Thursday, January 14, 2010




Paranormal romances and dark urban fantasy novels filled with vampires, werewolves, and every sort of supernatural being capable of being romanticized, continue to fill publisher’s lists with no current end in sight. And if the bookstore adult fiction shelves are full of this fare, the Y/A section is bursting at the seams with a seemingly never ending list of similar series.

As in any other genre, there is a lot of crap – but there is also a lot of excellent writing, and I’ve enjoyed most of my forays into the genre. For me, however, it is interesting to see from where the roots for this explosion of romantic horror spring.

While Anne Rice is perhaps the Mother Goddess of vampire romances, starting with Interview With A Vampire in 1976, I’ve always felt Rice is far more interested in horror than romance – certainly in her earliest vampire tales.

In looking back through my reading journals, I believe the Dark Priestess of paranormal romance to be Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. With over seventy novels to her name, covering almost every genre, Yarbro is a writers’ writer – writing six hours a day, six days a week to produce an average of three to four books a year, along with and one or two short stories and/or essays.

Honored repeatedly for her contributions to the horror genre, her stories of the heroic and historic vampire, the Count Saint-Germain, have truly laid the foundation for today’s paranormal romance explosion.

The first Saint-Germain novel, Hotel Transylvania, appeared in 1978. Set in and around Paris in 1743, Saint-Germain débuts in a story blending history and fiction as Saint-Germain is pitted against Satanists to preserve Madelaine de Montalia from ruin.

When the exquisitely beautiful Madelaine de Montalia falls violently in love with le Comte de Saint Germain, a nobleman of great charm and sophistication, she has no inkling of his terrible, torturous secret. He passionately returns her love and yearns to possess her, but he dares not – for Saint Germain is a vampire.

With the dazzling Parisian society of the mid-eighteenth century as a backdrop, Saint Germain and Madelaine struggle with their own desires while battling a fiendish coven of devil-worshippers who would defile Madelaine's body and destroy her soul.

Saint-Germain is cultured, well-traveled, articulate, elegant, and mysterious. In order to convince the naive but intelligent Madelaine de Montalia that she is in danger, Saint-Germain reveals he is thousands of years old and drinks the Elixir of Life, blood. He also introduces her to the sensual pleasures of his vampiric embrace.

Yarbro has stated she intentionally sought to get as far away as possible from the traditional vampire trope "and still have a recognizable vampire," to use the "vampire as a metaphor for humanism," and establish the vampire's erotic appeal as a shared, mutual intimacy.

Yarbro was the first writer to revise the stereotype so completely and mesh it so fully with romance. She also filtered it through a feminist perspective that both the giving of sustenance and its taking were of equal erotic potency.

With her current novel, Burning Shadows, Yarbro continues her tales of the vampire Saint-Germain. As I’ve been with her since Hotel Transylvania, I’m looking forward to being swept up again.


David Cranmer said...

This one seems like a lot of fun.

Evan Lewis said...

Fine review, Paul. I'd be impressed with Yarbro's three to four books a year had I not recently seen James Reasoner's 2009 total: 16!