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Creator and Destroyer
Sunshine by Robin McKinleyBook Review
by Brandie B. Minchew
Blood, Cinnamon Rolls, and Magical Sunlight: A Review of Robin McKinley's Sunshine
Rae Seddon's luck takes a turn for the worse when she makes a nighttime visit to a lake. After being kidnapped by a gang of vampires, Rae, nicknamed Sunshine, befriends a fellow captive named Constantine - a vampire. A magic remembered from her childhood aids Sunshine's and Constantine's escape, but she discovers that she can't easily settle back into her old life as the Cinnamon Roll Queen and star baker at Charlie's Coffeehouse. Instead she finds herself caught up in an old, bloody feud between vampire clans, while trying to come to terms with her own power.
Robin McKinley steps into urban fantasy with Sunshine, her first vampire-themed novel set in a world similar to our own. Long known for best-selling fantasy novels such as The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, McKinley has created another compelling world with Sunshine. For the first few pages, Sunshine's world seems to mirror our own as we see it through Sunshine's stream of conscience. Only a few words signal that her world is not quite so mundane as it seems. Cockroaches as big as chipmunks? Surely that's exaggeration. Voodoo Wars? Others? McKinley leaves us to wonder and gives us a few pages to get acquainted with Sunshine, her brash and very vocal character whose desserts and cinnamon rolls draw people to Charlie's from miles around. McKinley puts us in lock-step with Sunshine's brain and leaves us there as her character's train of thought darts hither and thither, feeding readers information in a conversational tone, drawing us close to the story.
McKinley doesn't try to rewrite the vampire. She takes the classic concept and adds to it, emphasizing their non-human, alien nature. She uses smell to drive home their differences -...not a butcherhouse smell.. Vampires smell of live blood. And something else... - and emphasizes the human reaction to these predators. Constantine, the 'good guy' vampire who befriends Sunshine, is not pretty, and his way of speaking marks him not only as aristocratic but also removed from the (mostly) human world that Sunshine inhabits.
McKinley revisits her favorite "Beauty and the Beast" theme; the relationship between Constantine and Sunshine will spark a little deja-vu in readers familiar with her two retellings of that fairy tale. In fact, Sunshine tells Constantine that her favorite story is "Beauty and the Beast", retelling it to keep Constantine sane through the worst ravages of daylight.
Among the subplots, McKinley examines family, particularly the prickly relationship between Sunshine and her mother. She also delves into social theory and human psychology in her depiction of a world where those with non-human blood are often segregated or ostracized. Sunshine's world is post-apocalyptic, and while McKinley doesn't dwell on the social structures, she allows us to see a familiar, dangerous pattern developing as the world recovers its footing. Although many people have compared Sunshine to Joss Whedon's 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer', I feel that this comparison doesn't do justice to McKinley's masterful skill at worldcrafting. Sunshine's world is a unique setting that McKinley uses to examine a number of universal themes with a compelling story.
I personally would have enjoyed seeing more of what happened in the world after the novel's end, especially as the world was clearly spiraling towards an even bigger war between humans and Others. The worst that can be said of Sunshine is that it doesn't feel complete. The ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel or even a series, and a number of the larger subplots are left unresolved. Unfortunately Ms. McKinley herself has stated that she doesn't know when or if she will ever write another tale set in Sunshine's world. Overall, however, Sunshine is a must-read in the 'vampire novel' genre, and the story will leave you thoughtful and satisfied enough to look forward to the next story should it ever materialize.
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