Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Happy New Year! And happy old book--I'm still erratically and happily working my way back through McKinley's books.

Sunshine is one of Mckinley's Beauty and the Beast retellings, though it departs further from the tale than, say Beauty or even Chalice. In fact, Sunshine, the "Beauty" of the story tells the tale to Constantine, the "Beast" quite early on in the novel.

Sunshine is set sometime in the near, non-specific future, in a land where vampires, werewolves, triffids, zombies etc are entirely real and where a recent magical war has left scars across the land. It begins Sunshine is abducted by vampires and taken to a deserted mansion. Once there, finds herself allying with a vampire, Constantine, and has to learn to use magic she barely understands to survive a vampire war and takeover attempt. The trouble is: She hates vampires. Everyone hates vampires, and rightly so. They're predators and, unlike the other supernatural beings, there is no way of making peace with them or sharing the world with them. Sunshine is sure, and with reason, that if any of her other friends find out about the vampire, Constantine, they will never forgive her.

Sunshine has deeper world-building and is darker than most Mckinley, which is why it is both one of my favorites and one of my least favorites. I've read it before, but I'm still surprised by the amount of gore and despair that there is in the book(1). Also, I'm not a fan of vampires though for Mckinley, I'll make an exception, just as I do for Hambly. It's just that I keep managing to pick it up expecting a nice, quiet read like Beauty or Chalice and instead I'm immersed in this dark, tangled, dangerous, suspenseful novel wondering what happened.

There are significant alterations to the "Beauty and the Beast" story here. For example, Sunshine already has a perfectly good human boyfriend who stays steady, strong, and reliable all through, and Constantine is, and will remain, a vampire and that is a predator, even if a reasonably honorable one. The relationship Sunshine and Constantine have can't really be described as romantic, either. Also, this one is, as I've mentioned already, very much a suspense-veering-toward horror story. There are monsters out there and they have to be fought, often violently, and it takes all of Sunshine's courage and then some to face them.

Like Mckinley's other Beauties, Sunshine has a real-world passion that keeps her grounded in the middle of all the insanity. Hers is baking: She is the Cinnamon Roll Queen, maker of Sunshine's Eschatology and other deserts. There are lavish, loving descriptions of baking that I could lose myself in quite happily.

I'm sure I will be reading Sunshine again, and I can't help wishing there were a sequel. I like Rae/Sunshine, the heroine and I love her world. I want to find out what happened to the Blaise family, to find out how the humans win (We will win, right?) in the end, and to see what becomes of Sunsine as she furthers her studies of the magical, and to find out more about Mel, and to meet all of the coffee shop folk again. Mckinley is quite, quite definite about the absence of sequels, and the book does end quite well in its own right, and the loose ends are the perfectly respectable sort of loose ends that imply that, yes, there's a world out there, and it's still going, but the author hasn't chronicled all of it, and it works just fine. I'm greedy, that's all.

(1) This really shouldn't surprise me. I have read Deerskin which is one of the more visceral descriptions of the aftermath of rape and incest I've ever come across. It is very, very good, and a book someone absolutely had to write, and I am never reading it again.

Other Reviews
Tales of the Marvelous
Love Vampires
The Eclectic Review

Links of Interest
Robin McKinley's Blog
Robin Mckinley's entry on why there will probably never be a sequel to Sunshine, so please stop asking
Sunshine on Amazon.


  1. I really love this book; it remains my favourite McKinley, although I also think The Blue Sword is my favourite McKinley. I've also got Shadows on the shelf and I am desperate to get to it, though I've got others I have to read first.

    I do agree, this is dark. But I loved that the vampires were so alien. I loved exactly what you describe, too, about the world just going on, and we'll never know all the answers; McKinley can get away with it, for some reason. I think.

    Also, 100% agree about Deerskin. I read it as a kid, expecting something like The Hero and the Crown, and I've never quite recovered. So good, and so traumatic.

    1. I need to reread The Blue Sword again soon.

      Might I suggest moving Shadows forward in your list? It doesn't take very long to read, it is an excellent book, and it is the most-related-to-Sunshine book she's written yet (Different world, you understand, and an absence of vampires, but kin).

      And, yes, I like the glimpses we get of the vampire world & way of thinking & the way it is alien, and the way that Sunshine never can quite forget that Con is a predator.

  2. Sunshine is by far my favorite of Robin McKinley's novels. I love Beauty nearly as much but don't reread it nearly as often. Even though Sunshine is very dark, I love the worldbuilding and love the characters. I'd love a sequel, but Robin McKinley never ceases saying there won't be a sequel. (Alas.)

    1. Beauty is my favorite, but I truly cannot say whether it is because it is the better book or because I grew up reading it.

      Of course, the world in which Robin McKinley wrote the sequel to Sunshine is probably also a world in which she didn't write Shadows, and that would be sad.

  3. Ha. I don't particularly like vampire stories, but then I have not read many of them. Among the few are Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night and this one, which is now one of my favorite McKinley's. She really does have a thing for the beauty and beast story, doesn't she? So masterfully rewrites it that most of the time (here, again) I don't recognize the underlying familiar tale until someone points it out to me!

    1. I like Hambly's James Asher series, too. I've read three, and only recently discovered a fourth (Magistrates of Hell) came out in July 2012 & a fifth (Kindred of Darkness) is coming out in March of this year.

      Clearly, I need to pay closer attention to these things!

  4. Oh, I need to catch up! I've still only read the first one. Has she written other vampire books as well? I read all her Winterland series and that's about it for Hambly (but I've always wanted to delve into more of her various worlds)

    1. The James Asher (or Ysidro, or Lydia Asher) series is:

      Those who Hunt the Night
      Traveling with the Dead
      Blood Maidens
      Magistrates of Hell
      Kindred of Darkness

      There's a really loooong break in real world years between Traveling with the Dead and Blood Maidens. Actually, looking, there's a fairly long break between Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling as well, I just discovered them together!

      Anyway, the break-and-resumption gives me hope that the other series by her that I love--the Windrose Chronicles will continue properly some day.