As all about him descends into chaos and madness, Xavier must face the grim reality that his Catholic Church has failed its people, his king has failed France, and nothing can stop the bloody revolution that will leave the world breathless and broken. Xavier is neither strong enough nor able to save everyone, but perhaps by saving one person, he can bring a small spark of hope to this benighted time. As tensions rise outside the doors of his family home, so too do the troubles within. His sister is ensorcelled and engaged to a voodoo priest, his brother is torn between his duty to his king and his duty to his family, and Xavier can only watch as his religion becomes a crime worthy of execution.
Thomas, as an American, finds himself fascinated by the rioting, the destruction of the French monarchy, and by the Abbe of a small church. Blonde, angelic, utterly innocent, and good, Xavier calls to Thomas in a way no one else ever has. For a vampire who has come to glut himself upon the evils of the great Revolution, he finds himself hungry for something else every time he looks into Xavier’s eyes. Is it possible for someone so pure to look upon the darkness within Thomas and find him worthy of love?
Catherine, Xavier’s sister, is a young woman educated and strong-willed who supports the ideas of the revolution, though she has no way of fathoming how far her noble cause will fall, nor how much death and destruction it will bring. Opinionated and willful, she soon finds herself under the sway of the dark and charming Marcel whom she has decided to marry on a whim. No matter how much her family warns him against him, no matter that her best friends despise him, she finds she cannot live without him, or without the headache potion he has her drink every night.
Three souls stand on the line between damnation and salvation, three souls reaching for love. In a time of madness, murder, and evil these three, the priest, the vampire, and the revolutionary must face their own demons. For Xavier, it is his curse to lust for men even as he clings to the vows of chastity demanded of him by a church he no longer has faith in. For Thomas, his anger and impatience cause him to take risks, foolish risks that could reveal who and what he is to a superstitious and already violent city. For Catherine, it’s her driving need for freedom, independence, and her need to always be right and leave others in the wrong lead that is leading her down a path of magical slavery. Can love heal every wound and save every doomed soul?
The French Revolution was a violent and confusing time (an understatement, I know) and serves as the backdrop to a story about violence and uncertainty. The author clearly did some research because he is able to get across the uncertainty, the fear, the random and devastating acts of violence that led to acts of murder, rape, torture, and destruction. Sadly, I found the background story of the Revolution to be more interesting than the story between Thomas and Xavier.
Xavier has always known of his attraction to men, something which, while not encouraged, was not as shameful during the 1780s as it would later become. Because of his family’s insistence that he is all things pure and good, in order to please them and because he was drawn to much of the theology of the church, Xavier became a priest. The struggle with his sexuality was a demon to overcome, his personal sacrifice to God, and by taking the vow of chastity he was then able to push away his desires and hide behind his robes. All was going to plan until he met Thomas.
Thomas is a vampire, drawn to the city by the easy pickings. In accordance to the Vampiric Council’s ethic, he may only feast upon the criminals and never the innocent. It’s easy enough in France to find those who deserve to die, but — while hunting one night — Thomas first meets Xavier. He follows the young man back to his parish and the two of them talk. They spend hours in conversation and walks, quickly becoming friends, even though Thomas wishes they’d be able to be more than friends. Xavier, though, is unwilling to break his vows even as he confesses that he loves Thomas, which angers him enough that he strikes Thomas so severely that his sister comments he has “broken bones in (his face).” Xavier, rather than risk their opinion of Thomas, blames it on an attack by an angry mob.
As an Abbe of the church, no matter how beloved he is by his people, Xavier is constantly at risk of being hauled away to one of the many ‘trials’ and either exiled or murdered. Even in the early days before the Reign of Terror, it was not popular to be a priest, even one in such a humble church as Xavier’s. This becomes more and more of an issue as several nuns come to the house — which Catherine has turned into a salon — to hide. While Xavier mourns the loss of Thomas and discovers the joys of being drunk, he and the sisters do what they can in a makeshift hospital, with Xavier still holding a discrete mass or two, baptizing infants and attending to what few members of his flock are able to come.
Thomas seeks for help from his sire, Anthony. Thomas is certain that Xavier is his soul mate, his one true love, and he wants nothing more than to turn Xavier there and then in order to protect him, to have him, and to spend eternity with him. Anthony suggests caution, even suggests that Thomas — who is only a young vampire at 65 — let Xavier go. That he let a few years go by and look again for a companion when he’s older, calmer, and less emotional. Needless to sa,y that goes over as well as as the Revolution itself.
Catherine is a modern woman living in the 1780s. She’s sharp, clever, headstrong, and educated in much the same way her brothers were. While Michel went to serve in the army and Xavier in the church, the running of the household and its finances fell to her. She’s gotten used to the power and, when Michel informs her that he’s arranged a marriage for her, throws a tantrum. She refuses to acknowledge his right to control her and goes to find someone else for herself, a middle class merchant who has more money than rank. She does this to piss off her brother and spite convention and ends up in thrall to Marcel, a half-trained witch doctor who wants her money — and her body — for himself. No matter that her entire family — everyone she knows and respects — tells her he’s using her, she won’t hear it. Because if she did listen she’d be admitting they were right and she’d be nothing but a weak, foolish girl. It’s as much her vanity and pride as the potion Marcel gives her that keeps her bound to him, a pliant and obedient toy. Unfortunately, that’s me reading between the lines since Catherine and Marcel have very few scenes together; almost as few as she and Michel.
Because the revolution takes place over roughly 10 years, so does this book. It starts in the early days at the dawn of the revolution and ends a little before Napoleon comes to power. It helps make sense of the long, slow relationship between Thomas and Xavier as the priest must make the decision to renounce his vows or keep them. To choose to leave the church for Thomas — because Xavier will not and cannot just break his vows and remain a priest — or to stay within the church and give up not only his love for the other man, but their friendship as well. However, this also means that Catherine is in thrall to Marcel for ten years. Marcel doesn’t seem to mind a long engagement because he’s never pushed for marriage or even mentioned it; he just shows up to give her powder, threaten her family, and then vanish.
The biggest problem with this book are its characters. Xavier is just … perfect. A saint who loves everyone. He likes the good parts of the church and hates the parts everyone knows are bad. He’s small and pale and innocent and everyone loves him. Thomas is the vampire with the heart of gold whose only flaw is his temper. They’re so two dimensional and paper thin that I found it very hard to care about them at all. I wanted more of the Revolution and less of the love story. Even Marcel, the supposed villain, was so insubstantial that I forgot about him for parts of the book. He’s lurking in Paris but hiding from Catherine, who he has under his thrall because … reasons? I have no idea what his motivations were since he wasn’t hurting for money, didn’t care about Catherine, and was happy enough murdering random people on the street. And, just on a personal note, the lack of research into Voodoo while using it as Marcel’s power source was a bit annoying. If you just wanted him to have an evil magic, why pick an actual religion that’s already been the subject of witch hunts and demonizing?
The writing started off very, very choppy. There were commas everywhere, awkward sentences and sentence structure, but it soon smoothed out and made for easier reading. Even so, there were issues with word choice (such as vial instead of vile, strange instead of stranger, using the incorrect your) scattered throughout the book and so much emotion! There isn’t a moment of amusement that isn’t a roar of laughter, or people holding in their sides, or bent over with laughter. No chuckles, no smiles, no simple laughs. Unless, of course, it’s a giggle. Xavier has never in the whole book laughed, but he giggles. A lot. At the same time, during these tumultuous times, there is no sadness in this story. No mournful silences, no despair. But there is a lot of weeping. Every chapter (almost) there is someone weeping. Sometimes two people are weeping and sometimes it’s everyone in the scene. No tears, no heartbreak. Just weeping. The book is a more than a bit manic depressive.
Owing to the violent times and the actual events taking place in Paris during the Reign of Terror, there are mentions of rape, murder, and violence. They are not often gratuitous, but they are there. There are also four or five pointed mentions of vampires castrating people by ripping their testicles off and of Thomas tearing out someone’s internal organs and leaving them to slowly die of blood loss that do feel a little over done. Again, the Revolution was a horrible and horrific time so some brutality is to be expected.
I wish I had liked this book more. I found the setting fascinating because the time period was fascinating. The relationship between Thomas and Xavier felt honest and realistic, even though I was unable to connect with either character, but Catherine’s whole story line felt pointless. Maybe it if had had more to do with her as a person and less to do with Marcel who, again, barely showed up, it would have been better. A woman, alone, running a salon, and hiding nuns in her basement during the Revolution was interesting enough! Making her a victim so that she could be rescued by her brother just made it boring. And … that’s my final thought on this book. I was not caught by it, I was bored by it. It’s not horrible, and once you get past the first chapter the writing gets better; but I didn’t find it to be good, either. If it had had a stronger focus and stronger characters I think it could have been a decent book.