'A Feast in Exile' doggedly follows a formulaic pattern that has been established in the last four or five books. Saint Germain is living in India in the 14th century as Tamerlane (Timur-i-link) is invading from the north and the current Raj is putting in place taxes and restrictions on foreigners (the Count among them) within the city. There are two love interests, one extent as we begin the book and one the Count meets as he flees his home ahead of the invading army. Circumstances force them together in their journey south and to hoped-for safety.
Like many of the reviewers of Ms. Yarbro's books, I have read every St. Germain book, plus the three books based on Olivia and the first Madelaine book 'Out of the House of Life'. The first five books, beginning with 'Hotel Transylvania' were seductive, fascinating reads that I eagerly devoured and reluctantly finished because I wanted more. The writing sparkled, the characters were vivid, the dialogue fresh and the plot and characters were deftly tied to the political circumstances of the time period making the first five books an exquisite, sumptuous delight. I would highly recommend new readers of the Saint Germain series start with Hotel Trans and continue on with the next four books.
By constrast, 'A Feast in Exile' took me 6 months to slog through, reading a chapter here or there then putting it aside in favor of something more engaging. I finished the book out of a sense of loyalty to the character of Saint Germain more than anything.
Ms. Yarbro's last four novels have ceased to engage the imagination. Her longtime fans know the Count survives well into the 1970's, at least, if they've read 'The Saint Germain Chronicles'. And so, where the plot would normally revolve around the predicament and survival of the hero, it now must revolve around the predicament and survival of the secondary characters and their relation to the Count. For this to work the reader must be engaged and interested in the secondary characters, identifying with them and feeling they, too, have a stake in the success, failure, survival or death of those characters. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case with this series.
Ms. Yarbro's characters fall into three categories without fail: a) noble suffering martyr, b) cunning, cruel adversary (ultimately defeated) and c) cringing or offensive 'atmosphere' character. 'Feast' is chock-a-block with all three categories and no relief in sight, from the hand-wringing, risk-adverse business partner to the offensive spies that watch Saint Germain to the cruel Raja who tries to use the Count under mistaken (and somewhat murky) circumstances. Granted only Garrison Keillor has the knack of making ordinary folks interesting but certainly the medieval world had other people not so broadly drawn as to be obviously good or obviously evil? Were medieval people everywhere so selfish, suspicious and hysterical as to immediately suspect every stranger they saw? Was simple, common charity and openness so lacking?
The secondary characters are caricatures, broadly drawn stereotypes rather than real human beings. Attempts are made, here and there, to give the characters a bit of color or interest but once you are introduced to a new character it only takes a few lines to 'categorize' he or she within the framework of the story.
Like the characters, the stories have slowly taken on a stale flavor that makes me more and more reluctant to read them. The plot opens with an oppressive, male-dominated society on the brink of persecuting Saint Germain. A tortured (either mentally, physically or both) heroine captures his interest and his heart. She is also about to be or already is oppressed by the society. There is the inevitable need of Saint Germain (and possibly the love interest) to leave his home to outrun persecution. The culmination is the ultimate loss of his lover by some tragic means. The only thing that changes is the physical location and the political landscape.
From the beginning of 'Feast' the dialogue is wooden, stilted and repetitive, whether Saint Germain is speaking with his manservant, Roger, with his business partner or with his love interests. This has been a recurring problem through several books so I doubt it is some attempt to represent the manner in which people spoke in 14th century India or any other time period.
The same questions, concerns and themes are discussed ad nauseum by the characters, e.g., his constant reassurance to his second love interest that he won't force himself on her. Given the historical preferences of the Count for strong women who know their own minds (Olivia, Madelaine, Ranegonda) what he could possibly see in the woman he travels with is beyond me. She is callow, inexperienced and weak and her behavior toward him his repellant. Perhaps the old adage 'chicks dig jerks' holds true for ancient, lonely vampires?
'Feast' attempts to use physical movement (the Count's journey south) to simulate movement in the plot. A scene where part of a caravan is swept away by a swift river is so poorly executed that I paused in the middle and did not return to finish the chapter for a week. What little movement Ms. Yarbro achieves swiftly bogs down with repetitive, wooden conversations between the Count and his traveling companions as he reassures them he is no threat. It begins to read like one weary man's apologia to the entire female gender throughout history and that I find repellant as well. A man with his supposed grace, poise and command, who has the knowledge of thousands of years of life and the compassion he has chosen to take on instead of violence is reduced to sniveling.
The only thing that sparkles and continues to sparkle is Ms. Yarbro's research. It is always meticulous and interesting and, despite an error here or there (natural when dealing with so much detail and trying to distill it into a novel) 'Feast' as well as her other novels gives one an interesting encapsulation of a moment in history. But where the historical events played such an integral and fascinating role in the older books, it is now nothing more than a mildly interesting but unengaging backdrop.
The ending of this book seemed to me a stark and disturbing encapsulation of the entire novel - why did St. Germain do any of the things he did for either woman? What did it all mean? Nothing, apparently, and I was left feeling just as empty and dissatisfied. I do not know if I will continue to purchase and read the series. Clearly it has become a somewhat lucrative franchise, thanks to the popularity of vampires, and allows Ms. Yarbro to pursue other writing projects that are less lucrative but more creative. If nothing else, her editor does Ms. Yarbro and her readers a disservice by not pointing out the 'rut' into which these novels have fallen.