17 August 2009

Book Musings: Sunshine

A favourite book of mine (near the top of the list, actually) is Robin McKinley's Sunshine. I discovered Robin McKinley's books when I was in junior high (I think). I read Beauty and Spindle's End and Rose Daughter and The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I even read Deerskin, although I wasn't really old enough to. What I loved about her writing was her ability to create a world so complete that it seemed entirely real. As you read, you knew there were huge numbers of things that weren't being mentioned, but they were still there, just because that world was so well realized. And as I have always loved fairy tales, I loved her retellings, her unique twists on classic stories. Her two versions of Beauty and the Beast were so different from each other, and yet, at the core, were the same story. It was amazing.

Despite my love of Robin McKinley's writing, I somehow missed it when Sunshine was published half a dozen years ago. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. And I'm actually a little bit glad that it did, because I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much then as I did when I first read it, nearly a year ago. When Dragonhaven came out, I devoured it. It was terrific. I felt like I was inside the narrator's head. To me, even though I recognized McKinley's writing style, it seemed different from the other books by her that I'd read. Then I ran across Sunshine last fall, and it is in a similar style (although every book she writes is so different--it's not like she tells the same thing over and over again, even when she retells Beauty and the Beast multiple times).

Years ago I would never have dreamed of reading a book whose theme centred around vampires. I didn't like the idea of vampires. They were too bloody and scary and I didn't do well with scary. During my third year of university, however, my roommate's boyfriend got me addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (thanks a lot, Peter). He wanted her to watch the first three seasons because he wanted her to see an episode half-way through the first season of Angel, and it makes no sense without the backstory. Anyways, I watched along with them, although at first I thought it was stupid. Then I got sucked in.There's something about this type of story--the way it explores the darker sides of the human psyche, the intense emotions, and, of course, the cheesy lines and fight scenes. Sunshine isn't like Buffy, though.

Sunshine was one of those books which I bought immediately after reading. Those are very few. I rarely buy a book unless I've already read it and know that I will read it again (exceptions are made for books by Jasper Fforde and classics such as Middlemarch). If the book has stood the test of being borrowed from the library multiple times, then I buy it. Despite this test, I have hundreds of books. While checking to see if Robin McKinley had any new books out, I found Sunshine. Robin McKinley. Vampires. Sounded interesting.

It was riveting. It's a breathless sort of book. The journey through Sunshine's world, the journey through her mind and her adventures is incredible. Totally evil vampires, with one that may be an exception (you're not always quite sure). A hint of Beauty and the Beast. A woman who manages to do the impossible, making giant cinnamon rolls all the while. There are so many fabulous-sounding recipes mentioned in the book that I want to try my hand at figuring out Bitter Chocolate Death or Sunshine's Eschatology. I always crave baked goods while I'm reading this book.

And the world is what I have come to expect from Robin McKinley: a world so real that it feels like I could step into it. This book was so good I wrote to the author to tell her how much I loved it, and I don't think I've ever done that before. When you get to the end, well, it feels like it's not the end for the characters. I can see the next morning and the week after that and what happens to them (sort of). There's room for a sequel if she ever does one, but there's enough closure at the end to just let it be. It's complete.

Now, granted, if you hate vampire lit, this isn't going to be the book for you. And that's okay. But if you enjoyed Twilight, read this. It's even better (Yes, I did like Twilight, and yes, I own a copy of the book, but while I read Twilight because the teenage emotions are interesting, Alice is a fun character, and Jacob's pretty cool, I read Sunshine because I want to spend time with the characters, in their world. And I want to think about cinnamon rolls as big as my head. The world of Twilight just doesn't captivate me as much, plus it's low on the baked goods).

Now that I've waxed almost lyrical about this book, you really should go read it. Despite the many words I have used here, it all comes down to this: it is a good book. Read it.

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