Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

It was full dark….I knew he could see in the dark; I knew vampires can smell live blood….No, I thought.  That hardly matters.  He isn’t going to forget about me any more than I am going to forget about him, even if I can’t see or hear him – even if I’ve got so used to the vampire smell I’m not noticing it any more.  Which just made it worse.  I thought I would have to see him cross the gray rectangle between him and me – I was pretty sure his chain wasn’t long enough to let him go round – I knew I wouldn’t hear him.  But…I hadn’t seen him drink either.  I bit down on my lips.  I wasn’t going to cry, and I wasn’t going to scream…

And speaking of non-trashy vampire books, I give you Sunshine, by Robin McKinley.  The eponymous Sunshine, baker at a local coffeehouse, gets abducted by vampires for nefarious purposes I won’t go into here, and what with one thing and another, she gets sort of sucked in (ho, ho, ho) to some goings-on in the vampire world, and it’s tricky for her because in fact she would sort of prefer to be a coffeehouse baker.  Rather than Defeating Evil.  And there are some desserts and a vampire of much greater elegance and better mastery of language than Edward of Twilight.

As I say, a non-trashy vampire book, though reading the trashy one and watching Dark Shadows (best show ever, by the way, with Lt. Nathan Forbes (Joe in the present day) as the absolute best character on there, though we like Carolyn quite a lot too) did have a lot to do with the timing of me rereading this one.  I’ve not read it in ages, actually – the first time was on one of our “camping trips”, where we basically make a ton of food and eat it over the weekend while the more adventurous of us go hiking or boating and the lazier of us (this always includes me) sit home and read things.  Sunshine was an excellent find, definitely better in quality than this past year’s major book undertaking, which was Forever Amber (and also Purple Hibiscus and Cordelia Underwood, but those took up much less of my time and emotional involvement).

What I would say about this book is that it leaves you still wondering about a lot of things.  A lot of things.  And some of them are good things to wonder about, like, Why is Constantine such a cool name, and why is the world so constructed that it would be unacceptable for me to name my kid Constantine?, but some of them are things you don’t want to be wondering about at the end of a book, like, What’s the damn difference between Con and Bo anyway (apart from the obvious nice/mean distinction)?

However, I find upon rereading that these are less frantically crucial issues than I thought they were last time I read the book.  Last time I finished it and I was like, Well for Christ’s sake thanks for nothing! and I was particularly cross, may I just say, about not finding out anything interesting about the goddess of pain.   Actually I’m still a little cross about that.  But this latest rereading, which as I say is a good long while on from when I read it last, has made me feel better about the general construction of the book and advancement of the plot.

There is definitely that thing that Robin McKinley is prone to, where she has to describe the way people are feeling and the entire background story to a remark someone’s about to make/just finished making, in unreal amounts of detail.  She sometimes sacrifices the plot for this (see: Dragon Haven (but not really, I read it before I started this website)), but not in the case of Sunshine.  It is occasionally too much but mostly quite interesting because hey! vampires!

So I vote yes to this book.  Indeed I would say her best since Beauty.  Though Deerskin was also quite good.

  • What you said. Definitely. “Yes”.

    Gee, Jenny, you write great reviews. I often feel all inadequate (as a blogger, anyway) after reading them. But please do continue, lol – such a treat to read, especially when I can wholeheartedly agree. And when I don’t agree, (has that happened? – maybe once or twice – not very often) and I have to stop and try to sort out my own thoughts and sometimes reassess. 🙂

  • Hmmm…I love Robin McKinley’s books, and “Sunshine” is probably one of the only vampire novels that I can recommend to people, in some time [“An Old Friend of the Family” and “The Holmes/Dracula File” both by Fred Saberhagen, are the others], but, oddly, “Deerskin” is the only one of her books that completely put me off, and it made me wonder what went on in Robin’s life that put that kind of darkness there. Probably will never read it again. I like how she keeps mixing things up by rewriting a story like Beauty and the Beast more than once (Beauty/Rose Daughter) and gets a whole different take on things. My favorite is probably The Hero and the Crown, and secondly, The Blue Sword.

    • Gin Jenny

      I’ve never even heard of Fred Saberhagen! There aren’t that many vampire novels I feel good recommending to people, but Sunshine is definitely among them.

      Did you like Rose Daughter? I read it, but I did not love it the way I loved Beauty — wasn’t sure if it was just a function of having read Beauty when I was quite young. I haven’t loved THAT many of Robin McKinley’s books — basically this, Beauty, and to a lesser extent Deerskin.

  • Haven’t reread Rose Daughter for a while, but I believe, like you, that I liked Beauty better. I was just surprised that she found a different angle on essentially the same story. I also enjoyed her Outlaws of Sherwood, where you find out that Marian is literally the power behind the Robinhood myth. But, I still liked Ms. McKinley’s own Damarian histories better, and, of those two, The Blue Sword is slightly better, I’m thinking, despite my mixing them up my last post…eh, six of one, both have Newberry Awards.

    If we’re going for childhood must reads…I still have to go with my Sally Watson historicals or Anya Seton’s Katherine. I’m a sucker for a well-written heroine in a detailed historical setting.