Sustenance (a novel of the Count Saint-Germain) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (book review).

March 9, 2016 | By | Reply More

A well-formed character can be a friend, not only to their creator but to the reader. Both want to continue the dialogue that can be created in a skilfully written series of books. This can also be a handicap. Most characters reside in their own world and, while it is often enjoyable to explore the environment, there comes a point when there is nowhere else to go, when scenes, events begin to be repeated. For the reader, this might not be an issue. The author has a different problem. It may be that they want to move on to other areas but is constrained, perhaps by the publisher demanding more of the same, because it is popular. Occasionally, a writer will fund a way of combining both.


Vampire fiction has changed over the years since Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ graced the parlours of Victorian England. No longer is the vampire totally evil and his/her qualities have changed to suit the needs of the story. The best are internally consistent. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro created the ‘Compt de Saint-Germain’ twenty-six novels ago. ‘Sustenance’ is the twenty-seventh. Not all the novels are directly his adventures but relate to characters he knows well, such as the Roman, Olivia. He and they are vampires and combine the old school thinking with the modern conveniences. He has no reflection and has issues with running water and sunlight but not enough to stop him as long as he has his native earth in the soles of his boots. Garlic, holy water and crosses are not a problem. He reckons to have been born over four thousand years previously, the exact number depends on which novel you are reading. To get freshness into the novels, Yarbro doesn’t confine herself to one particular epoch.

This particular novel focuses on Europe after the Second World War and, in particular, with a group of Ex-Pat Americans who have been hounded out of their country by the communist hunting, fledgling FBI for minor infringements. Now calling himself Grof Szent-Germain, our vampire comes into contact with them through one of his companies, Eclipse Publishers. Charis Treat is the first to offer him a manuscript which he agrees to publish. He is attracted to her but she has a husband and sons still in America. Then, as happened in so many documented cases, her husband decides to divorce her in order to protect his reputation. Thus the relationship between Charis and Szent-Germain is allowed to develop.

Alongside the issues and problems experienced by the Ex-Pat Coven, the novel also follows an operative of the CIA. This is a relatively new organisation and is desperately trying not to become just another branch of the FBI. Lydell Broadstreet is trying to keep his head above water for other reasons. To explain why he took himself off for a long lunch at a remote restaurant he invents a contact, Baxter, who did not show up. In the way of small lies, this one escalates and he tries to link in the fictitious Baxter with the investigations he is supposed to be following up, this being the search for a real communist agitator, D.G. Atkins. Broadstreet hopes he can find out where he is by inserting an agent into the Ex-Pat’s Coven.

Most of the characters are people who are fighting for survival. In some cases, it is to make a productive life away from home, for others to prevent the organisation they work for being submerged by other factors. The title is cleverly chosen. Szent-Germain gets sustenance from the blood of a woman in the throes of ecstasy. Sometimes he visits them at night and all they will remember is an erotic dream, but the best nourishment is given freely and with knowledge. For the members of the Ex-Pats Coven, sustenance may come as news or money from home but each is looking for ways of earning it on their own. For Broadstreet, excuses to eat quality food on expenses is part of it but he also has to sustain the fiction he has created. His boss, Channing, needs to sustain the fiction of American communists plotting against their homeland if he wants his CIA to survive as a separate entity.

Like all the books in this series, part of the fascination is the historical background. This is conveyed not just by the scenes between characters but in the letters that carry the narrative from event to the next. It gives the reader a point of view that the actors cannot have. The history is authentic, the writing excellent and, unlike so many series like this, it can be read without any knowledge of earlier volumes. If you like history and vampires, try any of the books in this series, it will be worth your while.

Pauline Morgan

March 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge. 480 page hardback, 2014. Price: $29.99 (US), $34.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3401-5)

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Category: Books, Horror

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