What? You mean vampires are scary, dark, ugly, dangerous things? There’s blood involved? Lots of it? No sparkles? Who knew?
Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is a proper vampire novel. I was under the impression before reading it that it was YA fiction, but I don’t think I would give it that classification. It’s pretty grown-up. It tells the story of Rae “Sunshine” Seddon, a young lady who works at the family coffeeshop, where she is the goddess of baked goods. One night she decides to go out to her family’s abandoned lake house to clear her head. Unfortunately, she ends up the captive of a vampire gang. The world in which she lives is somewhat post-apocalyptic, you see, and is inhabited by all sorts of bad nasties, vampires being the worst. No human has ever tangled with vampires and lived to tell about it. Sunshine, though, is being offered as food to a captive vampire: he’s the enemy of the gang’s master, Bo. This captive (whose name we later learn is Con) is apparently one of those “vegetarian” types, and as such, he and Sunshine end up in an uneasy truce. It turns out that Sunshine is actually part of one of the big-name magic-handling families, and she’s got power like you can’t believe. Between the two, they manage to escape from their ordeal … but that’s when the real trouble starts. Bo, Con’s enemy, is not happy about his prisoners’ escape. He’ll be after them soon enough. Meanwhile, Sunshine must struggle to come to terms with what has happened to her, and who she is. She also has to keep the Special Other Forces (they take care of the nasties) off her tail in order to protect her new friend Con and figure out some way to get them both out of the whole mess alive. As it were.
So yes. Vampires, not to mention various “Others” like Weres and Demons and such. The world McKinley has created is fascinating in terms of its combination of the mundane and the fantastical. She puts perhaps a little too much effort into it at times – I definitely felt as though she didn’t quite need all of the explanation. The main theme of the story, though, is Sunshine’s coming of age. In the beginning, she thinks of herself as a coward and nothing more than a cinnamon-roll baker. She struggles more with the notion of her own powers and what they mean than she does with the fact that she is likely to die in the final showdown with Bo. The fear of finding herself to be evil based on what she is capable of, and what she witnesses and learns to have some affinity for, are what really rock her world. In the end, she comes to realize that nobody is truly what they seem, and that true bravery doesn’t have to do with waving around a sword, but rather with facing each day in the knowledge that the world is an imperfect place.
All in all, a really fun read. As previously mentioned, there’s a little too much detail at times, but it’s obviously coming from a desire to create a fully-realized world. Sunshine, as the narrator, is a really interesting character. She’s not really your typical fantasy heroine … she’s much more an average person, someone you might know. Her matter-of-factness reminded me of various friends, actually. My biggest issue with the book is that all of that exposition and explanation leads to a somewhat anticlimactic showdown. Additionally, there are so many questions asked and left unanswered; lots of little threads that get left hanging. I’m not sure if McKinley was ever considering a sequel at all, but in some things, it seems as though that must’ve been the case. Regardless, if you like your vampires scary and your action gory, definitely give this one a try.