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Sunshine - Robin McKinley
SSar's Beast
A book-pimping post (because 'review' would be misleadingly neutral).

Of Robin McKinley’s work, I’ve read – not in order - The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, Sunshine, Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Dragonhaven, Chalice, Deerskin, The Outlaws of Sherwood, and parts of both The Door in the Hedge and The Knot in the Grain. Sunshine is my favourite. I picked it up in a tiny branch library that was adjacent to the mall where I was working in a large clothing-and-everything store –K-Mart – in the summer of 2004-2005. I loved it. My favourite scene was the one with a table knife.

I didn’t read it again for several years, at which point I became weirdly convinced that it must have been released in two versions (adult and teen), because the beginning sounded so clunky to me. How could I have loved it so much the first time? But I reconciled with reality, and came to love it again.

Why is it worth loving?

Sunshine is an urban fantasy with vampires and romance. The narrator is sassy and has exceptional powers discovered over the course of the book. She also has a boyfriend who’s into motorbikes… Wait! Wait!! It’s awesome! Those are just the recognizable bits.

Sunshine is a story about a not-quite-high-school-dropout who loves popcorn-grade novels about the supernatural, whose life is turned upside-down by really dangerous things that exist in the world but which most people would prefer to think don’t exist. She has a fantastic found family and friends who stand staunchly by her. She has some weird talents, but those aren’t what define her: Sunshine is a person who loves to feed people, especially with baking; a person who hates conflict and disguises this by putting up a cool front most of the time; a very relatable person who is terrified and survives her fear. The vampires are – literally – incidental to all that.

My favourite thing about this book is its use of in media res. The first conflict of the novel comes partly from one-of-those coincidences, but also partly because our protagonist is trying to figure out a problem that naturally develops from her normal life. She has a normal life: none of this bullsh*t where Oppressed Orphan Orla discovers her powers and runs away and never has to deal with her background again. In fact, after Rae/Sunshine survives the first crisis, she spends the next few months denying it ever happened, because she has a life and she likes it and she wants it back. I love that so much. I love that while she’s living that life, and running from the life-changing events, we get details: unruly customers at her place of work, the aunt who gives her incense for holiday gifts, her landlady’s family staying for a few weeks. I hate the trope whereby our protagonist’s real life begins when, uh, a werewolf body is discovered in an alley: this does the opposite beautifully.

I also love what this book does with romance. Our protagonist is in a relationship at the start of the book; we’re never quite sure how deep it is, but it’s a factor, and her partner provides conflict and support at various points. There’s a sense that Sunshine is being a very unreliable narrator about this. During the course of the book, a second possible romantic interest is introduced – and that is where the book leaves it. What will Sunshine decide? We don’t know. Should we? The book leaves me uncertain in a way I really like. I feel as though to resolve the situation happily, everyone involved would have to be really awesome adults about their desires – and I also trust that this is possible.

That, however, is just one of the loose ends left by the book – which has as many loose ends as a mop. Everything – except the satisfactory resolution of a certain conflict – is left up in the air. Sunshine’s powers? The lost members of her family? Her relationships? Her future vampire entanglements? We just don’t know. This is a noticeable detractor, especially since McKinley has firmly stated that there will be no sequel and that everything is fine, drat you. I am somewhat on her side, but the gaps are very real. Caveat lector.

Less polished thoughts:

*Food porn! Sunshine is a baker! She bakes! Competently, with descriptions! Oh, there is a line, ‘I have the feed-people gene’, and I relate to that so much, because I have it too, except I am not a baker, I am a cook. (My flatmate is a baker. There is a noticeable difference.)

*Sunshine is almost-never physically described. The closest we get is: tall, skinny, hair that looks weird when it’s let out after being tied up all day, fierce-looking, loves wearing bright colours. I later discovered that that’s because McKinley has a Thing about physically describing her characters, but I re-read the book at a critical point after a race essay on how we broadcast our own perceptions onto fictional characters... I went through an exercise of deliberately NOT doing that… long story short, I am now convinced that Sunshine is black and so are her father/ her father’s family. (No opinion on her mother.) This makes working out the Blaise family backstory mildly complicated for me.

*Sunshine’s urban fantasy universe is more developed than most. We have so many hints – but never a clear picture – about magic going back for hundreds of years, magic in bureaucracy, and generally the kind of worldbuilding I love best of all. This does make it hard to write for, though: you have to wonder exactly when changes occurred and what the run-on effects were.

*Sunshine is narrated in a very distracted style – the first-person narrator is constantly getting diverted from their original point. I love this because of how it lends itself to worldbuilding, but other people (for example, my flatmate of the time, sigh) cannot get past it, and I can’t really blame them.

*I have so much personal headcanon in this universe and so many reasons for it. Oh boy.

This entry is also posted at http://morbane.dreamwidth.org/1190.html. Comments are welcome at either site.

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Heee. ♥ back at you.

And I haven't even gotten into the plurality of mentors, or the way the vampires are unequivocally bad, or the way all of the other supernatural creatures get treated. So many fun things.

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