Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,
Hotel Transylvania
(1978; Warner, 2002)

Hotel Transylvania was my introduction both to author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and to vampire novels in general. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of writing, the lush descriptions of the era, its costumes and mannerisms, and the delicate way in which Yarbro deals with vampirism, embodied by her hero, le Compte de Saint-Germain.

Saint-Germain is akin neither to Christopher Lee's Dracula nor Tom Cruise's Lestat. In him there is the gentility, infinite sorrow, eternal loneliness and driving passion portrayed by Gary Oldman in Coppola's film, yet although there is also no loss of ruthlessness, the blood and horror engendered by Dracula is absent within the character of the fastidious and gentle Compte.

Set in Paris of 1743, during the reign of the "Sun King" Louis XV, the novel quickly sets the scene of a time of great contrasts: filth and squalor piled cheek by jowl with fantastic luxury and splendour. Refuse, rats and ordure are hazards on a journey for a nobleman dressed in black velvet, brocade and white lace, wearing a ruby of unimaginable worth at his throat. Prinz Ragoczy of Transylvania keeps an assignation with a group of sorcerers, promising them the alchemical secrets to make diamonds in return for the anonymous purchase of the Hotel Transylvania. Within minutes, an avaricious traitor is exposed, and from then on, while aware of which characters are definitely not to be trusted, we are never quite sure whom we may trust -- other than Saint-Germain.

The innocent and beautiful Madelaine de Montalia makes her debut in the wealthy circles of courtly Paris, attracting prospective suitors, arousing unexpected desire in Saint-Germain and setting in motion the machiavellian designs of the foul and sinister Saint-Sebastien and his dissolute coven of devil-worshippers. Madelaine is a spirited and intelligent young woman, unhappily aware of her duty to marry and in dread of the attendant conventional restrictions. Raised to be devout and demure, she is in ignorance of the depth of her father's former involvement with the satanic circle and his horrific blood oath to Saint-Sebastien, its ambitious and depraved leader. Only the eternal Saint-Germain is fully cognizant of her danger and he reveals his true identity to open her convent-taught mind to the realities of the world as he knows it, so that she may be on guard against the evil hiding under the veneer of well-bred nobility.

I could wish that Madelaine's character had a slightly fuller background -- it seemed barely credulous that a girl of her upbringing, no matter how spirited, should so rapidly accept Saint-Germain's vampirism, simultaneously admitting to emotional desire and capitulating physically to accommodate his needs. Yarbro lavishes detail regarding dress, cuisine and decor and in comparison I felt that her female lead initially insubstantial and somewhat less believable for her conveniently receptive reaction. Having bypassed this anomaly, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, as it unfolded in otherwise precisely detailed action and counter-action, the main plot supported by interwoven sub-plots and the central characters surrounded by an interesting cast of secondary figures.

The final chapters had me riveted, not daring to predict Madelaine's fate, nor even, given the despicably murderous and inventive opposition, that of Saint-Germain. The ending was not as I had anticipated, and although the author seemed once again victim to almost unseemly haste once the main action had occurred, the conclusion was satisfactory and I immediately wanted to reread the book, unwilling to bid adieu to such entrancing characters. Hotel Transylvania is not for the faint of heart, but the terrors it holds are judiciously meted out, and are never prolonged. Yarbro walks the creative tightrope of providing written descriptive detail and handing over to the readers' imagination without faltering. I was delighted to discover she has written a wealth of books featuring Saint-Germain, and I look forward to making his exquisite acquaintance anew.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 25 January 2003

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