Midnight Harvest

Reviewed: April 2, 2004
By: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Publisher: Warner Aspect Books
434 pages, $36.95

Before there was Anne Rice there was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who took the traditional vampire story and stood the notion on its head by creating le Comte de Saint-Germain. The Comte, known also as Ferenc Ragoczy, hails from those haunts favoured by the most famous denizen of the undead, but is cut from entirely different cloth. Dracula was a predator; Saint-Germain is a benefactor.

In Yarbro’s vampirology the condition is a kind of disease, and Saint-Germain has had it since the days of the Roman Empire. Her vampires are distressed, but not immobilized, by such things as sunlight and running water, and rest most comfortably over a layer of their native soil, but are not necessarily the evil demons that populate most stories.

Her take on the race is that they are displaced persons who must be constantly re-inventing themselves through their long lives in order to survive. They’re a bit like the immortals in the Highlander series.

Saint-Germain does need blood, which he takes in small quantities only from those who are willing donors. Since the act of feeding is rather like sex in its intensity, most of his special friends are women. He also takes sustenance from shared emotion, and can sustain himself while providing good dreams to sympathetic souls, most of whom never realize what he is doing.

Yarbro’s novels have followed the count on his journeys through history, dipping into his life in 18th century France, ancient Rome, China, and more than a dozen other settings in 16 books that have covered about 3500 years.

In this one, the villains are all human, and Saint-Germain is merely trying to cope with the rise of fascism in Spain, where he has become a successful aviation industrialist, and then in California, where he resettles for a time. In both places he has willing friends to whom he renders assistance. As he travels we see him establishing new business interests and making investments of time and money in ways which only a person with a really long range view of the world could do.

There are moments of extreme tension in Midnight Harvest, but much of the book is like a blend of the romance and the historical novel, with no more actual vampire trappings than are needed to remind us who our main character is. One of the interesting devices used in the book is the series of letters from a variety of individuals which serve to show us how wide the count’s circle of friends is and how he is valued by them.

This was a leisurely read. It was broken into three neat sections and I approached it almost as three stories, setting it down between narratives. I like the character but I hadn’t run across a new book in the series for awhile. This one was a treat.