For those readers who have never read McKinley before, who exist on a diet of paranormal romance or Laurell K. Hamilton or Anne Rice or Twilight, I saFor those readers who have never read McKinley before, who exist on a diet of paranormal romance or Laurell K. Hamilton or Anne Rice or Twilight, I say you must read Sunshine. The world McKinley creates in this novel goes well beyond the edges of the page, and it only gets richer on rereading. The characters have width and depth and color and not a single one is simple or easy to understand. The narrative voice is pitch-perfect, the themes of light and dark and blood and cleanliness always serving the story and adding depth. Best of all, it makes its vampires feel new, not least by avoiding making them sexy and glamorous but rather, well, undead.
For those who are avid readers of McKinley -- as I am -- Sunshine is on the surface a wild departure from her other works, but in its bones is the culmination of everything that came before. It has the requisite McKinley heroine: mistrusted and awkward, struggling to carve out an unconventional place only to have that place snatched away by events out of her control, but ultimately discovering herself and her past just in time to meet the darkness seeking her. It has the love of myth and fairy tale that led McKinley to retell the Robin Hood myth, retell the story of Sleeping Beauty, and retell Beauty and the Beast not once, but twice. It has the necessity of going on after the climactic battle, starting to put the pieces of a life back together when all has been torn apart multiple times, the sense of hope that it is possible warring with the sense that the person inside has changed too much to fit in any normal happy life from now on.
Most of all, it has many, many echoes of Deerskin, which I consider to be McKinley's greatest work, from the blood imagery to the rediscovering and reinventing oneself bit by bit to the doubt that ones resources won't be enough to overcome all the evil in the world. Especially affecting and evocative for me was the line "Sun-self, tree-self, deer-self. Don't they outweigh the dark self?" that Sunshine begins to repeat to herself like a mantra. Each time she says it it has a slightly different meaning.
There are some things McKinley does in this novel better than she has done in any other. The climactic battle scene is her most coherent and cohesive, even when I was tempted to speed through it because I so desperately wanted to reach the end. Sunshine's narrative voice, already mentioned, makes her a more approachable heroine than any of McKinley's other heroines, which makes her peril and her self-doubt all the realer (though that distancing McKinley mastered for Deerskin's third-person voice was probably necessary given how harrowing that novel is). It is jarring if you go in expecting McKinley's usual high fantasy narration, but it just gets better the deeper into the story you go. There is also more humor in Sunshine than I think there is in any other McKinley novel, and it is always found in the lightest doses when things get blackest.
All in all, the more times I read Sunshine the more I am convinced that it is a near-perfect book. None of McKinley's novels race along (well, until the climax) but I always find the slower parts necessary resting times, times to catch my breath and assimilate all that went on in the last battle (be it internal or external). It is undoubtedly an adult novel like none of McKinley's other novels are -- there is quite a bit of violence and one brief explicitly sexual scene. But it is a rich and worthwhile read that ages well, and I hope it continues to find a wide audience....more