McKinley, Robin. Sunshine (2010 ed). 405 Pages. Speak. $8.99

Sunshine is not a vampire story the way Pegasus is not about winged horses. Sunshine is about Rae Seddon– commonly called Sunshine– a young woman whose life is forever altered by her choice to go out to the local lake, alone, and at night. It is there that she is grabbed by Others and dragged to a remote, abandoned house.

At first Sunshine is confused, because she isn’t dead yet, and Vampires don’t usually play with their food for long. However, she is not alone in the abandoned mansion; she is to be dinner for Con, a vampire no freer than she is.

To get out of this alive, Sunshine needs his help, and strangely enough, he needs hers.

First Lines

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in  giant lethal marauding creature matters.


While Sunshine’s world is similar to ours, it is not ours. It is a sort of parallel dystopia, in which the Voodoo Wars– a battle between the Humans and the Others– have left humanity struggling to rebuild in a wasteland. This world is simultaneously eerily similar to, and startlingly different from our own*. There is a lot going on here; the human population has been decimated, Others are discriminated against, part-bloods held responsible for their heritage, cities are slowly growing, around the “bad spots,” and places like Charlie’s Coffeehouse are small havens from the insanity.

I think the world-building may be my favorite part of this book, actually. The characters come second to the world for me. I wanted more about the world, more about the why, the what, the how. Things are hinted at, bits are mentioned, there are “bad spots” where humans dare not go, left-overs of powerful magic. But why are they there? My curiosity was not completely satisfied, which was a little frustrating, because I’m usually quite content with her worlds.

I do like Sunshine, but she is not the strongest female McKinley has ever written, and I have an affinity for the strong girls. At first, Sunshine is rather inactive, she is victimized, and spends a lot of time recovering from the trauma. She struggles with her sense of self, with needing support and being afraid to reach for it, with the ramifications of what exactly she has done, and with her bond.

Something which is particularly problematic to me are the relationships in this book. Sunshine is dating Mel**, but they seem stuck in a sort of loose dating, where they’re together when it’s convenient. Sunshine never seems to talk about things to him, and though he could be there for her if she just asked, she doesn’t. There are hints about her heritage, things which her mother may have been hiding, but it is never verified, it remains Sunshine’s theory, and is never really tested. She’s surrounded by family and friends and people who care about her, and some of them are powerful enough in their own right that they could protect her, but she doesn’t turn to any of them. She instead relies upon a Vampire who she has only known for a brief amount of time.

When I first read this book, I remember really liking it. I was on a vampire kick, and I was reading everything I could. This was not a YA book then, but that didn’t stop me. Looking at it, and having read it, I wonder if it is a YA book now. There is a fairly explicit scene around page 250 which left me wondering if it should be called YA. I don’t necessarily feel that teens need to be protected from everything sexual, but I felt a little awkward reading this scene, and I’m an adult. I imagine most teens would either be titillated or would feel as awkward as I did.

It is sad, knowing that I will never know more. McKinley doesn’t write sequels. She may eventually venture back into the same world, if her muses drag her there, but this is the only guaranteed book in this setting. It’s a pity, because there is so much you can do with a post-apocalyptic world. There are options, and ideas, and worldwide locations.

Anyway, this volume gets a 4/5. There is a lot more that could have been done with Sunshine, and I wasn’t wholly satisfied (and not just because I wanted more, which is a good sort of unsatisfied.) It is worth reading, because it is enthralling, and it’s very different from what you expect, if you’ve been told it’s a vampire book, because it’s not. There are vampires, but ultimately, this book is about Sunshine.


* It left me thinking of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan world, actually.

** I like Mel, a lot. He’s got magical tattoos, which remind me of Pritkin’s tattoos from Karen Chance’s books.


Filed under Adult Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

4 responses to “Sunshine

  1. ela21

    Interesting review, Aelia. I actually think this may be my favourite of McKinley’s books. I love it because the world-building is fabulous and because there’s a sense there that Rae doesn’t need to tell us everything about the place, but that there is that much background. I see what you mean – a bit – about Rae being a bit passive, though I think she’s been an ordinary girl for so long, and perhaps tried to ignore her father’s heritage, that it would take something strange to shake her out of it. And yes, she does go for help first to Constantine, but I think it’s because she’s so conflicted about having helped and been helped by him in the first place that she doesn’t try Mel or her police friends. I also think that the friendships and relationships, both good and bad and uneasy (such as that between Rae and her mother) are very well done, and utterly believable.

    The ending is a bit frustrating, sure; who or what, exactly, is the Queen of Pain? She’s plainly not fully human. And there are other question which McKinley doesn’t answer – but I like that. I don’t think it’s a YA book, either, and not necessarily because of the scene you mention, and I’ve generally seen it shelved with fantasy or horror rather than in the kids’ section in bookshops. I’d give it a 5/5, but I really really like this book!


    • I got this copy last week at Borders, it was shelved with the YA SciFi/Fantasy books, which made me pause for a moment. I have this feeling that it’s not YA, but I can’t really explain why. It’s not just that explicit bit, and it’s not the theme of being victimized, because frankly, we do kids no favors when we try to protect them from reality simply because of their age. People still die when you’re 4 and don’t quite grasp it, Sex is still sex when you’re 14 and aren’t supposed to know about it, and so on.

      I really wanted to know more about the Queen of Pain and her shadows. It’s hinted that she’s something but I want to know more about it. I also wanted to know more about the bad-cross watch, and whether that was Rae’s delusions, or legitimate.

      I did really like this book. I enjoy reading it, which is something that isn’t always true. Sometimes, I continue through books just because I started them. This isn’t one of them, it never feels like a chore to read it, but I just… don’t quite love it as much as I love Spindle’s End, for example.


  2. I desperately wanted to know more about the world, the Voodoo Wars and the things that happened during them. The first time I read Sunshine, I felt very unsatisfied at the end. When I reread it, I was surprised to find the plot hung together as well as it did, because I remembered having a lot of unanswered questions. I wish Robin McKinley would do a sequel. She claims she knows a lot more about Sunshine but she has to wait and see if another story presents itself to her. I want one. I want it.

    I like Mel, too. I appreciate it that he gives Sunshine space even when he must really, really want to ask her a dozen questions.


    • The trouble with the way that she writes is that we sometimes get stuck waiting forever for sequels, which always makes me worry that they may not come.

      I, too, wanted more about the world. I feel like she created this amazing place that we get almost nothing of. At one point, you get the impression that most of the world is there, but with less living humans in it, and at another, you get the impression that the area around the coffeehouse is the only habitable place left. I wanted to know more about the wars, and the people and how things have happened and what the hell is going on with her family and who the Blaises were, and why they disappeared and all that.

      Sequel or Prequel, I’d be happy with either, as long as some of the questions get answered.


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