Author: Robin McKinley
Published: October 2003
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
For those of you who have read Robin McKinley’s earlier books, let me say, This is not The Hero and the Crown Part 2 . I think you will find Sunshine to be very different from anything she has written before.
Sunshine is set in the present in the United States in an alternate universe which includes demons, werewolves, fallen angels and vampires among other weirdos. The main character is a young woman named (you guessed it) Sunshine. Her life revolves around the coffee shop owned and run by her extended family. She is the baker. She gets up at four every morning to start baking for the breakfast crowd. As the book opens, Sunshine is feeling restless. It seems that every waking moment of her life is involved with the coffee shop. In an effort to put a little distance between herself and her coffee shop life, she opts out of the Monday night movie held at her parents’ home for friends, relatives, employees and regular customers and instead goes out to a deserted cabin at the lake which belonged to her grandmother before the Voodoo Wars. And then the vampires found her.
How do I explain to you how great this novel is without telling you too much about it? It’s only been out a year and a half, and I’ve already read it four or five times. I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to know even as much as I’ve already told you before I read the book. I guess I have to tell you a few things to tease you into going out and getting it. How about this: Sunshine’s friends in the Special Other Forces (also known as the Sucker Cops) tell her that the vampires are estimated to own one-fifth of the world’s total capital and they are gaining on us. In perhaps a hundred years we could be merely their cowherd, waiting to be harvested. How about the fact that Sunshine’s birth father whom she hasn’t seen since she was six was a powerful sorcerer, and magic handling abilities are often heritable. How about the fact that some traumas are too terrible to get over?
I haven’t read a lot of vampire novels, so I don’t have a lot to compare to the vampires in Sunshine, but I’ve got to tell you these suckers were scary. And surprisingly, I loved the part about the coffee shop and the baking. Each time I reread Sunshine I go into a frenzy after reading about her “cinnamon rolls as big as your head”. If I knew of a coffee shop anywhere on the continent that made cinnamon rolls as good as the ones she describes in the book, I would drive there immediately. An interviewer asked McKinley who made the best cinnamon rolls in the world and she replied, “I do.” It was all I could do not to e-mail her and beg her to please, please, please let me fly to England and come to her house and eat just one of her cinnamon rolls. Well, enough about that...
Perhaps a caveat is in order at this point. All of McKinley’s earlier works are appropriate for both children and adults, with the possible exception of Deerskin. This book has a few sex scenes, one of them very graphic, which may cause many parents to feel that this novel is inappropriate for children and adolescents. What I am trying to say is that just because your teenage daughter is ga-ga over The Hero and the Crown, you shouldn’t run out and buy her this book for her birthday without reading it first yourself.
Now let me share with you some of the praise that others have heaped upon Sunshine:
Sunshine won the 2004 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.
Here is what Neil Gaiman said about Sunshine:
I woke up too early, so started reading Robin McKinley's forthcoming novel Sunshine in the bath. It's an astonishing piece of work. A gripping, funny, page-turning pretty much perfect work of magical literature that exists more or less at the unlikely crossroads of Chocolat, Interview With a Vampire, Misery and the tale of Beauty and the Beast. It's not quite SF, and it's not really horror, and only kind of a love story, and it's all three while still being solidly Fantastique. It also does that nice thing where the author assumes the readers are smart, and she treats us like we're smart, and we purr and get smarter and work harder for all that. It'll be nominated for awards, and win them; in the meantime I really hope it finds its audience, which is, potentially, huge.
Here are some quotes from other reviewers which I have cadged from the back of the book:
Before reading Sunshine, I had no idea that blood and dessert could go together so well.
Brilliant ... a sumptuous world.
-The New York Times Book Review
Mythic grandeur ... with magical detail and all-too-human feeling.
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)