It is 1530, and Saint-Germain has returned to Italy, specifically to Venice, despite the fact that the last time he was in Italy, he was forced to flee by the excesses of one of the Roman Officials, who sought to coerce him into an endless series of bribes just to ensure his home and business interests weren't taken from him. He is counseled against returning to Italy by Olivia, one of his former lovers, and by his manservant, Ruggier.
He lives under the name of Franzicco Ragoczy di Santo-Germano, and he has set himself up in business in Venezia, and in what will eventually become Germany as well. He has become a patron for a musician, a female musician named Pier-Ariana Salier, and is her lover as well. Not only does he support her, keeping her in a large house with a music studio, but he is committed to publishing her music through his book publishing business, which also publishes many other books as well. This requires making nice with the Venetian officials who must approve any works published in the city, but who wish to prevent any printer from having a monopoly on the trade. Especially one, who, like di Santo-Germano, is not a native of Venezia or Italy.
Di Santo-Germano strives to be perfectly correct in all he does, both officially and as a host to the churchmen and fellow merchants he hosts at his house. But his very generosity is attracting the attention of a Cardinal of the Church, and he sets his nephew to following and keeping an eye on di Santo-Germano, along with another, more practiced spy of the church. The nephew is no great shakes as a spy, however, and one of di Santo-Germano's servants catches wind of this man who is following him, and warns his master.
In an effort to get more dirt on the foreign merchant with so much money, the nephew contacts the owner of a gambling house in Venezia. In fact, the nephew. Camillio, knows a bit too much about gambling houses, having fallen prey to gambling debts, from which his uncle had to buy him free. Now, he is pledged to serve his uncle for a year, and if he does well, the uncle will take him into service, allowing him to restore his name, and his fortune. But if he falls into similar trouble again, his uncle will cast him off and let him suffer the consequences of his misdeeds.
Camillio is set to work with Basileo Cuor, a much more accomplished spy, on the "problem" of di Santo-Germano. But Camillio's failure to remain unnoticed turns him into a true enemy of di Santo-Germano, and he goes far above and beyond the call of duty in his zeal to bring di Santo-Germano down.
And when di Santo-Germano is forced to travel to Germany to sort out his business dealings there, his lover, Pier-Ariana Salier, is frantic and morose that he will abandon her to the vagaries of fate, having forgotten about her the moment he leaves the city. He assures her that this will not be so, that he is leaving a great deal of money with his business manager and that he has ordered the man to ensure she wants for nothing while he is gone. She cries, but eventually becomes resigned to losing him for a period of time.
He leaves the city, guarded by Ruggier and a troop of Condottieri. They escort him to Bruges, where he attempts to sort out problems with his printing and bookbinding business. He becomes acquainted with one of his female authors, whose brother is in trouble with the church. He helps her out with her brother, providing a place for her to stay, and her brother as well, and he moves on to Amsterdam, where he owns more businesses. When he finally returns to Venezia, a year has passed, and he returns to disaster.
The man he put in charge of his house, and his funds, Emerenzio, has embezzled the lot, and worse, has even gambled away most of the furnishings that di Santo-Germano left in the house. The funds have gone to gambling, and to paying off his gambling debts, and the man who owns the house at which the money was lost is the same man that Camillio approached to try and find out more dirt on di Santo-Germano. Can Santo-Germano replace what was lost, rescue his lover, and bring the culprits responsible to justice without being forced to flee Venezia? Or will the corruption of the church and state finally do him in?
I've read a lot of Saint-Germain stories, and since I have read many of the older stories that take place in time periods closer to the Modern Day (Tempting Fate, for one, which takes place in the 1940's, mostly, and the short story in the Saint-Germain Chronicles which has him running a Dude Ranch in the 1970's), I no longer wonder if he will survive in these stories. We know he does, that's a given. The question is, how much will he be forced to lose, and what will happen to the women that he comes to know and becomes the lover of?
And I've been annoyed that lately, anyone who Saint-Germain becomes lovers with meet a bad end at the end of the book. Not necessarily through the problems that occur in the book, but for reasons that seem totally unrelated to story. As those lovers don't survive until the modern day, they must simply die, usually by reasons tossed off in a few lines at the end of the story. This one is blown up in an explosion on a ship. that one ends up never crossing over and gets married off against her will, or is burned to death... It's depressing to read a lovely romance, and then at the end of the book Pfft! The girl dies, end of story. This is particularly disheartening to read after seeing the affection and love that the girl has for Saint-Germain. And yet, it still happens.
But aside from that, the Saint-Germain books are always interesting to read, and contain lots of history about their times and places- some of it quite astonishing and surprising, and always interesting to read, no matter if Saint Germain is called Di Santo-Germano, San Giehman of what have you. These books combine the best history with interesting human stories and love stories, and this one is no different. You'd hardly know they were vampire stories except for his sexual practices, and needing his home earth to move around in daylight. Oh, and he never eats or drinks. But you can enjoy his stories as works of history and nothing else.
I loved this book, was sad to see Pier-Ariana Salier die at the end of the book, and loved the politics of both the church and Venice. If you enjoy reading about fictional characters reacting to the very real changes that came about in politics and society, these books will be something you will really enjoy. And if you enjoy your vampire stories taking place in real history, you'll enjoy that, too. But the books focus on the history more than the vampirism, so this might not be your cup of tea if you just want to read a vampire romance. Highly recommended and enjoyable.