“I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.”
At last, a vampire story that is worth reading! Rae “Sunshine” Seddon, the main character of Robin McKinley’s fabulous novel Sunshine, is more Buffy than Bella. She is master baker at her stepfather’s coffee shop, famous for her Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head or the appropriately-named Bitter Chocolate Death. In Rae’s world vampires not only roam, but part-blood demons make up most of the police force and the neighborhood were does nothing more threatening than gossip and garden. But when Rae catches the attention of a vampire as cruel as he is old (and he is OLD), she is catapulted into a world of magic and danger in a desperate chase to save her own life.
This book is 408 pages, here’s the abridged version: Rae gets snatched by evil vamps and chained as bait for another prisoner, the vampire Constantine. Con doesn’t bite her and she discovers that she can transform objects (ie: a pocketknife into a key) and draw power from the sunshine she is nicknamed for. They escape – Rae’s power protects Con from daylight – but are now bound to each other and still a target of their former captor, the evil vamp Bo. Enter a special branch of police dealing with “Others” (ie: non-humans), a wardskeeper for a landlady, a biker/chef boyfriend, and plenty of pastry!
Rae is bomb-diggity. Not only is she pretty darn ordinary (barely graduated high school, didn’t bother with college, perfectly happy dreaming up sinful desserts) but she’s also extraordinary. She’s untrained in magic but very powerful, and basically makes it all up as she goes along. But her selling point for me was that her strength is drawn from light, warmth, sun, and nature. As mentioned in an earlier post, one of the most problematic points for YA vampire books is that the female protagonists are drawn to cold, dark, hard death, and away from life. But Rae’s bright influence is more than equal to Con’s darker one, and they spend a lot of time trying to keep track of the who-saved-who tally. At last we have a heroine who is not obsessed with her cold dead vampire’s bod, but can match his power tit for tat. [SPOILER] In fact in the end, Rae rips out their enemy’s heart with her bare hands. More than equal, I’d say.
Another point of interest is Con. As the token “good” vampire, he leaves something to desire. He still feeds off humans, and while Rae likes him, she A) has a boyfriend, and B) acknowledges that he’s as not exactly attractive. Throughout their acquaintance and varying degrees of health, his skin is described as the color of old mushrooms. Um, gross? And as a vampire, he’s a little out of touch with the human world. Rae finds him “utterly alien,” and is continually bemused by his failure to understand humor or irony, and his dry lack of emotion. This isn’t Edward Cullen here, folks. Con is much more, er… realistic, and while he’s a great character that you love, you don’t exactly want to throw him your panties and tattoo his name across your chest.
Be warned, there’s some swearing, gore, and talk about sex – upper-grade readers ideally. But this is a fabulous book – just as engaging as Twilight, and you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!
Pickychick Note: Further titles by Robin McKinley forthcoming in the blog, so read everything she’s written. Amazing, amazing, amazing.