Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Sunshine

The urban fantasy genre as a whole has the tendency to mix monsters with romance. Even the most action packed novels have a few romantic scenes every now and again. I don’t mind really all that much when the love story focus is small, it’s when the entire focus of the story is centered on the "relationship destined to fail because I'm in love with a monster" thing-- that's when it starts to get to me.

Yes, I am a girl, and yes, I could say that I’m rather girly in that I love shopping and fashion and shoes and clothes, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s romance novels. It’s not that I’m bitter or jaded or anything. I just think the whole genre has the potential to often be a bit... cheesy and overdone.

You know the kind-- with the almost laughable titles and even more laughable cover art that looks like it came straight out of a yard sale from the 1970s even though it's 2011.

A quick glance at the cover and the synopsis of the book and Robin McKinley’s Sunshine seems like another vampire/human romance novel. It was highly recommended by a friend, and author, Neil Gaiman, even offers his own praise on the front cover so I had high hopes for the book.

Once I finished the first chapter I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I’m pretty sure I finished the entire book in the span of two days, staying up until 4 a.m. one day to read more of the novel.

I read it while I was curling my hair. I read it while I was on the train. I read it while I was at work… SHHH!

It was just that good! I had to know what happened next. This book doesn’t read like a romance even though you could argue that it has romance novel potential.


Main character Rae “Sunshine” Seddon (born Raven Blaise) is pretty Plain Jane. She gets up every morning at o’dark thirty, goes to her job at her parents' bakery and bakes cinnamon rolls. She has a nice, somewhat normal, sorta edgy boyfriend and she loves her apartment and gets along great with her landlord.

Sunshine is happy with her normal life... and would take being a cinnamon bun baker over another job prospect any day.

But like her name suggests, Sunshine's life is just a little ray of brightness in a dark world where vampires, werewolves, demons and the other things that go bump in the night live out in the open with humans. The Voodoo Wars, a fight between the humans and the “Others,” adversely affected the human population and humans live in constant fear of Others. The FBI is obsolete and instead there is the SOF (Special Other Forces), a government agency with the sole purpose of holding the Others, but more importantly protecting the humans from the vampires. While some of the Others look frightening, it is the vampires that the humans fear the most. 

An unsuspecting Sunshine finds herself kidnapped by a gang of local vampires and that's when our heroine's story really begins.

Sunshine wakes up confined to a wall in an abandoned lakeside house; to make things even better for our terrified heroine she is sitting next to a vampire who hasn't eaten for weeks and is slowly dying of sunlight exposure.

The leader of the vampire gang that kidnapped Sunshine,"Bo" (Beauregard), turns out to be the enemy of the vampire she is chained next to. She learns that "Con" (Constantine) and Bo are enemies and Bo wants Con dead, er... dust. To make matters worse, he wants to torture Con a bit before he dies and uses Sunshine as bait.

Sunshine learns that she has to trust Con if she is going to get out of the mansion alive. Somehow Sunshine manages to tap into a long forgotten family secret and leads herself and her vampire companion to safety.

They've escaped, but the story doesn't end there.

Sunshine returns hoping to go home to her apartment and back to her daily routine. Her family and friends are shocked that not only was she was kidnapped but by vampires. It is only a matter of time before Sunshine distances herself from her family, her boyfriend and her friends. She is not so sure she wants to tell them that it was also a vampire who helped her escape.

But Bo sees her as a problem. He quickly figures out that there is something different about Sunshine since Con had been imprisoned for weeks before Sunshine was captured and couldn't escape. Sunshine's ordinary, mundane life quickly becomes a deadly and dangerous roller-coaster.

She's an accomplice to Bo's enemy and he will not rest until they are both dead.


It's the classic Beauty and the Beast tale only without the happy ending. It almost feels like there IS no ending. I actually thought maybe I had missed something somewhere in the book and frantically went through a page flipping frenzy looking for any kind of sneak peak at a sequel.


I probably moped around for all of a day then grudgingly made myself get over it. Every now and again I can't help thinking about the book and whether or not McKinley will ever do a sequel.

The universe in which McKinley's characters live in is very developed and complex. Too complex for that to just be the end of the book. McKinley's vampires aren't handsome, they aren't charming, they aren't sparkly-- they're killers and hunters, they're dead and they look it, gray skin and all. These vampires seem almost alien. Sunshine isn't quite sure what to make of Con when they first meet. She can't quite figure out how to really communicate with him. He seems to almost have no facial expressions, no emotions, no... nothing.

Sunshine isn't particularly witty, she has a normal job, and tries to live a normal life in-spite of the fact that she lives in a world where monsters run rampant. Despite her magic abilities Sunshine wants more than anything to be normal and fights hard to not be the heroine.

The ending of the book just felt so incomplete; like there was so much more that could have happened with the plot line. While both Con and Sunshine's characters both show a great deal of character development throughout the novel I felt like I had just gotten to really know the characters and then... the book ends.

Don't get me wrong. This is definitely a book you can read again and again, but the ending was just so disappointing especially since now I know there's no sequel. I don't want to give away too much about the book though because I want you to read it.

Just make sure you start reading this book expecting to get your hopes up. Then any small sliver of optimism you have about this book continuing won't be completely crushed into a thousand tiny pieces.


You can check out McKinley's other books and her extremely long statement on her blog about how she is not releasing a sequel to Sunshine here. Yes, I am still bitter. 



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