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250 pages, Kindle Edition
First published August 1, 1989
'Sunglasses After Dark' is the first book in a book vampire series. Published in 1989, it was one of the books that kicked off the Urban Fantasy genre. It was a debut novel that was so ground-breaking that it won the Bram Stoker award.
Sad to say, I'd never heard of it. I was just looking for a book written or set in the 1980s that I could use for my Stranger Things Halloween Bingo square. I didn't have particularly high expectations. I thought a thirty-two-year-old book that kicked off a genre would be showing its age and be mainly of historical interest, but 'Sunglasses After Dark' strutted onto to stage of my imagination with all the bravado of the young tough and talented and demanded my attention, looking me in the eyes and saying with confidence that felt like a threat, 'My name is Sonja Blue and you've never met anyone like me'.
I gulped the novel down in two days. It was fresh and clever and filled with casual, graphic violence and transactional sex that felt raw and real rather than contrived and exploitative. Sonja Blue lives in a world splattered with blood, much of it her own work. Sonja Blue lives a heartless, vicious, violent world so completely lacking in glamour or romance that it makes other vampire books seem like Disney World.
The story starts in classic gothic style with the nightshift warder at the mental asylum who, hardened by decades of experience, is unafraid of the patients on the Danger Ward. Except for the women kept in an unfurnished padded cell, who wears nothing but a straightjacket and who scares him even in his dreams. The book launches into rapid, violent action that unleashes the strange woman on the world and introduces us to the two identities who share a body, one a teenage American heiress and the other a predator who is always hungry. Then we meet the baddy. A woman evangelist in a blonde wig and a gold lamé pantsuit who has her own TV channel where she performs miracle cures live on air. The pace slows a little, the timeframes widen and the geographic settings become more exotic as we get the backstory of both women both of which are filled with abusive men, violence, rage and more than human abilities. From there we build to the inevitable ballet of hate-driven violence as Sonja Blue confronts who she is and seeks retribution.
As I read the novel I was struck by how its strengths were those of a graphic novel: vivid original, uncompromising images, strong lead characters each with a distinctive style, strange creatures in exotic settings, a fast-moving plot, an atmosphere of evil and corruption and spectacular bloody carnage at regular intervals. Sonja Blue would have been at home on the pages of '2000AD' in the Eighties.
The books were turned into graphic novels in 2014 with stunningly stylish artwork by Stanley Shaw.
'Sunglasses After Dark' was a fun ride from beginning to end and a great start to a new series. I'll be reading the other three books in the coming months.