McKinley, Robin: Sunshine

What a very odd book Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is.

It opens thusly:

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

There follows discussion of the narrator’s baking and mother and siblings and lover and a tiny bit of worldbuilding backstory, nine hardcover pages of it, until:

I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.

(Which, incidentally, is the first time the word “vampire” is mentioned in the book. You can read this entire section online, and indeed I recommend you do if this review ends up sounding at all interesting.)

The whole book is basically like this: lots of near-breathless, discursive first-person narration, containing, here and there, an interesting deconstruction of cliched vampire stories. While reading, I was conscious that there were considerable periods of waiting for something to happen . . . and yet I kept reading. I can’t explain that.

Some things I can say: the ending is much less abstract than some of McKinley’s endings. Some of the characters are less developed than they should be. The plot that begins with the vampires’ appearance is completed, but a lot of loose ends remain. And McKinley is often thought of as a YA author, but this probably does not get shelved in YA because it contains brief but matter-of-factly explicit references to sex. (I don’t think I’d have a problem with anyone over, oh, double-digits in years reading it, but then I read Presumed Innocent and Hyperion when I was twelve and didn’t die. Plus the view taken of sex here is much healthier.) And it is definitely different from the Culture series, which is what I was going for.

But ultimately, this is a very odd book, and probably the only way to tell if you’d like it is to read a sample.


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  1. Even when her books fail for me as novels, I find them compulsively readable, and endlessly rereadable. I just finished my second or third rereading of The Rose Daugther. I think Spindles End is my favorite those. This week.

  2. Elaine, the only McKinley book I’ve tried to read and failed is _The Outlaws of Sherwood_, which on a couple of occasions I’ve picked up, read five pages, and then put back down. I have no idea why.
    I love _Spindle’s End_ immoderately.

  3. The only two McKinley books I’ve read happen to be Sunshine and Spindle’s End, as it happens, which as I consider it seems odd, since I think she deserves better (i.e, more readerly attention from me).
    The impression those two books left me with is that she’s a very good writer on the prose level, and that she’s compulsively readable as far as setting things up and carrying you through the mid-game, so to speak, and that she doesn’t deliver on the end-game pay-off, but that it almost doesn’t matter, because she’s a good enough writer to make it worthwhile anyway. And with that horribly discursive run-on sentence, I’ll leave it, since it’s been several years since I read Sunshine, and I probably know not whereof I speak….

  4. Trent, I thought this ending was much more comprehensible than that of _Spindle’s End_, but that the characterization issues might have robbed it of some of its force.
    Even if you don’t read _The Blue Sword_ and _The Hero and the Crown_, you should give them to your daughter when she’s old enough–say, ten, or so.

  5. I never heard of Sunshine. I didn’t like Spindle’s End or Outlaws of Sherwood much, but I really like Hero and the Crown, Blue Sword and especially Beauty. It’s not usual for me to love several works by an author and then be indifferent to several other from the same… Another author who does that to me is Dianna Wynne Jones.

  6. After I finished reading Sunshine, I was hoping McKinley would someday publish a cookbook. The whole bakery world seemed very real (for a vampire novel).

  7. Jeane: I wish I could say “if you liked x, y, and z McKinley books, you’ll like _Sunshine_,” but I can’t–it’s sufficiently different from the rest of her books. Also, Diana Wynne Jones for me is completely unpredictable, so I’d hate to try anyway. =>
    Karen: the bakery world is definitely a strong point of the book.

  8. Kate:
    Alright, that’s it, I’m jotting those two down to look for on my next library trip. (I’ve been in a bit of a lull lately for light reading, and have been reduced to re-reading the Bonehunter assault on Lether section from Erikson’s _Reaper’s Gale_).
    Anyway. My daughter loves reading (or being read to–she’s not quite that advanced yet..), although at the moment she’s heavily fixated on tools and construction equipment, for some reason (we probably read _B is for Bulldozer_ ten times last weekend). I’m hoping to ease her into the fantasy classics as she gets a longer attention span and more interest in slightly more complex narrative.

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