Robin McKinley’s Very Dark “Sunshine”

I think I should begin this post by saying that I love Robin McKinley’s books.  You’ve probably seen her referenced around here as one of my favorite authors.  That said, now I can tell you why I didn’t love Sunshine.

Sunshine was very nearly the last McKinley book I hadn’t read (the only other one is Pegasus, and a friend tells me it has a cliffhanger so I’m waiting for the sequel to come out first).  The funny thing is, I used to know why I hadn’t read Sunshine.  See, it’s her vampire book, and I’ve never been a vampire fan.  It’s also darker, and has a more modern setting.  So I just wasn’t that interested.

But all of my friends had read Sunshine, and they all really loved it (possibly because they are vampire fans), and it was the last one (more or less) that I hadn’t read…so I kind of forgot why I wasn’t reading it.

I finally read Sunshine recently.  It wasn’t a bad book, but I did have problems with it, and it very much was not my kind of book.

Sunshine is set in a world much like ours, but the creatures of gothic novels are real: vampires, werewolves, demons.  Humanity is in an ongoing war, and losing.  The book centers on Rae, nicknamed Sunshine, whose life revolves around her family’s coffee house, where she’s the head baker and cinnamon roll queen.  Life takes an unexpected turn when she drives out to the lake one evening, and ends up captured by vampires.  They chain her up in an abandoned house, an offering for their other prisoner–a vampire named Con.

Con, for reasons more mercenary than merciful, doesn’t drain Sunshine’s blood immediately, and the two of them end up working together to escape.  Sunshine gets back to her normal life, but can’t shake the experience.  She starts discovering that she has strange powers, and that she’s still tied somehow to Con and his enemies.

I liked Sunshine (the character).  The book is in first person and we spend a good chunk of the book reading her thoughts and memories.  She’s pulled in an interesting way between two lives–her ordinary baker life, and this dark world of vampires.  She’s a reluctant hero who just wants to go back to her cinnamon rolls, but finds the other world thrust on her, and with it strange powers and plenty of danger.  She’s a strong character, and I liked following her journey.

I didn’t like Con.  It may not have helped that my friends set me up to expect him to be a great romantic hero, and then…it didn’t come out that way in my reading.  Quite apart from the blood-drinking aspect of things, I didn’t find him likable and I didn’t get any chemistry between Sunshine and him.  She keeps describing him as ugly, for one thing (and yes, sometimes I like the ugly characters because of that–see the Phantom of the Opera–but not in this case).  The larger problem is that he never expresses emotions.  I like Vulcans and I like the occasional mysterious enigma, but I just couldn’t get any sense of Con, or whether he cared at all about Sunshine, because he wouldn’t express anything, ever.

I didn’t much like Mel either.  Notice Mel wasn’t mentioned in that summary up there?  That’s how irrelevant he is, even though he’s Sunshine’s boyfriend and theoretically the other point on the romantic triangle.  Somehow, despite being a tattoed, former biker turned chef, he’s an incredibly bland character.  I think the clincher for me was when Sunshine asked him, sort of rhetorically, who he was, and he answered, “I’m your friend.”  That doesn’t really feel like the right response from a long-time boyfriend and narrative love interest…

I actually liked the more minor characters better.  There’s a whole family of people who work or are regular customers at the coffee house, and some of them are quite interesting and entertaining–like Sunshine’s stepfather Charlie, one of the “big good guys” of her universe, or a customer who turns out to be part demon and can turn himself blue.

My problems with Con and Mel may be me–anecdotally I can tell you that I have three friends who love them, so take from that what you will.  The plot of the story is exciting, and the world is intriguing, although it takes some time to get a proper picture of it.  That’s normal for McKinley, who sometimes makes things mysterious at first, and you gradually start putting pieces together.  This is a dark book, with a lot of blood in it–not too graphic, mostly, but there’s a lot of it.  That’s what makes this not my kind of book, so you’ve been warned…  Also, definitely an adult book, not YA.

It does make me impressed with McKinley in a way, though.  For most of my favorite authors, most of their books are similar (which in a way is nice, because I know what I’m getting).  McKinley has impressive range to write very different books: Dragonhaven, Beauty and Sunshine read like they were written by three different authors.

One more point to address–a sequel.  There isn’t one, but fans have been asking for one for years.  McKinley has said that she’ll write one if she has an idea for one, which says to me that she has, for now at least, no intention of writing one.  (If you ever meet her, don’t ask about a sequel–based on her blog, I guarantee she won’t like it!)

I have to say I agree with McKinley.  I don’t think the book needs a sequel.  I may think that in part because I just don’t care which man Sunshine ends up with…  But the larger point is that I think the book came to an ending.  There’s plenty of plot room for a sequel, and questions left unanswered.  However, I think the book really was about Sunshine’s growth, and her acceptance of herself, both the baker and the monster-fighter.  She comes to a realization at the end, and for me, that is the end.

Final analysis: if you like vampires, read Sunshine.  If you don’t like blood, read Beauty or Spindle’s End instead.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews (including some who loved the book far more than I did!):
Suite 101
Bookshelf Bombshells
There are many more–want to tell me about yours, or one you enjoyed?

9 thoughts on “Robin McKinley’s Very Dark “Sunshine”

  1. SilverBow666

    Hi hi, new to your blog, but just just feel like I have to comment. I just finished Sunshine, and i loved it.
    But.. I just have so many questions!! I feel like there needs to be a sequel!!
    I could care less about the “love triangle” with Mel and con. I don’t think there really was a love triangle, it wasn’t about her love life. It was about sunshines life in general, and I loved that part.
    My issues are-
    Why do we never learn what happened with her dad/grandma? Why did they not come find her? Why are the “others” winning, and how so?
    Are sunshine/Rae and Con going to keep fighting? If so, who?
    What were Mel and the other two ladies doing with the fire spells ?
    See, I usually love McKinley and her writings, but this novel.. Was just all over the place. I would have loved a more fleshed out trilogy.
    What do you think?

  2. I like your summary recommendation at the very end – it’s like the NY Times movie reviews where they sum up the movie in a sentence, usually referencing sex, violence or language “issues” (or none present) with a film.

  3. Ever since I reviewed this book, the term “chained vampire” keeps showing up as one of the search results pointing to my blog, which weirded me out a bit, lol.
    As a whole, it wasn’t my favorite by Robin McKinley, but it was still one of the better vampire books that I’ve read (vampires aren’t my thing either).

  4. I really liked Sunshine but – firstly, you have managed to hit on the things that did irritate me a little. I don’t think Con was a hero (I suppose an anti-hero). Secondly I found her boyfriend a pointless addition to the book, there was no need for him to be involved in the story and it wouldn’t have detracted from the tale if he had been omitted and thirdly, I found some of the ‘info dumps’ a little long winded which i felt detracted from the pacing.
    That being said I enjoyed it and would gladly read a 2nd although as you state I think the author is quite adamant about not writing one. Again, I have to respect that decision and I’m capable of making up my own ending anyway!
    Lynn 😀

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