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Sunshine - Robin McKinley

When I picked up Sunshine for the first time and realized that Robin McKinley had written a vampire novel, I was almost horrified: it seemed a far cry from Damar and retold fairy tales, and vampire novels are certainly not usually my thing. But McKinley is easily one of my top ten favorite writers, so I sat down with it one night and got so sucked into it (pardon the pun) that I stayed up most of the night finishing it (which is a bigger deal than it used to be, with a toddler who gets up when he feels like it rather than when I do). On subsequent rereads, I've managed to avoid staying up all night, but it's been a real test of my willpower.

Sunshine is set in an alternate universe, where there are vampires, demons, and weres as well as humans, those who survived the Voodoo Wars but are now threatened by the increase in the vampire population. Rae Seddon, a baker nicknamed "Sunshine" for her affinity for sunlight, has an unusual interest in the Others, but no real contact with them...until the night she's kidnapped by a group of vampires. Her fellow prisoner is also a vampire, and their joint captivity creates an uneasy alliance. Even after their escape, Sunshine and Con are still linked, and Sunshine (another of McKinley's typically strong, practical heroines) discovers more about her world, her past, and her own powers as she and Con work together to defeat the vampire who captured them.

McKinley excels at creating richly detailed worlds, and she's done that again with Sunshine. The world is like ours in many respects (Sunshine describes something at one point as "half Quasimodo, half Borg"), but chillingly different in others -- in one memorable passage, Sunshine wonders about whether phoenixes exist: "I think the phoenix has at least a fifty-fifty chance of being true, because it's nasty. What this world doesn't have is the three-wishes, go-to-the-ball-and-meet-your-prince, happily-ever-after kind of magic. We have all the mangling and malevolent kinds. Who invented this system?" Con himself is Other: not just a human with long teeth, he is inhuman, which makes Sunshine's unwilling attraction to him particularly intriguing (and yet another of McKinley's variations on the "Beauty and the Beast" theme, which she makes even more apparent by having Sunshine retell the fairy tale to Con during their imprisonment).

Altogether, Sunshine is an unusual outing for McKinley in its subject matter and world, but her wonderful writing, worldbuilding, and characterization are fully evident and as compelling as ever. Oh, and you might want to have a couple of good cinnamon rolls lying around, because believe me, you'll be hungry for them by the time you're done with the book (I wish McKinley had included Sunshine's recipe for those).