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.
4 responses to “Sunshine by Robin McKinley”
Excellent review! I agree with all your points. One of McKinley’s strengths is in creating her worlds, they are always convincing and believable. I always feel like maybe I’m living in that world and just hadn’t noticed before.
I also semi-agree that Sunshine lost steam towards the end. The first time I read the book I was annoyed that there wasn’t more of a battle scene, so to speak, but I didn’t even notice it the second time around. I felt the ending fit on the second read. Plus, McKinley usually ends her books atypically, so it wasn’t completely out of scope.
In terms of how it compares to her other books, Sunshine represented a departure from her usual narration style. I was actually a little befuddled when I first started Sunshine because it was so different. Later she wrote Dragonhaven with a similar style, but I actually think that’s her weakest work.
I would say that Deerskin is my favorite, along with The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, The Outlaws of Sherwood and so on 🙂 In reality I can’t pick a favorite. I scanned her titles on my bookshelf and all of them are special and excellent in different ways. I definately suggest reading more McKinley, she’s my favorite author by far. Plus, she doesn’t write a bad book, you could pretty much pick up anything by her and love it. Just don’t make Dragonhaven or Spindle’s End your next from her, they are not her strongest novels, in my opinion.
To me, Sunshine and Beauty are by far the best two books by McKinley. Deerskin is also very good, and then the rest of her books are just so-so to me. But read Beauty again! It’s really good.
I just adored Sunshine, and I really do need to read more McKinley. I’m glad my review helped you decide to read this- I really think everyone should read it. (It’s one of those books you buy for everyone’s birthday, you know?)
Erin – Thanks for the recommendations and guidance for future McKinley reads!
Jenny – I probably should re-read Beauty, definitely. Though as you and Erin both mentioned Deerskin, that one is rising in need-to-read status.
Lit Omnivore – Yes, thanks for your review!