Give me Sunshine

I don’t like to say I write ‘book reviews’ as such. My only qualification would be the large number I’ve read, which is not so much of a qualification at all, and I react strongly against people telling me something is good because they thought it was good. I’m less likely to read a book the more people tell me how amazing it is. Maybe I’m just being contrary. So what I try to do is say why I liked it, and hope that’ll be enough to get others interested. Because when something moves me, I want to share that feeling.

‘I didn’t hear them coming. But then you don’t, do you, when they’re vampires.”

I just finished Robin McKinley’s Sunshine – and it definitely falls into the ‘moving’ catagory. I admit, I picked it up for two reasons – it has a recommendation by Neil Gaiman, and it has vampires.

But don’t switch off right here! Believe me, this is not your usual Twilight-Diaries-Trueblood vamp romance. It’s not a romance at all, although eroticism is a definite theme. It doesn’t fall anywhere near the same catergory as the above, in fact it’s closer to some kind of post-apolypitic sci-fi fairy story.

The reason I loved this book is not because of the plot. It’s been done before – a seemingly normal human discovers there’s something extraodinary about her and uses it to fight the forces of evil. It’s the setting and the writing style that I found striking and addictive.

Sunshine lives in what appears to be some future Earth. Supernatural humans are called Others and are feared but generally accepted as the norm. There’s a variety of demons, fairies, weres, and The Darkest of Others – vampires. Her town is normal, her life as a baker in the family coffeehouse is normal, and she’s doing her best to ignore the calling of her sorcerer father’s betraying blood. Until she gets stolen by bad vampires and chained to a wall in an abandoned mansion to become food for a vampire prisoner. Fortunately he’s one of the good guys and refuses to eat her even when she very unpolitely bleeds all over him. However, she must call on her previously restrained magic to get them out of the sticky situation.

Quite apart from the expert blending of normal and entirely abnormal, I find McKinley’s style strangely reminiscent of Virginia Woolf – in particular that exquisite stream-of-consciousness known as Mrs Dalloway. I’m well aware some people can’t stand this opaque jumbling of thoughts and impressions, and prefer more directness. But when describing supernatural situations I find it perfect. We see the world through Sunshine’s eyes, hear her thoughts, feel her confusion and voilent objection to her own feelings. It’s just stunning. Come to think of it, Woolf mixes extreme situations with normality very adeptly too – the suicide in Mrs Dalloway juxtaposes with the party-going in a way that simultaneously implies normality and somehow makes it seem all the worse.

What I loved – McKinley’s descriptions of vampires. I can’t find any quotes right now and the book’s at home, but they are seriously creepy. They move without moving and have non-coloured eyes and skin. It’s painful to listen to them and impossible to look at them. Sooo much better than any other description of vampires I’ve ever read, exactly as I’ve always imagined them – and Definitely Not sparkly in the sun.

What I didn’t love – that the erotic tension that built between Sunshine and her ‘good’ vampire throughout the book was never realised. McKinley leaves the ending open for a sequel, but so far one has not been forthcoming. I object to sequels, mainly because I’m severely impatient.

“I like that: a little pressure on the understood boundaries of yourself. Sounded like something out of a self-awareness class, probably with yoga. See what kind of a pretzel you can tie yourself into and press on the understood…  I was raving, if only to myself.”

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