Saint-Germain Cycle takes place during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, in 438-440 A.D. And it really was Anno Domino. Christianity had been the official religion of the Roman Empire, East and West for a century, and it was beginning to exert political as well as religious strength throughout Roman and former Roman territory. Religious establishments, such as churches and monasteries, became important centers as towns came under literal and metaphorical attack. Just the sort of historical pickle in which most Saint-Germain stories are set.
There was a shadow over the Empire beyond the increasing chaos in the West, and that was the increasing mass of invaders from the east. The Goths, Germanic peoples from what is now southern Russia, were well-established in the former Roman province of Dacia, today’s Hungary and Romania, along with the Gepidae, another Germanic tribe, occupying the region with the natives, including the Carpati and Daci. Although vestiges of Roman authority remained in Dacia, the province had been lost to the Empire for more than fifty years, the result of a gradual retreat of troops and civil infrastructure.
Into this confusion came the second wave of Huns; the first had reached the Eastern Roman Empire forty years earlier and were assimilating into the
Byzantine culture as were many other so-called barbarian groups; most often they served as craftsmen and mercenaries, sometimes comprising whole companies of cavalry in the Byzantine armies. The second wave wasn’t so cooperative: their leader, Attila, had powerful ambitions and enough mounted soldiers to put his ambitions into effect. Their first successful campaigns were on the Hungarian plateau; they were marked by ferocious cavalry attacks and massive destruction that became legendary within a year, spreading terror throughout the portion of the former Empire where there were no Legions to guard the towns, bridges, and roads, where neither the Eastern nor the Western Empire was prepared to go just to protect barbarians, no matter how many Romans remained in the area. As mentioned already, the Eastern Empire had many Hunnic mercenaries in their armies, and feared an uprising within the armies’ ranks if the Byzantines should take up arms on behalf of the Christian centers in the former Roman provinces, and the Western Empire had neither sufficient troops nor funds to pay hired mercenaries to defend their few remaining outposts in that part of the world.
As stories of the Huns reach towns in the former Roman province, more and more inhabitants decide to move out of their way, choosing either the prosperous Byzantine half of the Roman Empire, or the older Roman portion as their destination. The very fact of their moving enhanced the Huns’ reputation, so that the people who feared the Huns succeeded in frightening themselves into a state of constant terror — and we know how unpredictable, irrational, and restless terrified people can be. Those without a specific place to go the people of the region often retreated into walled Christian establishments, which is what happens to the people of the town where Saint-Germain has been serving as the magistrate/administrator, a post left over from Roman days.
Dispatching Roger to Constantinople to set up his mistress in comfort and safety, Saint-Germain is pretty much on his own in Apulum Inferior when it becomes apparent that it isn’t safe to remain in the town, and those who want to survive will need to move to more protected quarters higher in the mountains, since the Huns, being plains’ cavalry, are at a disadvantage among the crags and valleys of the Carpathians. Fighting in those mountains compelled the Huns to change their assault tactics, and led in time to far more efficient assaults on fortified installations.
Three other towns are emptying of people who are now also en route to the same safe haven in the southern part of the Carpathian Mountains, and between weather and deteriorating roads and bridges, all of them are having a hard time getting there. The Monastery of Santu-Eustachios the Hermit is required to shelter Christians, but the monastery is quickly straining at the seams as the people come crowding in. The leaders of the various groups do their best to establish and maintain order but with the growing threat of Hunnic attack, this is not an easy task.
To help him in his efforts to provide medical care, Saint-Germain takes as assistant: Nicoris is an outsider, who has been the goatherd for one of the isolated villages, and she becomes crucial to him, assisting him in all manner of procedures. Eventually he and Nicoris become intimate, although he realizes she is keeping a secret from him — not easily done when this vampire has tasted blood. Since he would prefer she tell him what he knows, he doesn’t press her to reveal what her secret is.
Roger, still in Constantinople, is being detained by the order of a zealous monk, and cannot return to Dacia. Apprised of these complications, Olivia, in Aquileia, the jewel of the northern Adriatic Sea, sends Niklos Aulirios with supplies to find Saint-Germain and help him.
Thematically, this story has to do with the cultural unraveling of the Western Roman Empire, and the terrorism practiced by the Huns under Attila. It is a period in history that’s often glossed over in survey courses, which is too bad, since it is rich culturally and in terms of how the Roman Empire came undone and the foundations for modern-day Europe took form in its rubble. Chaotic and bloody the period may be, but it explains many of the positions taken by the nations that developed over the next thousand years. It was also the time during which the Church, East and West, became intertwined with the military politics of the two branches of the divided Empire, some for sterling motives, other less so.
Saint-Germain always has to be particularly discreet in isolated, enclosed societies, which Santu-Eustachios the Hermit certainly is, for disclosure of his true nature would expose him to serious danger. Circumspection in all things is required of him in a situation where it is hard to maintain that discretion. He has a secret that imperils him. The story also examines how Nicoris attempts to keep a secret from Saint-Germain, an entirely different proposition, no matter how much the same they may appear.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
See a list of Saint-Germain novels in historical order.
Now for the contest
One lucky commenter will win a copy of Burning Shadows.
Contest is open to residents of the U. S. and Canada.
To be eligible do one or more of the following:
* Name your favorite nice guy or nice gal vampire.
* Link this interview to your own site or a social network site, and be sure to let me know the URL
If your email is not associated with your ID, please put the address in your response.
Contest ends Dec. 22, 2009.
Burning Shadows Blog Tour Stops:
- December 8th: Patricias Vampire Notes
- December 9th: Lesa's Book Critiques
- December 10th: Scifiguy.ca
- December 11th: Mondo Vampire
- December 14th: VampChix
- December 14th: A Book Bloggers Diary
- December 15th: Innsmouth Free Press
- December 16th: Vampire Wire
- December 17th: Vampirephile
- December 17th: Vampire Books