2003. 405 pages. Mass Market Paperback.
From: the public library
For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge
Recommendation from: Erin (Something Wicked This Way Blogs) and Clare (The Literary Omnivore)
In a nutshell:
Rae is a young baker with a never-used magical heritage and an abiding curiosity about vampires. One night she drives out to a lake and is captured by a gang of vampires. They shackle her in a ballroom as a meal for a rival vampire who they have imprisoned. This vampire’s name is Constantine and he and Rae forge an unlikely alliance that will mean both danger and salvation for them both.
I galloped through this book in about three sittings. McKinley definitely starts out the book strong with Rae’s capture and escape. The suspense of this instigating event had me thoroughly engaged.
Although there is an array of interesting characters in Sunshine, at the center is the complicated but compelling relationship between Rae and Constantine. I liked how they worked together as a team, watching out for each other’s backs. Yes, there is romantic tinge there too, and midway through there is a rather jarring sexual scene, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of their bond. Indeed, after that one scene, both characters back off from that direction. I liked that the vampires were by and large creepy and threatening. This is true even for Constantine who is admirable but still always exudes a different-ness.
Rae narrates the story in first-person and is prone to tangents, asides and random exposition. This will probably annoy some readers. For the most part, I liked this style because these supposedly ‘off-topic’ parts did a fantastic job with world-building. As I think I have mentioned on my blog before, I have a high respect for authors that can make their fictional world feel lived-in. Rae’s forays into city politics, hints about past world conflicts, and details of charms and wards all helped in this achievement. I did get a little tired of the rambling by the last third though.
Indeed, the book lost some steam toward the end and the much-anticipated standoff with the main villain was anti-climactic. There are some loose threads I wish had been resolved, seeing as how this is a standalone novel and not a series. For instance, I kept waiting for Rae to have a conversation with her mother about her father and it didn’t happen. I would say that of the four “parts” to the book, the first two were definitely the strongest, ending with intensity.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is how natural imagery is woven into Rae’s conception of her changed self. Her awakening power is like a tree with rustling leaves. Also, when a doe’s life is used to save Rae, she acquires the animal’s memory and this becomes a recurring, peaceful motif throughout the carnage and fear of Rae’s life. To incorporate the strength and calm of nature into one’s self is an appealing concept.
This was my second book by author Robin McKinley. When I was in high school I read Beauty, but I hardly remember it so I can’t compare. For readers of McKinley’s work, where does Sunshine stand in relation to her other books? Are they similar? For, despite some of the flaws I pointed out, I really enjoyed reading this book, so I would be open to reading more from McKinley.