A Dangerous Climate is the 20th novel by author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro detailing an episode in the very long life of her benign vampire hero, Count Ferenz Ragoczy Saint-Germain. It would be understandable, after so many books, if the Saint-Germain stories fell into a pattern. Having long outlived the Etruscan civilization of his birth, Saint-Germain is the eternal outsider, making temporary homes for himself until xenophobia and suspicion force him to move on. When he does, he usually must leave behind the female lovers he has trusted and helped. Despite this repeating motif, the Saint-Germain novels have taken a variety of forms. In an interview for Blogcritics in May, 2008, Yarbro said that her hero surprised her in the fifth novel, Tempting Fate, “and he can still surprise me now.” Saint-Germain proves her right in several ways in A Dangerous Climate. I’ve been a fan of Yarbro’s Count for thirty years, and I found this outing one of the most enjoyable in the series.
The foundation of every Saint-Germain novel is a vivid and meticulously researched portrait of one or more times and places in world history, often one that is not commonly presented in fiction. A Dangerous Climate (Tor: September 30, 2008) takes us to the year 1704 and the founding of the Russian city of Saint Petersburg (Leningrad from 1924 to 1991) at the mouth of the Neva River on the Baltic sea.
Piotyr Alexeievich Romanov, six feet, eight inches tall and known to history as Tsar Peter I or Peter the Great, reigned from 1689 to 1725. He was an energetic and progressive ruler who forcibly dragged Russia from the Medieval into the early modern age. An absolute monarch, he utilized Draconian tactics to achieve his ends. He even mandated that nobles shave their beards and dress in European style clothing. His tour de force, the city of Saint Petersburg, was built in a decade, thanks to the massive mobilization of workers and resources that Piotyr ordered to labor on it. Enthralled with Dutch culture, Piotyr gave his city a Dutch name, Sankt Piterburkh, and referred to himself by the Dutch name Piter.
A Dangerous Climate is set at the beginning of this endeavor, when the marshes and bogs at the river mouth were still being drained and the city itself was being hammered together as fast as possible from wood, soon to be replaced with stone. Workers, many of them convicts and prisoners of war, died by the hundred in the harsh weather, while upper class artisans, architects, engineers, and other specialists enjoyed spartan comforts at best. Piotyr “was determined to create a Baltic Amsterdam,” Yarbro says in her “Author’s Notes” to the novel. But like all pioneers (voluntary and otherwise), the first residents of Sankt Piterburkh lived, as Yarbro puts it, “in conditions that resembled a survival camp in a construction zone.”