Author: Robin McKinley
Sometimes, your beloved Zombrarian falls into despair. See, she loves her some vampire books, but vampire books are apparently really hard to write. She knows they are really hard to write because most of them really suck (and not in a good way). She’s going to drop the third person, because it’s pretentious and annoying….
Anyway. When I get sad about vampire books, I turn to Robin McKinley’s book Sunshine, the ultimate cure-for-what-ails-you of the vampire genre. The complicated motivations, emotions, and worldbuilding make it difficult to do the plot justice in a short summary, but I’ll give it a shot :
The book is set in an alternate universe where magic and supernatural characters are acknowledged, and sometimes even accepted, by regular society. Some supernatural beings are good, some are bad, and all of them are under the jurisdiction of a special police force. Vampires are the only race generally acknowledged to be all bad.
The title character is a baker in her family’s coffee shop, who through a series of misfortunes ends up befriending a neutral vampire (not a baddie, but not necessarily a goodie), acknowledging her magic-handling heritage, and simultaneously helping and hindering the special police in their “fight” against a biggest-baddie-boss vampire. And she makes some of the most delicious-sounding pastries you can imagine.
Somehow, McKinley evokes the best of the vampire genre (Buffy, the original Nosferatu) while still making this book utterly her own. Those familiar with her work know that she has a habit of mixing pragmatic characters with dangerous adventures and suddenly-activated magical powers that make the world look like an LSD trip at inconvenient times. The post-post-apocalyptic world itself is reassuringly realistic (despite demons and were-creatures frequenting the coffee shop). Sunshine’s family is affected by issues of gentrification, wounds hamper characters’ everyday activities, the government is neither all good nor all bad, and when you get covered in gore you look and smell gross.
The main characters in Sunshine are as realistically flawed as the world they live in. And even the secondary and tertiary characters have fascinating personalities that would warrant a spin-off if this book were a TV show. There’s Sunshine’s boyfriend, the coffehouse chef, who is covered in warding tattoos, rides a motorcycle, and has a mysterious wartime past. Or her best friend, a librarian who loves going to flea markets and does intelligence work on the side. I myself am totally in love with Yolande, Sunshine’s landlady, who is exactly the kind of intelligent, sassy old lady I want to be when I grow up. It’s a testament to McKinley’s writing that these intriguing characters add spice to the story without overshadowing the gripping plot and Sunshine’s personal journey.
Fair Warning: McKinley states quite vehemently that there’s not going to be a sequel to this book, but that there may be a related novel once she’s done with her current book, Pegasus (which I am trying very hard to reserve judgement on until I read the second half, due out in2012).
Rating: 5/5, a gripping story that’s just the right mix of Buffy-esque action and Baking.