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Darkest Heart is, according to author Nancy.A.Collins, the final Sonja Blue novel ever likely to be written. This seems to be fair enough as Sonja has appeared not just in her own series but also as a cameo in many of Collins' other works over a period of a just over 10 years. In that time, Sonja has undergone many changes and faced many dangers but the biggest threat to her existance has always been herself and her ongoing inner conflict with the vampire parasite that lives inside her that she has named "The Other!"
This latest installment opens with a short story that has previously been published independently but also as one of the opening chapters of Paint It Black; the third Sonja novel. This story has relevance, as will be seen in due course, but also acts as an unhealthy reminder of just what Sonja's "Other" is fully capable of. This in turn is followed by the beginning of Darkest Heart proper as we are introduced to Jack Estes; a vampire hunter who has been labelled "Harker" by the Police authorities who regard his antics as the work of a twisted serial killer. The only things Estes kills are those already dead, undead one might say, but he is not without a purpose. Because Estes seeks the vampire Noble who killed his father and took his mother as consort and will not rest until vengeance has been achieved.
Upon meeting the infamous "Blue Woman" of local legend, Estes believes he has discovered someone with whom he shares similar motives but Sonja has learnt her lesson well and is reluctant to share her life with another human after seeing the damage it can cause. Slowly though, the two begin to form a bond and Sonja comes to realise her destiny is intrinsically linked with that of the vampire hunter. Featuring the return of many of the characters and story arcs that first appeared in previous novels, what follows is a fast-paced gothic cyberpunk vampire tale that runs at a heady pace with little pause for breath. As Sonja's swan song, it is a brilliantly concieved story and one that finally brings everything full circle after the murder of Sonja's Sire, Morgan, in previous novel, Paint It Black.
Much as I have enjoyed this series, as a fan it does feel very much like it is time for it all to come to a close. Sonja, with her trade-mark mirrored sunglasses and tattered gothic style has unfortunately become something of a cliche and the vampire genre has long become saturated with inferior clones of Blue herself. Much as she has had a good run then, I totally respect Collins' wish to complete the character and bring her story to something of a final curtain close. And what a story!
All the elements that have made this series such a success are here; from the presence of the Seraphim to the themes of lost causes and the struggles of the undead to reconcile their lives with that of the modern age not to mention the questions of just what it is to be, ultimately, neither fully human nor, at the same time, fully vampire. At the same time we are presented with an original tale that sees Sonja finally meeting the closest thing she has ever come to her equal and coming up against what is arguably the toughest adversary she has ever had to face.
The climax is fairly open-ended leaving ample room for Collins to return to this world if she ever so desires, but is in no way disappointing. In fact it almost feels like the perfect way to say a fond goodbye to Sonja Blue and her relentless cynicism! As a long-time fan, I am not ashamed to admit to feeling a pang of sadness that there is unlikely to be any more books to come but am happy that the series has concluded before it could become stale; a hazard of the genre as anyone who has read Laurel.K.Hamilton will know from her later Anita Blake novels that started off so promisingly!
If you have not read any of the previous novels, you would be forgiven for being a bit confused as this makes plenty of reference to the earlier books and gives us updates on what has happened to some of the more prevalent characters that have crossed Sonja's path over the years. There is some attempt to discuss her origins and the background behind the series but this is more of a reminder for fans than a serious effort to ingratiate newcomers. Unlike the preceeding book, A Dozen Black Roses, this is no stand-alone; more a way of bringing things all to a close. And if this is to be the last we see of Sonja, then I cannot think of a better way to say goodbye......