Sunday, January 22, 2012
Review: Sunglasses After Dark
Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometimes, context is everything. Nancy A. Collins wrote this book in the 1980's, after the rise of Anne Rice's pretty-boy, drinking-blood-as-a-metaphor-for-sex vampires. She went against that tide by making Sonja Blue the monstrous killer of older vampire stories, but forged a new path by giving her the tools and motivation to kill other monsters.
The book starts out in an insane asylum, which sets the tone pretty well. The story is told partially through the point of view of the overnight orderly who witnesses her escape. After he's badly beaten by the people who captured Sonja in the first place, she rescues/kidnaps him, and we finally learn what makes the monster tick. She's aware of her human background without feeling attached to it, and she wants to kill the monster who raped her into existence.
There is a lot of rape and gory violence in this book, which made the YA-looking packaging of this novel puzzling. I wouldn't say a teenager shouldn't read this book, but they're not the target demographic. Sonja Blue is not someone people should hope to grow up to be.
Collins manages to make Sonja sympathetic despite her monstrosity mostly through blaming the worst of the violence on an Other deep inside her who begs to be let free to rampage as she pleases. The Other is remorseless, bloodthirsty, and without pity. Sonja, herself, is an amalgam of Denise Thorne, the pretty millionaire heiress who vanished from London in the late 1960's, and the creature forged of rape, near-death, and blood. So by default, Sonja isn't someone you want to snuggle up with.
Collins does not, however, discard the "sexy vampire" thing. Sonja makes men hard when she drains them of blood, and she spends a lot of her first few years as a vampire sleeping with men for money. Through Claude, the orderly's, eyes, we see that she's both fascinating and repellent, and he want to escape her as much as he wants to sleep with her.
An awful lot of this book is spent explaining the background and character motivation. Once I got through that and a rocky start, the rest of the story flew. It seems like Collins needed the first 50 or so pages to figure out just how weird and heady she wanted the story.
Once I got over that bump, though, I did enjoy this book. It was a nice escape from the modern vampires who sneer and pose and don't actually kill anyone. In its day, this book and its sequels served as a bridge between the vampire-as-monster mythos, and the more modern, sympathetic creature of night. If one is looking for a badass lady Blade, one could do a lot worse than to spend some time with Sonja Blue.
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