- Publisher: St Martiin's Press; Book Club edition (1981)
- ASIN: B002L33NAI
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,443,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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, and unusual wisdom, and is an "alchemist" but there are no other 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. In most of the series, sex is treated discreetly and is rarely described; this book, however, features more sex, and more blood, than most. 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.
Path of the Eclipse is really two separate novellas, with a bridge between them. St Germain starts out in China, in the first story. As China grows suspicious of foreigners, due to the incursions of the Mongols (it's the early 13th century), St. Germain finds it prudent to leave the city, and travel to an outpost. There, he is to help defend a fortress from the Mongols. The fortress is unusual in having a female Warlord. This section of the book is a good read for the plot, the strategy, and the unusualness of the setting. Where many of us are somewhat familiar with the historical setting of the series when they take place in Europe or the Americas, we tend to be far less familiar with the history of the Orient. There are fascinating details here. There is also a "side" story about some traveling Nestorian Christians, with hints of Yarbro's opinions as to how Christianity might alternatively have developed.
After the fortress falls, finally, St. Germain escapes by way of Tibet, where along the journey he meets a child Master at a Buddhist lamasary. This is one of the very few occasions in the series where there is any hint of the supernatural other than the vampire characters and their ghoul servants.
The second story in the book has St. Germain arriving in India. He is caught up in the machinations of a cult of Kali, goddess of destruction. While there are interesting parts of this story, it is also one of the bloodiest in the entire series; the literal bloodbath that takes place is gruesome. I did NOT enjoy most of this story because of its explicitness.
I was somewhat disappointed by this book; it started well and ended well, but dragged rather badly in the middle. Really, it should have been two separate books, as there were two female romantic leads, one early, one late, and my biggest complaint with the book is the abrupt death of the apparent female lead a third of the way into the book; the character deserved better treatment. Mind you, I don't object to the concept of Saint-Germain losing a lover; I understand that it's part of the character concept; an immortal vampire suffers a continuing series of losses of that sort throughout his life. But the character was good enough to deserve a climactic death at the end of a book, rather than being disposed of in mid-book, in a senseless and wasted death. And the second female lead was an interesting enough character, also, to deserve a book all her own, rather than first appearing 2/3 of the way through the book.
On the other hand, both of these characters were nice deviations from the "damsel in distress" pattern we'd seen previously for Saint-Germain's lovers, and that's a definite plus as far as I'm concerned (although if part of what you like about the series is the "hero rescues damsel in distress" shtick that we've seen previously, you may be disappointed in this one).
Then again, back on the negative "hand", the villains in this book are even more cardboard than we've seen previously in the series; there's nothing wrong with having stories with clear-cut divisions between good and evil, as Yarbro consistently does, but it helps if your villains are at least fleshed out sufficiently that the reader can fathom what it is that THEY think they're accomplishing. It was one thing to have the Mongol hordes be an implacable, mindless force (certainly, that's how they were perceived by their enemies historically) but the worshipper of the goddess Kali was simply a nutcase, with no more rationale given for her evil than that she was crazy, and no rationale at all given for WHY she was crazy. Now, I realize that there ARE people like that in the world, but it's a cheap out to use in fiction. Generally, even unabashedly evil characters should have SOME reasonable explanation for their actions; this book is the weakest of the series so far in that regard.
On the other hand again, I really liked the ending. (I can't tell you more without making for an inexcusable spoiler.)
As you can no doubt tell, I had mixed emotions about this book, so a three star rating seems about right.