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Chelsea Yarbro

Blood Games
1979

Reviews:

Blood Games, the third in Yarbro's St. Germain series, is billed as an "historical horror novel set in Nero's Rome". What it actually is happens to be one of the best examples of fictional Rome ever published. The story is intricate with multifaceted characters. As Yarbro explains in her initial Author's Note, "all reasonable effort has been made to recreate the conditions and attitudes of first-century Imperial Rome with as few distortions as possible." And the few distortions that did make it into the work are not worthy of mention. As Yarbro herself points out, many of the most outlandish features of the story are actually historically accurate. There are no maps or other apparati, but Yarbro's narration is so crystal clear that the novel does not require them. The action and character development are top notch, and the descriptions of the settings are exquisite. If a vampire had actually taken up residence in ancient Rome, this novel gives a very close approximation as to what the situation would have been like. Blood Games is important within the St. Germain series in that this novel introduces Atta Olivia Clemens, Domita Silus, who figures in several of the other books. Yet Blood Games can stand on its own, without any prior knowledge of the other St. Germain novels. (This is one of the great joys of this series; you can start reading at any point and not miss anything.) This is a must-read for any fan of fictional Rome. If you happen to be a fan of dark fantasy as well, you are in for a truly delightful experience. - Linda A. Malcor 10/99

- Linda A. Malcor, 10/1/1999


Ragoczy Sanct’ Germain Franciscus is a series character, just like his contemporary, Marcus Didius Falco, in Lindsey Davis’ novels, but this is the third in the series and the other 2 are Hotel Transylvania, set in 18th-cent Paris and The Palace, set in Renaissance Florence. This is possible because our main character is a vampire. However, do not expect a lot of blood and gore as vampires fasten upon innocent or unsuspecting victims. There is blood and gore, but arrived at in the good old-fashioned way through the slaughter of men and animals in the circus and arena and the sanguinary excesses of the emperors or their lackeys (such as Nero’s Tigellinus) or of other evil men with their private grudges. The vampires are the nice guys, and 2 of the ones we become fond of do indeed finish last. The action takes place between 63 and 71 AD & involves all the emperors from Nero to Vespasian, plus Petronius (until his suicide) and Vespasian’s sons, Titus (fairly nice) and Domitian (fairly nasty). The story is interesting, lively, if somewhat choppy to read, but questionable details of realia abound & Latin terms/names used are murdered. For example, I’m not bothered by the radiant heating or the fast-food or the assembly factories; I do have some questions about chariots & sedan chairs using meters (not the availability of same) and the eyeglasses, but what bothers me most is the notion of the Circus Maximus having an awning or being able to be flooded for aquatic sports. The Flavian amphitheater had these, but did the Circus? I am not reassured when Yarbro informs us that the radiant heat is accomplished by means of a “holocaust” or that Vespasian’s tunic distinguished his rank by means of its “augustus clavus”. Yarbro seems to assume that all Latin masculine plural nouns must end in -i, so we get “venatori” for “venatores” & many similar mis-formations. In the same way, I think she misunderstands the notion of 9 at a meal by providing 9 couches. She also, throughout, identifies a man’s wife as “Domita X”, e.g., “Domita Silius”, with the man’s name in the nominative, presumably intending to represent what would be, if anything, “Domina Silii”. This is just one instance of Yarbro’s very strange use and formation of names. Now there is plenty of detail that is right, but there’s just too much that is wrong. A good classical editor would have caught all of this. The story is strong enough, but Yarbro jumps forward from scene to scene without finishing the logical conclusions of these actions, and we do not find out until pages or chapters later how those events turned out. This makes for some frustration & a lack of cohesion. There is a love story at the heart of the novel: Sanct’ Germain loves Atta Olivia Clemens, the abused wife of the main villain of the piece, the senator, Cornelius Justus Silius, a really manipulative, ambitious and vile man, who abuses his wife physically and psychologically and is responsible for the death of a number of people, but he is always in the good favor of the current emperor. Sanct’ Germain is generally in the good favor of the emperors also, because he is a rich foreigner who is willing to use his artistic talent, connections in the East and money for projects dear to the heart of the various emperors, all of whom we meet at close hand (though the year 69 goes by so fast that we have only a few pages for each of the 3 non-survivors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius). Sanct’ Germain is over a thousand years old, though only a very few people know this, because he moves from place to place as his non-aging starts to become apparent and he takes with him his one personal servant, whom he had resurrected from death. He identifies himself as having come from Dacia but not a Dacian. In fact, he has lived mainly in the East (Persia, Egypt) and has wealth in a number of different places. He is very strong and protects himself from the loss of power and pain of sunlight and running water by wearing all-covering clothes and keeping his high boots lined with a layer of his native Dacian soil. He does not fly or change into a bat. He takes blood only from a few willing partners, who will over time turn into vampires themselves. One of these is the young charioteer woman, Tishtry, who was the main character in Yarbro’s 1985 young adult book, Four Horses for Tishtry . Blood Games is not a young adult book, though the blood and gore is not too graphic nor is the sex, but both are strong in the novel. Readers will meet an impressive array of real historical characters, mainly the emperors and their close associates (e.g., Burrus and Seneca, as well as Tigellinus, for Nero) and will see the life of gladiators, bestiarii and charioteers as well as rich courtiers and palace intrigues. They will feel for Sanct’ Germain’s not-always-enviable position as one of the undead and certainly root for him as against the cruel humans. If you use the book with students, you need to warn them about the historical and linguistic mistakes, unless they know Roman life and history pretty well and can be asked to find the mistakes themselves and report on them to you. The mistakes aside, and allowing for what I perceive as excessive choppiness, the novel is still a good read with some excellent action scenes and characters for whom you develop strong feelings (for or against). Fred Mench 9/98

- Fred Mench, 9/1/1998

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