So, I fell in love with vampire lore back in high school when someone gave me one of Maggie Shayne‘s books. Granted, her vampires aren’t the best examples but it was enough for me to want to read more. So, I went to the source, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I love a good source read; it has every cliche in the book and then you remember it’s because he came up with the cliche and your mind is blown (I have always been a nerd…). I’ve read countless vampire tales over the years so you can imagine I was excited to read Twilight. That was a sad day. I didn’t make it 100 pages in before I tossed the book in disgust. One: vampires, sun? Two: vampires, celibate? Three: who edited that book?! I was reading it with a red pen to correct grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. And I’m not even that great when it comes to grammar and I could see the problems. So, I crawled my way back to the Underworld movies and re-read Dracula and reassured myself that good vampire tales were still out there.
Sadly, my most recent read isn’t one of them. Robin McKinley is usually a safe bet; her fantasy re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast are some of the best ever written. I figured if vampires were safe in anyone’s hands, it was McKinley. And, in the grand scheme of things, she doesn’t let you down when it comes to the idea of the vampire – they are as evil, bloodthirsty and dangerous as you could want. I mean, the main villain is so bad, his evil has become an idea that can physically poison someone after his death. I was impressed by that level of evilness. In fact, Sunshine is probably one of the goriest books I’ve ever read. I mean, there is literally a bloodbath at one point and the two heroes escape from a burning building literally soaked in blood. So, on that front she wins! Sadly, the rest of the book is a mess.
The first issue is the story is told from a first person point of view. Sunshine doesn’t know what is happening to her most of the time so how then could the reader have a clue? The narrative is confusing, tends to jump from point to point and never tells you much. Even when Sunshine figures something out, I often was asking “wait, what did you figure out? How did you figure it out? Aren’t you going to tell me?!” Also, she’s an unreliable narrator since she usually is doing her best to forget everything that happened to her – not someone I can trust to tell me everything then. Maybe McKinley wanted to keep the reader that off balance but an entire book like that? A reader feels like she’s suffering from a semi-permanent bout of vertigo.
Sunshine’s world is post-apocalyptic (after something called the Voodoo Wars – kudos for a great name) with its own slang and everything but Sunshine never really explains it a lot of it. When she is moved to explain, she usually interrupts a conversation to explain so by the time the reader returns to the conversation, she’s forgotten what they were even talking about. It really killed the momentum of the story. In general, I spent the entire book confused and feeling like I was wasting my time. Few authors have the talent to throw you into a world and slowly but surely explain it to the reader without long descriptions and ruining the pace of the story. Jasper Fforde, in my opinion, is the best at this. I realized reading Sunshine, it is is not one of McKinley’s.
As I don’t really know what I should have known by the end of Sunshine, I find it hard to understand why I think I liked the idea of the story. It has some neat concepts behind it and plays with vampire lore well. The character of Sunshine herself is a neat twist but McKinley fails to develop it so I buy it completely. What remains is a kernel of a good idea in a confusing narrative. But again. like I said, at least the main vampire character isn’t sparkling in the sun. I’ll take what I can get.