Berkley Books, 2003, 389 pages
There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while. Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.
They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion-within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.
She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day.
So I totally thought Robin McKinley was being clever and subversively writing an answer to Twilight ("Sunshine" — get it?) until I realized that Sunshine was published in 2003, two years before Twilight.
As for Twilight, it turns out McKinley is not a fan.
McKinley is an intelligent writer. She doesn't hit us with the supernatural immediately. You're several pages in before you get the first indication that Sunshine's world is not quite ours, and even after vampires show up, it's a while before we learn about the Others, and magic, and eventually we realize that this is a very, very alternate Earth, where magic runs in families, charms are consumer goods, and "the Wars" which happened when Sunshine was a little girl have left the world divided into two camps: humans and Others.
Sunshine is, in fact, very close to a traditional urban fantasy. But it is a bit YAish, and it definitely wanders over the line into Paranormal Romance.
I enjoyed the fantastic elements — the worldbuilding focus stays narrow so we only see what Sunshine sees. She's heard of dragons and weres and angels (leading one to wonder just how the cosmology works in this world), but vampires and a few "half-breeds" are the only Others who actually appear in the story. However, there's also a complex and well-conceived magic system.
Now, there are obvious comparisons with Twilight. Sunshine is a little older than Bella Swan, a few years out of high school, but she's a similarly ordinary girl who finds herself breathlessly... well, she never quite admits to being in love with a vampire, but she obviously is. Even the plot is similar to Twilight in that basically the evil vampires become fixated on Sunshine and the "good" vampire has to save her.
The differences are pretty significant, though. Sunshine has a personality, for one thing. And she turns out not to be so ordinary. And while I did get tired of her breathless entrancement with Constantine, she took an active role in her own rescuing.
Constantine is no Edward Cullen. He's not handsome, he's not romantic, he's not nice. He's a vampire who's adopted some sort of ethical code that means he no longer goes around slaughtering humans for kicks... but he's still a vampire.
So the fact that so much of the dialog is Sunshine getting all tingly in her ladyparts (graphically described) over Constantine makes the wish-fulfillment aspect clear: it's still a book meant to appeal to girls who like the idea of a fearsome but protective predator who's only safe for her.
Anyway, with all these obvious comparisons to Twilight, I went looking for opinions from Twilight fans, who I figure must have read this book too.
Losing... will... to... live.
Verdict: Sunshine is a good story, decently well-written, that I probably wouldn't have started if I'd known beforehand that one of the vampires ends up as a love interest. So yay for subverting expectations. That said, while McKinley's fans have apparently been nagging her for years to write a sequel, I wasn't that invested in the world or the characters, so "better than Twilight" is about the most damnably faint praise I can give it.
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