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Sustenance
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Tor, $29.99, 480pp
Published: December 2014

I’ve been railing about Yarbro’s last few St. Germain stories; but, faithful reader that I am, I keep going back. And, finally, I’m glad I did.

This story is closer to contemporary times than she’s gone before except for a couple short stories. It takes place in Paris around 1950; after WWII and during the communist-paranoia and Red-hunting caused by Herbert Hoover and Joe McCarthy. St. Germain is consolidating his holdings all over Europe in the aftermath of the war when he makes the acquaintance of a group of American ex-patriates who had to flee persecution in the US. Much of the common lore of this time focused on the FBI’s persecution of Hollywood – actors, writers, directors and so on; but plenty of other disciplines suffered; in this case, a group of academics from universities all over the US. In most cases, their only crime was a sympathy towards the USSR, or a history of shared efforts during the war years when the USSR was an ally. But the FBI and the fledgling CIA see a communist under every bush and the CIA is convinced that someone in the group is actively collaborating with the USSR.

Into this volatile mix comes our own St. Germain who contracts with a female professor to publish her book. Through her, he makes the acquaintance of the group and offers what help he can by publishing their work. As these things tend to go, he has a great attraction towards the woman, Charis, but it takes a long time before she acknowledges her own feelings towards him. In the meantime, an ambitious CIA operative invents a plot to tie to the group and prove his hypothesis. Unbeknownst to him, however, St. Germain has already cultivated a respected reputation with the FBI and CIA by his resistance efforts during the war and his efforts to aid refugees.

I’ve complained that since Yarbro keeps our favorite vampire in the past and hops around history, she is unable to create any continuity in his evolution, so to speak, of maintaining his humanity. It also makes it impossible to refer to events that might contradict already published stories. The last few books have frustrated me as they felt stagnant. But this one allowed her open ground to create a new history for St. Germain. I think what I appreciated most in this story, was St. Germain’s observations of his own reactions when he was truly aroused to cause mayhem; the most recent in his memory was his retaliation against those who murdered his ward, Laisha. He observed that while it may give him some small satisfaction by way of revenge, the long-term toll on his fragile grasp of his humanity was too dangerous. I also enjoyed his conversations with Charis as he attempted to gently guide her to an understanding of what he is and what she might become. I think I could detect a bit of weariness in what had to be a repeat of similar conversations over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. She was not, unfortunately, that compelling a character – compared to Madelaine or Olivia, most will go wanting. It was a bit of shock when he told Charis exactly how many of his blood were still in existence; I would have guessed many more.

Overall, the gentle reader should not come to these stories expecting an exciting plot. What Yarbro does is give us peeks into an incomprehensible world where St. Germain and his friend, Rogerian, attempt to have a life – undetected. She also shared a bit of the exercises they must go through to create their own identities. While one might be inclined to think it must be rather routine by now, it is not. Each era has its own pitfalls. Although, her style could be off-putting to the new reader, episodic as it is, peppered with correspondence, I still recommend the series. I would, though, recommend the new reader start with the earlier works and work forward. ~~ Catherine Book

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