After Sundown by Amanda Ashley
(Zebra, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7528-6
This book strove mightily to convince me that it was full of danger, dark mystery and complex, tortured characters who should wrench at my heart. Unfortunately, this melodramatic sequel to Shades of Gray might more convincingly have been entitled “Shades of Purple.”

As the book opens, Edward Ramsey is “steeped in black despair.” A vampire hunter from a long line of vampire hunters dedicated to ridding the world of such monsters, Edward is now one of the “evil, abhorrent creatures, forever doomed. Forever damned.”

Apparently, when Edward lay dying after helping to destroy the evil vampire Alexi at the end of the previous book, Grigori Chiavari made Edward into a vampire at the insistence of Grigori’s human wife, Marisa. In spite of Marisa’s reluctance to “accept the Dark Gift” herself, she insisted that Grigori save Edward’s life. Sort of.

Naturally, Edward is horrified to be one of the creatures he has devoted his life to destroying, but he drank Grigori’s blood and “now he craved to taste its like again.”

He reluctantly approaches Grigori for some much-needed vampire lessons. Grigori tells him “few mortals have the strength to resist you. You have the power to mesmerize them, to compel them to do your bidding, to wipe your memory from their minds. You can drink your fill from one and take his memories and his life as well, or you can drink only enough to sustain your own existence. The choice is yours.”

Sounds simple enough, but Edward finds it is not so easy to control his blood lust. He kills one young woman, then nearly kills another he interrupts during a suicide attempt. He is so full of remorse at what he’s done that he decides to “take her home, revive her, strengthen her. And then he would feed, at his leisure.”

Am I the only one who thinks this all sounds uncomfortably like kidnapping and rape?

Although I’m sure the author intended them to be romantic, I found both of the vampire relationships in this book to be more than slightly abusive. Edward coerces Kelly into staying with him until finally she comes to care for him and remains of her own free will. At least, that’s the theory. Sounds a lot more like Stockholm Syndrome to me and I winced every time Kelly professed her love. Both Kelly and Marisa frequently invite their men to drink their blood. This was probably meant to indicate the women’s acceptance and devotion, but after a while it started to make them look more like bottles of juice.

About half way through the book, I had to refer to the cover copy to find out whose story this was supposed to be. Ostensibly, it’s Edward and Kelly’s romance, but nearly half the book is over before their love story, such as it is, gets off the ground. As a result, the first half devotes at least as much time to rehashing the relationship between Marisa and Grigori. This consists mostly of Marisa’s qualms over whether or not to accept the Dark Gift, which, since I did not read the previous book and was not invested in their relationship, engaged me not at all.

In fact, Ms. Ashley constantly cuts the ground out from under her characters’ feet. She insists on referring to vampirism as a “lifestyle” - as in “you can be a man with a peculiar lifestyle, or you can be a monster,” which reduces the Dark Gift to an odd career choice. And Kelly insists on calling Edward “Eddie,” reducing him to a junior Munster. The fact that he’s a self-pitying whiner doesn’t help, either.

The external conflict is equally uncompelling, driven as it is by a female vampire who, finally tired of waiting (for over two hundred years) for Grigori to get over a snit and come back to her, arrives in town to make everyone’s life miserable. She’s evil incarnate, of course, but most of the vampires in the book are innocuous, which renders the entire vampire-hunting furor faintly ridiculous.

Over-written, under-plotted and thinly characterized, I suspect After Sundown will please only the thirstiest devotees of vampire stories.

-- Judi McKee

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