Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Book Cover Sunshine
Robin McKinley

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion - within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day...

Review:

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should preface this review by admitting that I’m a little bit enamored of Robin McKinley. I’ve been smitten since the day I stumbled across The Blue Sword in my middle school’s library and was blown away by the brilliant adventures of the heroic Harry Crewe. I consider McKinley a story-telling master, and some of her novels rank among my top twenty books of all time.

That being said, the phrase “love is blind” definitely applies here. My adoration for Ms. McKinley is so great that it allows me to be more tolerant of some of her books than others might be. I love Spindle’s End, Outlaws of Sherwood, and The Hero and the Crown so much that I can overlook some of the weaknesses in Deerskin and Pegasus. In fact, I admire McKinley so much that I pretend Chalice was never written, just so I don’t have to accept the ugly truth that I dislike one of McKinley’s novels.

Now that I’ve shared all of this with you, you know to take my review of Sunshine with a grain of salt. I’ve decided to give it a rating of four stars, even though I have a feeling that some of you might read the novel and get rather annoyed with me for having recommended it.

Sunshine is about a 25ish-year-old baker named Rae Seddon, known as Sunshine. Sunshine lives in a world much like our own, except for the presence of magic and creatures who aren’t quite human. These non-humans are referred to as Others, a category that includes demons, Weres, and, most interestingly, vampires.

The vampires in McKinley’s story are a far cry from the brooding, sexy immortals in Twilight. There’s nothing romantic about these guys – they’re dead, alien, and frightening. They’re mesmerizing, true, but they’re also unnatural and unsettling. They smell different, feel different, and look different – and not in a good way. Most people, if they’re lucky, are able to go through life without ever running into a vampire. Sunshine isn’t so lucky.

While walking in the woods near her grandmother’s house, Sunshine is captured by vampires. Rather than killing her outright, they lock her in a room with another vampire, who’s chained, starved, and clearly a prisoner as well. Sunshine and the vampire, Constantine, are forced to forge an uneasy alliance in order to escape. Once they make their getaway, Sunshine returns home and tries to pick up where she left off. She does her best to repress the memories of the terrifying ordeal but finds this harder than expected, especially when she discovers that the vampires she’s escaped from are determined to get her and Con back.

Sunshine is an arresting story, and I found myself completely absorbed by it. McKinley’s greatest strength as an author lies in her meticulousness. She knows every thought her characters have ever had, every dream, every worry. She can tell you the entire history of the world and society she’s built and can cite the textbooks that hold that history. She’s always in control, has a great imagination, and writes in such a way that you can’t help but get caught up in her characters’ lives and feel like you’re actually a part of the book and the events within it.

Unfortunately, McKinley’s meticulousness can also be a weakness. It often results in information overload, a complaint I have for all of her books. She knows her characters and the worlds in which they live so intimately that it’s like she can’t help but share the minuscule details of their lives with the reader, whether the reader wants to know them or not. I usually like plenty of details when reading, but in this case there were more than I could handle.

Sunshine, for example, has a tendency to mentally ramble on and on about bran muffins and bread dough and different types of flour and whether she should make apple tarts or cherry tarts, etc., etc. It gets frustrating after a while. I felt like I spent a lot of time wading through trivial details in order to get to the juicy bits, a.k.a. the bits featuring Constantine.

Speaking of Constantine, I never got enough of him. I know it’s conventional wisdom to always leave an audience wanting more, but there’s a difference between enticing a reader and leaving them dissatisfied. I’m among the legion of fans clamoring for a sequel, though I’m not so sure we’ll ever get one.

Either way, I’m glad I was able to experience Sunshine. It’s not perfect, and there are some things about it that seriously grated on my nerves at times. When it comes down to it, though, it’s a) a book by Robin McKinley and b) a book about vampires, which is really all I need to be happy.

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