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Blood Roses    by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro order for
Blood Roses
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 1999 (1998)
Hardcover, Softcover
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Blood Roses continues the saga of the vampire, Ragoczy, the Count Saint-Germain. This is the first I have read of the series, and I would recommend starting with an earlier book for the full background. At this stage in his career, Ragoczy is a benign seigneur in 14th-century France, concerned to ameliorate the too brief lives around him. He has previously acquired skills with herbs and healings in centuries of study at the Temple of Imhotep in Egypt, but is constrained in their application by the distrust surrounding him.

Ragoczy is an outsider in the village of Orgon in Provence, viewed with suspicion by its tax collecter and priest. He draws his sustenance through erotic encounters in the dreams of women in the nearby village. He treats his tenants and servants fairly, but even this is a cause for suspicion. As the Black Death (the Great Dying) draws close, Ragoczy is targeted as a scapegoat and departs to seek a new haven, carrying chests of his 'native earth' (which he apparently needs to survive) with him.

Though the story developed slowly, I found the historical context of this tale totally fascinating. The author fills in horrifying details such as the common burning of cats to avert the disease - which of course had the opposite effect, as the cats were no longer available to eliminate the rat carriers of the plague. Aside from his long-lived servant Rogres, the protagonist is very alone through most of the tale, a realistic state for someone who has lived through countless ages. As his friend Olivia writes 'I feel I am a leaf on a fast moving river. Other leaves fall into the water only to be left on the shore while I am swept along.'

Late in the book Ragoczy meets and falls for Heugenet and they enjoy an idyllic time together at her (absent) husband's estate of Mon Gardien. He reveals his secret to her, heals the ill and practices alchemy until the tides of suspicion arise once more. Blood Roses impressed me as an historical account, and also for its unusual treatment of its vampire hero in a Middle Ages world of suspicion and bigotry. Its ending was satisfactory and managed to surprise.

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