It was a little hard for me to get into at the beginning. This excerpt is from the first chapter, and if you don’t feel as – jangled? – as I did, perhaps it’s just me. But I kept at it, because there was so definitely something there.
The book is set in what feels like the near future, in a city called New Arcadia. The entire world is recovering from “The Voodoo Wars” (which had nothing to do with Voodoo, we’re told), which started about 15 years ago and lasted 6 – 7 years. Whether or not humans always knew that there were Others among them (vampires, were-whatsits, half and part-blood demons, fallen angels, etc.) is unclear, but the war was roughly between “regular” humans and the Others (vampires mostly, it seems?). Vamps are referred to as The Darkest Others.
I’d love to see some kind of history chart for McKinley’s world, because as one reads, you gradually realize that the cultural differences are much larger than what could be explained by 20 years or so of shocking revelations and war. Religion doesn’t seem as pervasive, although there are references to religious symbols in wards. People say “Carthaginian Hells!” and talk about a big leader being “Odin,” or a tough guy being “Thor.” A cool club is “Spartan.”
I read a lot of fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal fiction. I don’t always say much about it, but I find the standard, over-romanticized depiction of vampires to be insipid at best. Paying lip service to their predatory nature isn’t enough. I mean, all humans are predators, right? But vampires, if they existed, would be the only thing that might be above humans in the food chain. That would make them the enemy of humans. One of the only ways in which I agree wholeheartedly with Anita Blake is that I am not food.
McKinley gets that. She shows vampires as monsters. They are not pretty, much less sexy – they can’t even pass for human, no matter how recently turned they are or how recently they’ve fed. They’re mottled, gray-skinned nightmares that don’t move right and smell wrong (like rotting dead things, in fact). They give off a presence that immediately puts humans into a panicky state. Their voices are even wrong, and sometimes painful. They have a type of glamor that helps them subdue their prey, but they don’t give their victims any pleasure or even pretend to do so.
Sunshine goes way beyond a monster story, though. There’s still grey between the black and the white, and it’s important. There’s also beautiful light, and a lot of love is demonstrated amongst Sunshine’s extended family/friend network. Placing much of the story in a family coffeehouse was a great move. I can’t think of any other setting that would be so warm, welcoming, safe, and have reasons for other people to wander in and out. (She really should have included recipes, though. It was cruel for her to have described some of Sunshine’s bakery treats to people who can’t taste them!)
I’m feeling a bit frustrated, because it seems as if McKinley is done with this world. Mind, the book stands alone absolutely marvelously! It needs no sequel. There’s certainly room for one or more, though. It’s something of a shock to run into a singleton book any more.