The Palace is a historical novel featuring a vampire hero. It's the second one in a series written about this character. 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 (although Yarbro is equally well known as a science fiction writer), and is a continuing series. St. Germain is definitely a good guy, using the knowledge he's gained in several thousand years of living to help others. There are a few characters that continue from book to book besides him: the women he turns into vampires, and his "servant," Roger, who is a ghoul. Ghouls are the only other supernatural characters who appear in these books. St. Germain can stand daylight with the right preparations. He has unusual strength, but not limitless; unusual wisdom; and is an "alchemist" but there are no overt "magic" powers. In most of the series, he has an occupation of being an aristocrat, insofar as that was a full-time occupation through most of history; in some books he has another "job" as well. St. Germain does not literally drink blood; he feeds on emotions, usually during erotic experiences, but sex is nonetheless only a minor plot element, rare and very discreet. The series 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.
The Palace is set in Fiorenza (Florence) in the time of the Medicis, and with a Borgia Pope in Rome. So the characters include some of the most famous people of the Italian Renaissance. Although this is only the second book written in the series, Yarbro is clearly setting up more background on St. Germain, for future novels. In this historical period, it's easy to make the Roman Catholic church a villain; the infamous Savonarola is in Florence, setting up his Bonfire of the Vanities. Warning: some torture scenes. On the other hand, there is at least a partly happy ending. One disappointment to me is that St. Germain turns a woman into a vampire in this book, and yet, as far as I can tell, she never again appears in the series, unlike Olivia Clemens. Once someone is "of his blood" I would expect to see them turn up as a recurring character. We can also, after all the harm he causes, count it a happy ending when Savonarola is executed. The bit players in this novel include Leonardo da Vinci - that's the kind of period it was! Good read, gorgeous descriptions of art and architecture, a lot more fun than studying the Renaissance in your Western Civ class!