The latest entry in Yarbro’s impressive historical fantasy cycle, each independently intelligible, about the saintly vampire Count Saint-Germain (Commedia Della Morte, 2012, etc.).
The year is 1225, just after the Fifth Crusade. An uneasy stalemate prevails between Christianity and Islam, while the seemingly unstoppable Mongol armies of Jenghiz Khan threaten both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Saint-Germain, here known as Sidi Sandjer’min, lives quietly in an Egyptian monastery with his servant, Ruthier, a ghoul and fellow immortal. Sieur Horembaud du Langnor, an arrogant and impetuous crusader from English-ruled Aquitaine, requires a guide for his pilgrimage south to remote Ethiopia, where he must pray at the Chapel of the Holy Grail. Since it is no longer safe for Sandjer’min to remain where he is, he agrees to help. Joining Sieur Horembaud will be a large assorted party, some of whom are fellow penitents: Sieur Horembaud’s shadow, the suspicious friar Frater Anteus; Torquil des Lichiens, a crusader dying of severe sunstroke; a nun, Sorer Imogen, and her young half brother Heneri; the English noblewoman, Margrethe of Rutland; and still others who hope to find valuable relics or gold. Among the dangers faced by the party will be the blistering heat that obliges them to travel at night, the annual rise of the Nile, as well as snakes, scorpions, wild beasts and bandits. For his part, Sandjer’min must translate for them, minister to their various wounds, injuries and illnesses, and try to prevent the pilgrims from turning savagely on each other. Once again, Yarbro offers a wonderfully rich historical backdrop, beautifully framed with a series of explicatory epistles, vividly drawn scenes and a notable cast of characters, to which the meandering plot fails to do justice.
No fangs, capes, hissing or bats: just a wise immortal moved by vast pity.