A review of Sunshine
By Jeanne Doherty, MLIS
Whenever I think that surely a new way to write about vampires cannot be found, someone pops up and surprises me with a completely new take on the archetype. This particular book is a surprise in more ways than one. It is, for instance, a startling new direction for McKinley, who has perfected the tough-minded heroine in her re-workings of fairy tales, but whose stories have never been set in any time or place that seems as contemporary or harsh as this one is. Not that she seems out of her element. McKinley, while dealing freely in many of the tropes of fairy tale, such as magic, doomed princesses, animal companions and true love, has never gone much for the cutie-pie style of some fantasists. One of her major strengths as a writer is that she is able to create characters who fit seamlessly in to unlikely situations while at the same time seeming not unlike you or me. You read her books, and think, "Gosh, if I were captured by a Bedouin king and offered the chance to fight with his people against a magical menace, I might respond in just that way!" 'Sunshine' is no exception.
The world of 'Sunshine' seems a bit like our own, but for a couple of details. Namely, that magic seems to work in the world of the book, that magical creatures such as demons and vampires exist openly within it and that there seems to have recently been some sort of near-apocalyptic war involving both magic and magical creatures. This all sounds fairly outrageous, but again, McKinley's narrator treats it very matter-of-factly, and you find yourself doing the same right along with her. Sunshine is a very talented baker (yes, that's right, she bakes bread and cinnamon rolls for a living), who immediately gets in to a curious situation involving rival vampires. She inadvertently rescues one, even though she starts the book explaining that the vampires of her world are the worst kind of evil, definitely not rock-star sexy like in the Anne Rice books, and she and we spend the rest of the book dealing with the aftermath of that decision.
There are so many wonderful things about this book. It is one of the rare novels that I just read the last page of, turned over and started again from the beginning. McKinley is one of very few authors whose work I can always count on to be freshly wonderful even after countless re-readings, and she doesn't do re-treads; every new book has different ideas, new images, interestingly articulated relationships and heroines whose gifts are varied and fantastical. This particular one is the sexiest and most contemporary of hers, and for that reason, it might be a good introduction for those who don't ordinarily go gaga over fantasy novels. In my opinion, everyone should try at least one of her books before dismissing them. They are some of the best fiction of any genre that the English language has to offer.Find this book at Powell's