Sunshine – Book Review

I borrowed Sunshine by Robin McKinley from the Logan County Library on 11/6/2009 and I started reading it on 11/13/2009. I finished it on 12/6/2009. Now, let me tell you, I am a fast reader. Normally I finish 250 pages in a few hours max. Sunshine is 389 pages and it took me nearly three weeks to force my way through it. Needless to say, I was disappointed by my first experience with McKinley.


2 1/2 stars out of 5

Robin McKinley’s name came up during my hunt for fairy tale retellings. I actually wanted to read Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of the Beauty and the Beast, but the day I went to the library, there wasn’t a copy available at the library. So I went with Sunshine because it was available, the cover boasted a review from Neil Gaiman that it was “pretty much perfect,” and the story sounded interesting.

Below is the blurb from the inside jacket on the hardcover edition:

From acclaimed author Robin McKinley–a mesmerizing novel of supernatural desire…

Sunshine

“Her feet are already bleeding–if you like feet…”

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion–within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day…

Sounds good, right? I love supernatural. I dig vampires. And I adore a strong female character who rescues a male. Unfortunately, the story did not deliver on what the blurb promised.

In my opinion, the biggest downfall of the story is the first person narrative from only one character the entire novel. The inner monologue, mostly about Sunshine’s life, was extremely boring and gave me little reward for reading it. I can’t even tell you how many times I had to read about cinnamon rolls and other baked goods because that is what Sunshine does for a living–she is a baker in her parent’s shop. There are pages and pages of Sunshine just rambling on, i.e. thinking, about absolutely nothing that I needed to know. Again, see the above reference to “cinnamon rolls.” For this reason, the story moved at slower than a snail’s pace. Strike one.

I’m all about a character starting out weak and whiny, not really seeing their own true potential, but only if eventually that character accepts or rejects their abilities. Sunshine seems to be pulled against her will the entire story, never making a conscious decision on her own to either embrace her new life or fight to get her old one back. She comes across as a “victim” type with little to no self-esteem and I can’t connect with weak. When the entire story is written in the “I” voice, the reader has to be able to connect with that character. Even on the last two pages Sunshine is still not taking any responsibility for her life and she is not being an active participant in making choices for herself, e.g. “I didn’t make up my mind” (page 388) and “This was now my life” and “Get used to it, Sunshine” (page 389). Strike two.

There is an excessive amount of “info dump.” The plot of this book is a strong one but it is lost in pages and pages of exposition that could’ve been delivered in a much more effective manner. The action is buried in all of the narration and there is barely any dialogue at all. The dialogue succeeds in the scenes between Sunshine and Constantine, Sunshine and Yolande, and Sunshine and her grandmother. But other than that, it’s questionable to say the least. The main vampire in the story, Constantine, is in only a handful of scenes, and for all the narration and exposition, I hardly get to know him at all. How am I supposed to fear for Constantine’s safety when I don’t know him well enough to care whether he survives? Strike three.

Overall, I think this book would’ve been great had there been some serious editing. However, in its current published form, it only reached “fair” status. The strong elements, especially the worldbuilding, just weren’t strong enough to overcome the problems I listed above, at least for me anyway. I would welcome a sequel because I’d like to see Sunshine become the strong woman I know she can be and I’d like to see where she and Constantine go off to at the end of this book.

Again, I could really see a great story, if I squinted hard enough, but it was buried in a bunch of stuff that kept me from being able to enjoy it.

Have you read a book by Robin McKinley?

Based on what I thought of Sunshine, do you think I should read Beauty?

WEB RESOURCES:

Purchase Sunshine from: Amazon.

Fans of Robin McKinley: visit her web site and blog.

[According to McKinley’s blog, there will not be a sequel to Sunshine.]

2 Comments:

  1. It’s pretty typical that McKinley’s books feature a fair amount of stream-of-consciousness rambling from the heroine, but it’s also true that Sunshine has more of it. I’ll tell you straight up front that I am a huge McKinley fan, and loved this novel as I love all her novels, but I can also see how someone with different tastes wouldn’t enjoy it.

    One of the things I find so refreshing about Robin McKinley’s characters is that unlike a lot of feminist fantasy writers, she gets it that women can be strong and intelligent and still be feminine, and DON’T necessarily have to wear leather and/or armor, or do martial arts and speak in quippy one-liners. I get real tired of those gals after a bit. So I found Sunshine to be a refreshingly honest and realistic character, complete with outside interests beyond her birthright of vampire-stuff and magic, as well as flaws that help make her interesting. But it’s like people–some you like, and some you don’t. It’s a lot easier to get annoyed with someone who’s not a stock cookie cutter character.

    And as far as all the coffeehouse baking stuff was concerned, I ate it up and wished to high heaven that Charlie’s was down the street from my house. I actually stumbled upon your blog in the first place doing a search to see if anyone had made a recipe for Sunshine’s Cinnamon Rolls.

    I also happen to feel that regardless of what McKinley says on her blog right now, there will probably be at least one sequel in years to come. There are multitude directions she could take this world and these characters, and based on what I’ve read of her previous stuff, I think there’s more to come. So the whole book reads to me as kind of a “beginning” to me. A lot of the info dump to me was exposition introducing the whole world, rather than just the immediate surroundings of the main characters.

    But again, I can see how all this would not be everyone’s cup of tea.

    Now, about reading Beauty. Beauty is a lovely novel, but if you were turned off by inner monologue and a main character who “lets things happen to her” rather than taking her destiny by storm, Beauty will probably annoy you in the same way, although to a lesser extent. It’s shorter, so there is less room for lots of exposition, what you refer to as “info dump”. The heroine, Beauty, is a lot more pragmatic than Sunshine, and doesn’t freak out as much, so she probably won’t get on your nerves as much. But she doesn’t use weapons, or boss people around, or kick people’s butts, and a lot of the story is her wandering around trying to figure out what the heck is going on. There’s a lot about dresses and interior architecture. From what you wrote about your tastes in the above review, you might like it but I suspect only mildly.

    However, what I DO recommend from the Robin McKinley library is The Blue Sword, and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown. The heroines of those two, Harry and Aerin, will probably satisfy you a lot more; they are much more active (physically and personality-wise). They are also shorter and more to-the-point, tighter, with fewer loose ends straggling all over the place like they are in Sunshine. (To me, this wasn’t a flaw, just tantalizing hints of more to come). There aren’t any vampires, but there are dragons, and deserts and tents and oracles up in the mountains, and lots of stuff about horses and swords, which I personally dig. Anyway it’s a really good literary pair, although both can stand alone. And if you want some Robin McKinley you’ll really like, that’s what I’d recommend.

    Of course this is all just my opinion.

    Happy reading!
    Rebecca

    • Awesome post, Rebecca! Thank you so much for such an intelligent and informative response to my review.

      Based on your comments, I’ll definitely read The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown. I wonder, which one should I read first? I know sometimes it’s best to read in the order of publication but other times it’s better to read based on the timeline of the worlds within the books.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to post a comment. And I hope you find that recipe 🙂

      Warmest wishes,
      Leah

Leave a Comment