I recently reread Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, a book I remember loving in high school—although then I found it a bit dense and slow-moving.
If you haven’t read Sunshine yet, what’s your excuse? Go read it. Now. It’s a wonderful, mature treatment of the urban-vampire topic.
In a nutshell, Sunshine (or Rae) is a baker of cinnamon-rolls and other goodies, whose life is turned rapidly inside-out when she gets kidnapped out by the lake, and chained beside a hungry vampire.
Robin McKinley is a very subtle writer. Her wit is dry and entertaining—but if you blink, you’ll miss it. To truly appreciate the story, you have to read every word. People who skim-read descriptions won’t do so well with Sunshine.
McKinley excels on the details, on world-building. Initially we think we’re in our own world, but gradually we learn that Sunshine’s world is an alternative universe through the details and relevant back-story we’re given. And this world is bursting with life; we can feel it on the edges of Sunshine’s story.
The place where the book really glows, in my opinion, is McKinley’s treatment of the supernatural. Her vampires are disgusting, terrifying things. Even her ‘good’ vampire isn’t always the most attractive thing around.
The supernatural is worked into the story is fascinatingly mundane ways. Sunshine’s biker boyfriend has magical tattoos. Her protective mother keeps giving her magical, sentient wards, which Sunshine stuffs into her glove compartment. The Special Other Forces (SOFs) eat at the bakery and have a rivalry with the police.
The book is slow-moving, though, in true Robin McKinley style. There is a fair deal of exposition. We are often told things, but in Sunshine’s voice (which is quite distinctive from the third-person voices McKinley has used in previous works, such as her Damar books or her other adult novel, Deerskin). I can’t decide if that’s telling or showing. I suppose it depends on your perspective.
Its ending leaves lots of a loose endings. I find this a strength. The main problem is dealt with, but all kind of fascinating bits are left hanging. It helps to give the illusion that Sunshine’s world is a living one, and she doesn’t have all the answers herself.
The book does demand some patience. In return it rewards by revealing subtleties you might otherwise not catch.
My biggest problem with it is that it leaves me hungry for something sweet. Maybe for a Bitter Chocolate Death.