This book is part of a series about an almost-immortal vampire, Olivia Clemens; Olivia's stories are a spin-off from Yarbro's main series about the vampire St. Germain. Those who already know that they like vampire novels, anything at all that features a vampire, can skip this review, and likewise, those who hate the whole idea of vampires can skip it. But for those trying to decide whether or not to read more of this genre, or whether the one vampire novel you've already read was a fluke, it may help if we have some ways to categorize these novels. Thus: BunRab's Standard Vampire Elements. First, most authors of vampire novels approach from one of the main genres of genre fiction; thus their background may be primarily in romance, or in science fiction/fantasy, or in murder mysteries, or in horror. Second, many vampire novels come in series; knowing whether this is one of a series, and where in the series it falls, may be helpful. Then we have some particular characteristics: - Is the vampire character (or characters) a "good guy" or a "bad guy"? Or are there some of each? - Are there continuing characters besides the vampire, through the series? - Are there other types of supernatural beings besides vampires? - Can the vampire stand daylight under some circumstances, or not stand daylight at all? - Does the vampire have a few other supernatural characteristics, many other supernatural characteristics, or none other than just being a vampire? (E.g., super strength, change into an animal, turn invisible) - Does the vampire have a regular job and place in society, or is being a vampire his or her entire raison d'etre? - Does the vampire literally drink blood, or is there some other (perhaps metaphorical) method of feeding? - Is sex a major plot element, a minor plot element, or nonexistent? - Is the entire vampire feeding act a metaphor for sex, part of a standard sex act, or unrelated to sex? - Is the story set in one historical period, more than one historical period, or entirely in the present day? - Does the story have elements of humor, or is it strictly serious? - Is the writing style good, or is the writing just there to manage to hold together the plot and characters?
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's series about the vampire St. Germain starts from the historical romance genre, and is a continuing series. Olivia, the heroine of this book, is a woman of ancient Rome whom St. Germain has turned into a vampire; this book is one of several written about her rather than about St. Germain. St. Germain and Olivia are definitely good guys, using the knowledge they've gained in hundreds of years of living to help others. There are a few characters that continue from book to book besides these two. Ghouls are the only other supernatural characters who appear in these books. Olivia can stand daylight with the right preparations. She has unusual strength, but not limitless, and unusual wisdom, but there are no other overt magic powers. Olivia has an occupation of being an aristocrat and landowner, insofar as that was a full-time occupation through most of history. Yarbro's vampires do not literally drink blood; they feed on emotions, usually during erotic experiences, but sex is nonetheless only a minor plot element, rare and very discreet. The series as a whole covers 3000 years, from ancient Egypt to the modern day; each book is set in a span of a particular period, usually 20-30 years. The writing is serious, but not self-important; the writing quality is excellent, and Yarbro's abilities as an author qualify these books as literature rather than "merely" genre fiction.
Crusader's Torch is set in 1189 C.E., more than a millenium after Olivia has first entered the life of a vampire. The scenes include the Middle East during one of the Christian Crusades; the orders of the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar are major players in the story. The gist of the story is Olivia's struggle to get out of Tyre and back to Rome. Women are not held in high regard in this period, and Olivia's independence offends a highly placed Hospitaler; among the "good guys" are a Templar who gets thrown out of his order on suspician of leprosy. We catch a glimpse of an offshoot Christian sect, as we do in some of the other St. Germain novels, one based on absolute love and acceptance. Someday I would like to see Yarbro write an alternate history in which that is the main path the Catholic Church took... meanwhile, the details of sin and penance as conceived of in the 12th century provide a story that everyone who likes the series will enjoy, and those who haven't read the rest of the series will nonetheless find this a fine historical novel.