Sunshine by Robin McKinley, read for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge. This is a pretty long, in-depth review, so brace yourself.
"There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake in years. Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts for a minute. But then the vampires found her . . . Now, chained and imprisoned in a once-beautiful decaying mansion, alone but for the vampire, Constantine, shackled next to her, Sunshine realizes that she must call on her own hidden strength if she is to survive. But Constantine is not what she expected of a vampire, and soon Sunshine discovers that it is he who needs her, more than either of them know.
Originally published as an adult novel, but now in YA for the first time, Sunshine is an alluring and captivating vampire story — one that will ensnare fans of paranormals everywhere."
Why is it outside my comfort zone? I've tried a few vampire novels in the past, but the ones with traditional vampires (i.e. not glittery "vegetarian" Twilight ones) often just didn't appeal to me that much, as I get grossed out by the whole drinking-your-blood thing. Still, I see so many bloggers raving about vampire paranormal books I figured I should try a few of the more popular ones and see if they can suck me in. (Yes, pun intended.)
Did it win me over? Why or why not? Um, in a word: no. I thought all vampire books, even if somewhat gory at times, were at least exciting and action-filled...that is, until I read Sunshine. I don't know that I've ever read such a slow-moving paranormal novel before. I admit I was intrigued by the beginning scenario of the protagonist, Sunshine, being chained in the same room as a vampire. However, once she manages to escape (which doesn't take that long, really) the whole huge middle section of the book feels...well, to put it bluntly, kind of pointless.
Even if a book doesn't have a lot of plot, I can sometimes get on board if I like the characters. Oh, how I wish I could say I did with this novel. But frankly, Sunshine irritated me so much. I like sarcasm as much as the next person (probably more, actually) but Sunshine was snarky and cynical so frequently it got old pretty fast. It felt kind of like she was hating on the whole world all the time. She came across as incredibly self-absorbed, pessimistic and sometimes downright whiny, and she had this stream-of-consciousness rambling style to her thought processes that annoyed me no end. This also had the effect of slowing down the plot whenever it managed to build up a bit of momentum, and considering it needed every little ounce of momentum it could get, these "info dumps" didn't help matters.
Most of the other side characters didn't particularly impress me (all of the "Special Other Forces" guys seemed really similar), but I didn't really dislike them the way I did the main character. I'm not sure what function Mel, Sunshine's trusty, loyal boyfriend was supposed to fill, but he was usually just mentioned off-screen and he played no central role (actually, he didn't even play a peripheral role, really) in the main storyline. I will put in a good word for Con, though: yes, that's right, I liked the vampire the most. There was a lot to admire in his character — willpower, honesty, and even some good old-fashioned politeness, in a way. And I enjoyed seeing him become at least a little less vampire-ish and a little more "human" as his bond with Sunshine strengthened.
As for the villainous characters...well, the main 'bad guy' doesn't truly put in an appearance till right near the end. That also diminished the tension and sense of urgency, since the threat was not very immediate most of the time.
Best aspect? Can I say the cover? No, that doesn't count? Darn.
I did enjoy some aspects of the world-building —for instance, there is a real blend of paranormal and fantasy here that ends up making the setting unique. Vampires, demons, and magic-handlers all co-exist, along with a special police force for keeping them under control. Sunshine's magic comes from the sunlight and I loved that twist on the elemental magic that traditional fantasy often uses. I also liked the creative take on charms McKinley uses — they're made to seem almost alive, somehow.
If I could change something, I would... I don't even know where to begin. I would cut a *lot* of the extraneous information that Sunshine gives us when she wants to just ramble about her world or her observations for a while. Some world-building information is necessary, of course, but the reader gets hit over the head with a 50-pound world-building brick of information here. The dense and wordy writing style just exacerbates the problem.
I'd give Sunshine a personality make-over so that she's easier to relate to...or if that was impossible, then give her character more development over the course of the story. She is perhaps slightly less self-focused at the end — she actually thinks about Con's safety at one point — but in my opinion she still has a long way to go.
This book also needed way more excitement, action, danger, tension — you name it. We get a bit of this, finally, in the climactic scene, but then the threat is resolved way too easily. Spoiler, highlight to read: Why does she suddenly have the strength to rip out vampire's hearts? Is that from the partblood demon side of her that we never really find out about?
I also got very confused in some parts due to the extremely vague description of the magic. For instance, terms like "beyond-dark" and "nowheresville" were thrown around when talking about Sunshine's contact with the vampire world, but they were never properly explained. This made it difficult to visualize what she was experiencing, and a lot more clarity in the description would have helped immensely.
Target audience? This isn't one of my usual review sections but I wanted to point this out: Sunshine does not feel like a YA novel in the slightest. My library copy had categorized it as young adult, but as I started reading I kept checking the sticker on the spine...I just couldn't believe this book had been labelled YA.
For starters, the voice doesn't sound remotely like a teen. Indeed, I don't think Sunshine even is a teen — I'm not sure we ever find out her exact age but she's graduated from high school and she sounds like she might be in her mid-twenties. Her jaded attitude and just the way she thinks all feel much more 'adult' than 'young adult'. The detailed and information-heavy sidenotes of her thoughts and the slow-as-molasses plot also scream 'adult fiction'. And then, of course, there's also the explicit language and mature sexual content, just in case you were in any doubt.
Apparently it was originally published as an adult novel, then re-issued later with a different cover as YA. I really have no idea what the publisher was thinking when they made that change.
Just one more thing I want to mention: The loose ends lying around when the last page was done. Spoilers, highlight to read: Are we supposed to believe that the "goddess of pain" is going to just forget about everything? And how come we never find out about Sunshine's true ancestry? Also, what happens to Mel? Sunshine just seems to conveniently forget about her steady, dependable, almost-never-on-the-page boyfriend at the end. I wanted some more answers, especially considering I slogged through over 400 pages to get them. (For the first half I kept thinking that the plot *had* to pick up at some point...then once I got over halfway I was determined to push through so I could finish it for my challenge and write a review.)
Would I read more like this book? I think this is obvious, but no. Robin McKinley wrote one of my all-time favourite fairytale retellings (Beauty), but this book of hers didn't work for me at all. However, I am not ruling out vampire books entirely, especially considering my favourite character of Sunshine was a vampire.
Final verdict: 2 shooting stars.
Note: This may have been marketed for YA but due to the voice as well as explicit language and sexual content, I do not think it should be considered a YA novel.
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