Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 26 to July 01, 2013
Read count: 1

Rae “Sunshine” Seddon is a pastry chef who refers to herself simply and humbly as “a baker,” yet her pastries draw in all sorts of characters from all over New Arcadia, a sleepy small town that’s on its way to covering after the great “Voodoo Wars.” The wars which happened several years ago pitted humans against otherworldly creatures; the majority of battles were fought against vampires, the worst of the otherworldly creatures. These wars left “bad spots,” places with strong magical presence, all around New Arcadia (and presumably in other towns as well). Because of these wars, vampires and humans do not live among each other, and vampires are terminated immediately following capture.

Rae leads a reasonably average life and works as a baker for her family restaurant. She has an overprotective mother, an affectionate step-father, a pair of teenage half-brothers, a boyfriend who’s a cook, and an assortment of friends from town. Her seemingly dull existence is turned upside down, for lack of a better term, when she is kidnapped by a gang of vampires and finds herself a waiting meal for another vampire. But this isn’t just any vampire. It’s a vampire that’s trying to resist its natural instinct to feed on her. The most “unlikely” thing happens (unlikely only to Rae, but perfectly predictable to us): she begins to like him, although his vampiric nature still disgusts her. Things become more interesting from this point on.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

I don’t see this story as a romance because there’s very little mentioning of romantic relationships. Rae has a steady boyfriend, but they’re emotionally distant, almost closed off, from each other. She has an attraction to a vampire, but it’s perhaps because she owes him her life and he owes his to her. They go through a series of intense ordeals together, so it’s only natural that they’re drawn to each other. And that’s the point, these interactions are natural, not forced.

While there were several things I liked about this book, there were several other things that did not work for me.

Things that worked:

  • World building. I really liked how McKinley set up this post-great-war alternate universe. There’s a desolate, yet thriving feeling to New Arcadia. This world is very much like our own, yet a little different. The differences aren’t mentioned all at once. We get a little bit of them as the story unfolds.
  • Magic system. Magic in this world is alive and conscious… and moving. The idea that charms and wards can act of their own volition is fascinating to me.
  • the SOFs. Of course the Feds would be a nuisance.
  • Post-traumatic stress. I don’t often see PTSD in urban fantasy, and when I do, it’s usually depicted carelessly, like a brush off to appease an editor. Considering how much violence and peril UF characters experience, it’s a wonder these characters can function at all, let alone go through it night after night. However, Rae’s post-traumatic stress is written with the emotional gravity that’s fitting of her post-kidnapping experience, and it makes sense that she’d continue to relive these events and never feel safe again.

Things that didn’t work:

  • First person narration. At times, it can become exhausting to be in Rae’s head, her PTSD notwithstanding. She thinks about everything a lot and repeatedly, most of it important but some of it trivial.
  • Chatty inner monologues. It would be difficult for a reader to get into this story if he/she doesn’t enjoy this style of narration. You’re in Rae’s head all the time.

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I still maintain that this is the book that Twilight should have been, if only Twilight had been fortunate enough to be written with a capable hand of a writer who understands urban fantasy and vampire lore.

Original review can be found here.

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