Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Sunshine

Let me warn you up front: this review for Sunshine by Robin McKinley is going to have spoilers. I usually try very hard not to do this, but a) the book has been out for 5-6 years and b) there are some things I want to discuss that necessitate spoilers.

Sunshine is not really a vampire story - it is a Robin McKinley story about a young woman with magic who has to fight vampires. It is told in first person by the woman, Rae Seddon, aka Sunshine, but the voice is, to me, unmistakably McKinley's. Even though the plot and setting were very different, the tone and language felt very similar to The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. This, despite the fact that Sunshine is decidedly not YA (even though my library had this shelved in the teen section. Somebody clearly did not read the graphic sex scene on page 249, much less the buckets of blood fight scenes, before deciding where to shelve it). For example, the stilted way Sunshine and Con, the "good" vampire, talk to each other reminded me so much of Harry and Corlath talking at the end of The Blue Sword. And the way Sunshine fights the big bad vampire reminded me very much of the way Aerin defeats Agsded at the end of The Hero and the Crown

This isn't so much a criticism as an observation. All this means that if you like McKinley's voice, I think you'll like this book. But maybe not. Because, I'll be honest, there's stuff to love in it, but there are some really clunky moments that grated on my nerves.

Here's one example: Carthaginian. It's a pretty unusual word. (It refers to the city Rome defeated during the Punic Wars. A Carthaginian peace is "any brutal peace treaty demanding total subjugation of the defeated side." [via Wikipedia]) It's one of those words that's unusual enough that it's going to stick out. So use it once. Or if you want to use it more than that, only let one character use it, that way it seems like a quirk. Don't use it multiple times by multiple characters, like McKinley does in Sunshine. It's like a nail sticking up in a floor - I kept tripping over it.

Comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer aside (blond girl fights vampire, yada yada yada), I think Sunshine is very different from all the other urban fantasy out there. As I said above, this wasn't really a vampire story, in that the vampire fighting wasn't the focus. The story is very much about Rae's inner life - how she accepts who she is and who her family is, and learns to use the gifts given to her, both in magic and in baking. Plus, avid readers and fellow book bloggers will appreciate Sunshine's hobbies before becoming a magic-handler - combing used book stores to add to "one of the hip-high pile of books to be read next" (pg 174) and reading.

This is just all to say that there's good and bad in this book and some readers will like it a lot, and some will be less impressed. Me? I'm somewhere in the middle.

Buy Sunshine on Amazon.

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