The vampire Saint-Germain has already survived two millennia when he finds himself in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Over the following years of political and social turmoil, Saint-Germain is drawn to Olivia, the abused wife of a powerful senator, and becomes embroiled in the corruption of the Roman Senate. Willing to sacrifice anything to rescue Olivia from her brutal husband, Saint-Germain is imprisoned and sentenced to face the most terrible of punishments: the "entertainments" of the Circus Maximus.
Saint-Germain is not a traditional vampire, which makes him all the more compelling; he can go out in sunlight and cross running water as long as he takes certain precautions. He is more compassionate and humane than many of the mortals he encounters, making for a significant dichotomy that underscores the brutality of human life. Olivia is a mesmerizing heroine, strong despite the horrors she has endured, and the details of Roman life are vivid and realistic, from the carnage of the arena to the intrigues of the Senate. Sensitive readers should be aware there is quite a bit of messy violence, true to the time period but disturbing all the same.
This enthralling historical adventure also provides a timely social critique of how far humans will go both to gain power and be entertained. Although not the first in the series, this entry does work as an excellent introduction to a fascinating supernatural hero. Vampire devotees will love this series, and it's highly recommended for fans of historical romance as well. (Apr., 688 pp., $6.99)
Jen Talley Exum