Nancy A. Collins
ISBN: 156504-900-4 Order from: Amazon.com
Excellent, visceral treatment of the common vampire motif, notable for the fascinating main character, Sonja Blue; full of violence and occasional flashes of compassion.
Reviewed by David on August 23, 1998
Genre: Fantasy (Vampires)
Synopsis: The life of a most unusual vampire, Sonja Blue, from her near-fatal experience as a victim of a powerful and cruel Noble vampire, to the guardian of human, and non-human future in the world stalked by the magical Pretenders.
Full Review: This collection comprises three previously published novels: Sunglasses After Dark, In The Blood and Paint It Black.
Collins has also published several other novels in the world of Pretenders, some about the vargr (werewolves). I found the Sonja Blue books to be most interesting, however.
Eighteen years ago, Denise Thorne, a pretty blond 16-year old daughter of rich parents, was partying with some of her wild friends in the bars and discos of London, when she disappeared. She was last seen in the company of the aristocratic and elusive Sir Morgan. As time went by, and no ransom demands have been ever published, most people assumed that Denise's body would never be found.
Now, eighteen years later, a 23-year old black-haired woman, identified only as S. Blue, is being held in the high security ward of a very expensive private psychiatric institution. Drugged to her gills, and in a straightjacket, she still managed to bite through the jugular of a male orderly who tried to rape her. She seems catatonic, except she always knows when someone looks at her through the observation whole in the steel door of her cell. What can possibly relate the two women?
The world of the three novels is full of Pretenders. They are demons and vampires, children-eating ogres and afreets, werewolves and seraphs. Some of them are mischievous, some indifferent. Most, however, prey on humans—their flesh and blood, their energy and souls. All hide from the human gaze, all pretend to be human. Only a few sensitive men can see what the Pretender's call the Real World.
Eighteen years ago, the pretty but wild Denise was raped, drained of blood and left for dead by the noble 600-year old vampire Morgan. But her will to live, and the wonders of modern medicine allowed Denise to survive her near-death coma. She woke up without memories, without morals, shifting fingerprints and body parts, with only strange hungers as her guide. It took her years to recover her memories, years on the street as victim, and occasionally predator. Eventually, she took the name Sonja Blue. But she is not alone in her body—because she never died, part of her remained human, with the faint memories and ethics of the poor Denise Thorne. The other part—the vampiric Other is the one that urges Sonja to kill, to drink blood, to savor the pain and hatred around her as she would the finest blood.
Sonja is driven by two desires: revenge on all vampires especially her Sire, Morgan; and to see her parents. However, when she goes back home, she finds treachery and pain. Instead of love and friendship, she finds bullets, drugs and cages. However, no security ward can hold a vampire once it is time to leave. Frustrated in her desire for family, she will concentrate on her other passion: revenge.
This is a story of how Sonja hunts vampires, sometimes with human helpers, sometimes buying more expensive help from demons. It is a story of her struggle with her dark half, the Other, and her deadly dance with the megalomaniac Sire, Morgan, who tries to create a new race of vampires, immune to silver and able to live in sunlight; unaware that the first of that race is already stalking him. A story of how Sonja becomes a guardian to a new hope for human, and non-human future, and the hunter of those who prey on the weak.
In the three novels, there is plenty of violence. The old vampires enjoy pain and suffering almost as much as they enjoys fresh blood. Sonja herself is pretty vicious. While normally concentrating on her enemies, it doesn't take much to anger her, and few people, human or otherwise, survive her anger. If sometimes bystanders get in the way of the battle, well, Sonja rarely sleeps well anyway. Her dark side, the Other, occasionally breaks through, and then her crimes make her much like her vampiric brethren. Sonja's shame on these occasions adds to her suffering, but her angst rarely gets in the way of her self-imposed mission of hunting down the worse predators.
There are lighter moments as well. Sonja does acquire a few friendlier relationships, both romantic and otherwise. She is kind to children, and can feel pity. There are even a few humorous moments with a minor demon. However, on the whole, there is not much humor. The biggest attraction is Sonja herself: implacable, hungry, but compassionate.
One unusual aspect is the amount of pain that the vampires are willing to take. Sonja herself thinks very little of injuries. While not ignorant of firearms—in fact she uses them a few times with great effect when they fall into her hands—she usually prefers to fight hand-to-hand. Several times she is deeply injured by humans wielding firearms or other weapons. While she can recover from most wounds, since a severe head wound would kill her, it is a strange that she rarely tries to fight from a distance or from behind a cover. Her speed and perceptions would make her quite a bit more effective than an average gunman. As it is, had one of her human attackers been more skillful (as in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake), Sonja would be dead.
This seems a common theme in vampire novels—the vampires seem so contemptuous of pain and wounds that they allow a lucky or skillful human kill them by using weapons at close range.
On the whole, this is a fascinating and gripping series for aficionados of Dark Fantasy. There is a bit too much metaphysical and psychic imagery during some of the battles, however the books are filled with suspense, taut action and serious struggle with the dark side.
Universe: The Real World
Includes: Sunglasses After Dark; In the Blood; Paint It Black
Overall: 7; Plot: 6; Characters: 7; Style: 7; World-building: 6.5; Originality: 6.5;
Copyright date 1995, White Wolf Publishing (Borealis), April 1995, Trade paperback, 560 pages
ISBN: 156504-900-4 Order from: Amazon.com