Friday, February 22, 2008

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Okay, so there will be discussion of the Project Runway final collections, but for now we're going to take a break and review a book!

As I mentioned in January, I'm doing the Mythopoeic Award Challenge over at Foxy Writer.

The first book I decided to read was 2004's Adult Fantasy Winner, Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I actually had picked this book up a few times, trying to read it probably three times. I got it from PaperBackSwap on the basis of a friend's recommendation. I picked it up again after another friend mentioned how much she loved McKinley's other book, Beauty.

But I just couldn't seem to crack that first chapter. Reading the book for the challenge, I made myself get through it and I'm not sure if I feel this is an accomplishment, or a foolish endeavor.

McKinley has created a fascinating world, where the Voodoo Wars have changed the face of the city where our protagonist is a baker. Vampires, ghouls, weres, and other paranormal creatures are a fact of life there. Magic handlers are famous, and there's a branch of government called the Special Other Forces.

The author created an interesting situation: the main character, Rae (who is called Sunshine) is the heir of a very important magic handling legacy. She's ignored these talents for years, but has some skills at transmuting. Her "element" is sunshine, which is rare, but gives her interesting skills. Through a few quirks of fate, she ends up imprisoned with a vampire named Constantine, and befriends him. She then ends up joining him in an effort to kill the vampire whose gang captured her.

Okay, with that description, it still sounds like a pretty great book, at least a very interesting one. However, the book doesn't try to actually be about this fascinating world. It doesn't really explore the strange connection between Sunshine and Constantine (though it pretends to, it never gets anywhere). It certainly doesn't really explore why Constantine, of all the vampires in the world, is a good guy. We're told that there are different ways of being a vampire. But then we're told over and over that vampires are evil, terrible, etc.

WHY is Constantine special? HOW is he substantially different from the others? Well, that certainly wouldn't matter, would it?

Except it does. Everything that the reader might desperately want to explore is thrown by the wayside. Why?

I fully blame the fact that the book is written in first person. Rae has only a few settings in her brain, and we're treated to them ad nasueum:

1. She makes cinnamon rolls. Amazing, astonishing, large, popular cinnamon rolls. Lest you forget, we are reminded of these cinnamon rolls every chapter, at least once. If not more times.

2. Rae doesn't trust the SOF, or authority in general. Or really, anybody. So she's constantly talking about all these fabulous people in her life, and then telling us why she doesn't trust them and can't rely on them. Only, her reasons aren't all that sound. Her boyfriend has tattoos. Apparently this means something, though we never get to find out what, and it keeps her from telling him anything. Because he has tattoos. Huh?

3. Rae is a complete vampire fangirl, but don't mistake that to mean she thinks vampires are cool! They're evil, she shouldn't be friends with one! She should stake him on sight! She totally reads anything ever written about vampires but she knows better, she knows they're bad, she just likes to read stories where they're not bad! Or something.

The entire book is Rae complaining that she wants her life to be normal again, while never acting like that's what she actually wants. She pretty much walks around using her powers at every available opportunity, while complaining that she has them and wishing they'd go away. This isn't just a case of the reluctant hero, who eventually accepts that they are the only person who can complete the task. This is just a bad character.

If the story was about Rae, but we weren't treated to her inner thoughts, I think it could have survived. But instead, she thinks the same things chapter after chapter. She doesn't really grow or change. Being treated to her inner workings doesn't give us some insight to her development as a person. She just keeps complaining about how she wants to make cinnamon rolls.

I desperately wanted anybody else's insights. I eagerly read any scene involving her landlady, because Yvonne actually had something to say, and revealed interesting things. But even scenes with Constantine were bogged down with Rae's inner ramblings about vampire physiology. Which would be interesting, if she ever got anywhere with it, but she has no answers or really astute observations.

Sunshine is not a bad book. I've read bad books, this isn't one of them. But I think it desperately needed to be switched to third person, or to go through one more draft to make Rae a fleshed out and interesting heroine. As it is, it reads like a book designed solely to set up a series, but as far as I can tell Mckinley hasn't written any other books in this world.

I encourage people to pick this book up and try it themselves if they think the plot or characters sound interesting, or if they like McKinley. But I also suggest that if you don't make it through the first chapter, don't keep trying. It doesn't get any better.