Margaret (pling) wrote,

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"Sunshine" by Robin McKinley

(Book 12) This is the June book for calico_reaction's book club - I'd read it before, about 5 years ago and I was convinced I'd've written about it in my LJ back then, but a cursory glance through posts tagged 'books' (or 'book', I need to go through my tags, methinks) from summer 2005-ish doesn't show anything. I wasn't going to write it up till later in the month but if I leave it too long I'll forget about it - I'd actually planned to read it later in the month but once I'd picked it up and looked at the first page I was sucked in all over again.

Sunshine is a person - she's a (20-something?) baker and works in the cafe owned by her step-father, and the story tells us what happens after she gets caught by some vampires. We see the whole thing through her eyes & in her thoughts - it's first person perspective & Sunshine has a pretty distinctive voice. It rambles around and talks about what things remind her of, and what the background to things is & so on. I read an amazon review that gave the book one star coz it hated that, but I loved it - in some ways it's a lot like how I think, and how I try and explain things ... start in the middle, backtrack a bit for some useful info, back to the real explanation, back again to some other thing you need to know etc. But I would say that if you pick it up & don't like the first 10 or so pages, then don't bother - you're unlikely to like the rest. We get, in those 10 pages from "It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn't that dumb. There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life." to "I never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires." via an introduction to her family (mother, step-father, step-brothers, gran), her work, her work colleagues, her boyfriend, her landlady, her taste in reading (trashy novels about the Others), a bit of recent world history (the Voodoo Wars) and a whole bunch of other things that settle you into the world which isn't quite ours and firmly into Sunshine's head. And that one-star reviewer would have said nothing happened so it was boring.

(Edited to add: I've just found that there's an excerpt of the book on Robin McKinley's website that is exactly the passage I was talking about, so you can go read it if you wish :) )

So, it's not our world, it's a world with vampires and werewolves and demons and magic - but at a tech level that is analogous to our modern world. But it's not all the supernatural beasties dumped into our world, so she shows this by using different words for some things - so they have the globenet not the internet, comboxes not computers. But other words are the same (TV for instance) I guess because a little goes a long way - it's a flavour and a semi-constant reminder it's not our world. I rather think that if I started to peer too closely at the world building it would show up a whole lot of "but why would that still happen?" questions but it hangs together very well and I've no desire to spoil the reality of it in my head by poking holes in it for the sake of poking holes.

These are not your glamorous supernatural beasties though - vampires are rightly feared for both killing and turning people, being a were is inconvenient at best (there are drugs that can stop you turning or you can hide it) and often it's not a were-wolf it's a were-something else. Demon is a bit of a catch-all term and as they can cross-breed with humans then a child can end up with some demon abilities showing up due to some unsuspected part-blood ancestor (I rather suspect there's a race analogy to be read into it here - as well as the discrimination against part-bloods there is an emphasis on "passing" for human). The Voodoo Wars are recent-past events to the story but I don't think we ever get told much about them, other than that it was a war between the Others and humans, and that the world population is lower than it would otherwise have been now (and there's a little throw away line somewhere about how that might've been good for the environment ...).

SPOILERS FROM HERE: One of the things I really liked about this book was how even when it's over, it's not. So she gets caught by vampires & escapes - back to real life, everything's over, right? No. That's just Part One of the story - Part Two is about her coping with living with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, and not just the trauma itself but that she can't tell anyone about it because of how she escaped. And the vampires she escaped from aren't happy about it either. But when some of this gets resolved, it's still not the end - there are four parts to the book and even the very end, well that threat is gone but she has the rest of her life to live and it's going to be complicated. So it feels real and like it's a part of someone's life - no neat tied up ending. But there's still a sense of closure, of finishedness to that part of her story, and a sense of hope and a feeling that Sunshine will work it out, somehow, and have a good life.

I also liked that things have consequences, and not necessarily the ones anyone thought of in advance. As an example: Sunshine gets to see in the dark - terribly useful when vampire hunting, don't you think? But shadows are dark, too. So she sees through all the shadows in the daytime and as it's not normal vision, she gets odd optical illusions and screwy depth perception due to them.

There's other things I'd like to say, but I'm struggling to make coherent paragraphs out of them. Like - names have power, an obvious fairy-tale trope, but well done here as we know Sunshine for a while before knowing why Sunshine is so appropriate, and how even Rae is a very appropriate name for her. And the fact that she doesn't go by her father's name is plot important both coz the vampires don't know who they have, but also because it's been her whole attitude to her potential magic abilities - not really part of her life, she's a baker that's her self-identity. And I want to know more about who or what Mel (her boyfriend) is, amongst other people - in fact this is part of what makes the world feel so solid. There's a strong sense that we're seeing one wee strand (albeit an important one) of a complex world where there are real people living. And on that note it's pretty visceral at times - vampires die when staked, sure, but they don't crumble conveniently to ash they die messily and explosively and well, Sunshine is a veggie because she hates handling meat & blood ... and yeah. Not nice for her. Which made it feel realer. END OF SPOILERY BITS

I'd really recommend this book - it's a fun read, in a world that hangs together and I love the main character. And it's an interestingly different take on the "supernatural beings in a world like ours" theme - they fit the general mythology we all already have, but are refreshingly not dead-sexy-alpha-males-in-disguise. I'm glad I bought it when the library didn't have it, I'm sure I'll read it again - and if McKinley ever writes a sequel I'll be there in a flash :)

(Ellen - this always makes me think of you, mostly coz Sunshine is a baker and because I was convinced it was set in a Canada analogue (but I can't find anything to back that up), but if you haven't read it, maybe you'd like it?)
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