Robin McKinley


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

March 5, 2010

live in Seattle, which is such a literate city that its chief librarian, Nancy Pearl, is a star. When Ms. Pearl says a book is worth reading, her opinion carries a lot of weight. She recommended Sunshine at this site called Carry On Books To Take With You Up, Up and Away. Without Ms. Pearl's recommendation, I doubt that I would have picked a book about vampires, figuring it to be just another Anne Rice clone. Sunshine is not an Anne Rice copy, but it is still a big disappointment.

I guess I should confess here that I didn't manage to finish this book. One of my rules of reviewing is that I finish the book or don't review it, but I am breaking my rule here. I simply couldn't get any further. I got as far as page 200, but it was a struggle to get even that far. The trouble with the book is its endless chatty narrative. There are many many many digressions - which burden the reader with useless information while bogging down the pace of the story.

This novel is told in the first person by the heroine Rae "Sunshine" Seddon. Choosing first person narrative turns out to be a major flaw, because Sunshine's inner voice is unable to stick to the story. It may sound authentic for a young woman to wander off topic and babble about any subject that pops into her head, but it is annoying to the reader to trip over these interruptions. Here is an example: "There are two classes of demons who didn't sleep at all. My favorite is the Hildy demon, who gets all the sleep it needs during the blinking of its eyes. You'd think this would seriously interrupt any train of thought that takes longer to pursue than the time between one eye blink and another, but not to a Hildy. (They're called Hildes after Brunhilde, who slept for a very long time surrounded by fire. Hildes also breathe fire when they're peeved, although they're even tempered as demons go.) Hildes aren't blue though." This paragraph follows a comment by a demon that he rarely needs to sleep - however, that demon IS blue and thus he is not a Hildy - so why is McKinley giving us this confusing information about Hildes? Why are demons that never sleep called Hildes after Brunhilde, who slept all the time?? What does McKinley mean by "Hildes also breathe fire" - Brunhilde didn't breathe fire. Why didn't an editor simply slice out this entire paragraph?

Sunshine's world is set in a future where ghouls, vampires, demons and were-creatures threaten the pure humans. Magic exists, but the humans are fighting a losing battle against these dark creatures. (I wondered why the humans hadn't already LOST the battle - the vampires are so fast and powerful that it seemed that they should already have subjugated the puny humans). Sunshine has magic in her blood, which she inherited from her father, a powerful sorcerer.

One day Sunshine decides to drive by herself out to a lonely cottage by a lake. At the lake she is captured by a pack of evil vampires who drag her off to a distant mansion where she is chained to a wall. Sunshine is being offered as dinner to a vampire named Constantine who is imprisoned in the villa. But Constantine does not want to eat Sunshine, and thus she survives until the next day.

The following night, the evil vampires return and see that Constantine has not eaten Sunshine, so they cut her breast so that the scent of her blood will drive Constantine into a feeding frenzy. But Constantine continues to resist, and Sunshine lives to see a second dawn.

On the morning of the second day, Sunshine pulls out a pocket knife. She steps into the sunlight - lo and behold! Sunshine is a powerful magic user! She magicks the pocketknife into a key (we are told that transmuting metal is VERY difficult, so Sunshine must be quite powerful, even though her magical training consisted only of a few simple lessons taught to her as a child by her grandmother). Using the pocketknife-turned-key, Sunshine unlocks the shackles that chain her to the wall so she can escape.

This plot development bothered me. Why did Sunshine wait until the second day to try the metal transformation trick? How did she know what shape of key was needed to unlock the chains? After all, not just any key would fit in the lock. Another thing that troubled me: a magic "sun parasol" would hardly be an effective method of shielding a vampire from mid-day sunshine. Sun rays bounce off all sorts of surfaces, a vampire would certainly be fried by any stray beam. If sun parasols DID work, even magic ones, then wouldn't vampires already be carrying them around as during daylight hours?

Now I will digress for a paragraph to talk about the Death of Marat, a cherry-filled desert that Sunshine likes to concoct in her bakery. Death of Marat is a light fluffy pudding with a heavy filling that all the long time bakery customers often request. You are probably wondering why my book review has veered off into an irritating tangent about deserts - I am trying to make a point about the writing style of this book. The entire novel of Sunshine is FILLED with tangents such as that Death of Marat discussion - some tangents last for a paragraph or two, others will meander on for a couple of pages. I think Robin McKinley intends that this side information will flesh out the world she has created, but instead they overwhelm the plot.

The result is a story that proceeds with glacial speed. The plot advances for a couple of pages, and then McKinley burdens the reader with more irrelevant, extraneous detail and all the pacing and suspense flat lines once again. If this 400 page novel had been trimmed down to 300 pages by editing out all the annoying sidetracks, then Sunshine might have been a decent book. But as published, the wandering voice of Sunshine drowns this story with her incessant chatter. I do not recommend this book.