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Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

SunshineWow. That was a good book.

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.

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