Jul 6, 2011

An Embarrassment of Riches by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro - Vampire Book Review

An Embarrassment of Riches
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Tor Books; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)

(Reviewed by Sandy Rainey)

This twenty-fourth outing for the Count Saint-Germain is set in Bohemia in the thirteenth century. As per usual, our favorite vampire exile finds himself embroiled in the sort of political intrigue that always seems to dog him, try as he might to avoid it. Just before the book opens, Saint-Germain for once is living peacefully on his ancestral lands in Hungary when the Hungarian King Bela forces him into exile at the court of Konig (King) Otakar in Bohemia, ostensibly to supply Bela’s granddaughter and Otakar’s wife, Konige (Queen) Kunigunde, with gemstones, and to watch over the expatriate queen and help ease her homesickness.

Saint-Germain has no desire to join the other noble Hungarians at court, but Bela threatens harm against Saint-Germain’s fief and vassals if he does not comply. Saint-Germain’s position is precarious from the start: King Bela does not seem to trust him, and the Bohemians suspect that Bela has sent Saint-Germain to spy on them. Seeing little choice, Saint-Germain and his steadfast manservant, Hruther, take up residence in a rotting Bohemian manse, giving it a medieval-style This Old House refurbishing as the plot progresses. Saint-Germain is under virtual house arrest: He may appear at court or tool around Otakar’s capital city, Praha (Prague), but efforts to venture any further will result in swift retribution against his fiefdom.

The political situation is puzzling, to say the least. One would expect that the Hungarian Kunigunde’s marriage to the Bohemian Otakar would secure some sort of peace between the two nations. Not so: Bela and Otakar are actually at war throughout the book. Otakar aspires to be the next Holy Roman Emperor and figures that his growing list of conquests will help make his case; he would like nothing better than to add Hungary to that list. No wonder Kunigunde is so glum in this impossible circumstance of divided loyalties. As babies begin to come (girls, lamentably), Kunigunde also suffers from a severe case of what we would call postpartum depression. Even Saint-Germain’s songs (as always, he functions as a sort of vagabond troubadour) and the shower of jewels he bestows upon Kunigunde and her offspring cannot alleviate her sadness.

From this description, the reader acquainted with the Saint-Germain series might presume that Kunigunde becomes Saint-Germain’s paramour; she is the sort of victim of entrenched sexism that he often attempts to assist. But he is far too circumspect to become involved with the Konige, however much he might pity her. Besides, he has his hands full with three other ladies of the court. Gentleman readers of the Saint-Germain cycle might sometimes envy his effortless success with the ladies. This time, though, Saint-Germain manages to reel in three of the least appealing and most demanding women he has ever become entangled with. All of them pose a threat, and are unafraid to wield what power they have; one of them is particularly unscrupulous and will stop at nothing to eliminate her rivals and get her way.

As time passes, Saint-Germain’s position goes from difficult to untenable. For once, he practices alchemy openly, churning out precious gems as never before (hence the book’s title). The presence of the generous jewel-maker is thus tolerated at court, but nevertheless intrigues and enemies multiply as the novel progresses. Saint-Germain and Hruther are all too aware of the net tightening around them, but no means of escape is evident. Still, the most pressing danger turns out to be one neither Saint-Germain nor the reader anticipates, leaving to Hruther (has there ever been a more loyal and resourceful sidekick?) the task of putting all to rights.

An Embarrassment of Riches is a worthy addition to the Saint-Germain canon, offering all the familiar touches that readers have come to expect while keeping them guessing with unaccustomed developments. Yarbro continues to entertain reliably with this vampire series that will surely never be equaled; may it ever be so.

Reviewed by Sandy Rainey


booklover0226 said...

Enjoyed the review. I'm glad Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is continuing this series. I'm quite behind, so I have a lot of catching up to do...but I'll enjoy every single page of it!


Sandy Rainey said...

Thank you! I don't think Yarbro will ever give up on Saint-Germain, though back in the 80s there was a pause of five years or more during which she said the character had ceased to "speak" to her. But since the late 80s, that hasn't happened again. In one recent interview with her that I was reading, though, she did joke about how one day her death will cut the series short--very characteristic dark humor! I love it that there are so many books--so much for people to dig into! And even though I've read every one and there are some elements that are just as predictable as death and taxes, those elements just feel comfortable rather than repetitive--like coming home to that same soft pair of slippers every day! Quinn's books are absolutely one of my favorite reading experiences. Thanks again for commenting!

Derek Tatum said...

>> she did joke about how one day her death will cut the series short <<

I can totally hear her saying that, too.