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.
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.