Sunshine is written by Robin McKinley. It was published in 2003 by Speak/Penguin. McKinley’s website can be found here.
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
“It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of Sunshine’s life; she just needed to be alone with her thoughts for a little while. But then the vampires found her. Now, chained and imprisoned in a tumbledown mansion, alone but for the vampire shackled next to her, Sunshine must call on skills she didn’t know she had if she is to survive. But her fellow prisoner is not what she expected of a vampire, and soon Sunshine discovers that not only does she need his help, he needs hers…”
“Speak,” he said at last. “Remind me that you are a rational creature.” The words had long pauses between them, as if he found it difficult to speak, or as if he had to recall the words one at a time, and his voice was rough, as if some time recently he had damaged it by prolonged shouting. Perhaps he found it awkward to speak to his dinner. If he wasn’t careful he’d go off me, like Alice after she’d been introduced to the pudding. I should be so lucky.
I flinched at the first sound of his voice, both because he had spoken at all, and also because his voice sounded as alien as the rest of him looked, as if the chest that produced it was made out of some strange material that did not reflect sound the same way that ordinary—that is to say, live—flesh did. His voice sounded much odder—eerier, direr—than the voices of the vampires who had brought me here. You could half-imagine that Bo’s gang had once been human. You couldn’t imagine that this one ever had.”
“Pat sighed again, this one a very long sigh, like a man about to step off a cliff. Then he shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and held it. And held it. And held it. After about a minute he began to turn, well, blue, but I don’t mean human-holding-his-breath blue, I mean blue. Still holding his breath, he opened his eyes and looked at me: his eyes were blue, too, although several degrees darker than his skin, and I mean all of his eyes: the whites as well. Although speaking of all of his eyes, as I watched, a third eye slowly blinked itself open form between his eyebrows. He was still holding his breath. His ears were becoming pointed. He held up one hand and spread the fingers. There were six of them. The knuckles were all very knobbly, and the hand itself was very large. Pat was normally no more than medium-sized.”
Warnings: This book is almost YA. Pages 248-250 (in my 2010 edition) completely blow that out of the water with swearing and an extremely graphic almost-sex scene. Then it returns to YA material.
Recommended Age Range: 16+, hesitantly, due to the three pages mentioned above.
What I Liked:
I normally avoid paranormal YA because I usually don’t like reading about things like werewolves/vampires/angels/demons or whatever. It just doesn’t interest me. Also, I think my experience of Twilight turned me off of paranormal. I don’t like Twilight, and not just because Stephanie Meyer’s vampires sparkle (and yes, I have read all four books); it’s essentially emotional porn for tweens and there are a host of other things that I have problems with, so I think that (unfairly) tainted my perception of paranormal YA.
This book, though. This is the vampire novel that Twilight wishes it was. This is also the vampire novel that, unfortunately, nobody knows about. This book deserves more attention because it is really very good.
Con is great. He’s described as Byronic but I didn’t really see that. He and Sunshine have this really cute, awkward conversation at the end of the book that is…well, really cute and sweet.
McKinley loves strong female leads and Sunshine is no exception. She can kill vampires with her bare hands because she has a magical affinity for sunlight. She can also bake amazing cinnamon rolls and desserts like Killer Zebras and Bitter Chocolate Death and Manguamania and Sunshine’s Eschatology.
McKinley has some major world building in this novel and Sunshine is a fountain of knowledge, throwing out random bits of information about the world and its laws throughout the book. It’s an involved world that is so similar and yet so alien to our own.
Some of the great things that McKinley deals with in this book are darkness versus evilness and Sunshine’s inner struggle with similar issues. There’s a lot going on in this book that can be discussed after reading it.
What I Didn’t Like:
I don’t like ambiguous/unresolved endings, and this book leaves so much unresolved. Here is where a sequel would be perfect, but, unfortunately, McKinley is pretty adamant that there will be none. It’s really sad because the ending leaves you with a feeling of incompleteness and a question of “What about this?” What’s the deal with Mel? Is Sunshine a bad magic cross or not? What about her father? The book was great, but the ending was not.
Sunshine goes off on random tangents and asides frequently. She starts off with a ten-page info dump on her family and her life in general before mentioning her kidnapping by vampires. She then exposits on vampires for a few pages before returning to her capture. It’s like, “I drove to work and the charms my mom gave me were banging away in the dashboard. By the way, there are multiple charms for different objects and purposes and you can make them out of etc. etc. etc.” It’s rambling and it can be hard to get into the novel because of all the information that is thrown at you. You notice it less as you go along, but it definitely makes the book drag in a few places.
Why the heck is this book marketed for young adults with that really explicit section in the middle? Sure, it’s only three pages, but it is a really graphic three pages.
Sunshine is a fantastic vampire novel that does not get the attention or have the audience it deserves. There is an iffy bit in the middle that contains a graphic almost-sex scene which is more adult than young adult, but the rest of it, besides the unresolved ending and the at-times slow, rambling narrative, is pretty darn good.
Coming Up Next: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
Note: This will be my last post for a few weeks because 1.) I’m going to be out of the country and 2.) I’m running out of reviews and need to start stockpiling again. Expect my next post around the end of January/beginning of February.
The Door in the Hedge is written by Robin McKinley. It was published in 1981 by Greenwillow Books. It is a collection of four fairy tales, two original, two retold. McKinley’s website can be found here.
“She took a deep breath and stepped through the door of the hedge.” Thus does Robin McKinley take her “lost princess” into Faerieland—and the reader with her. Of the four stories included here, two are original: “The Stolen Princess,” a story built around the foundling theme, and “The Hunting of the Hind,” which deals magically with love and enchantment. “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” are superb re-creations of two favorite stories.”
“The trees that surrounded her meadow and met over her head grew to a great height, with the proud arch of branches that reminded her of elms; but the luminous quality of the bark was like no elm she had seen. They stood in a ring around her, although she lay near one edge, the nearest tree being only a child’s somersault away, while the one opposite was several bounds distant for the fleetest deer; and she wondered if deer ever came to this graceful tended meadow. Beyond the ring of trees was a hedge: perhaps she was in a kind of ornamental garden; a very grand and ancient garden indeed, that had trees laid out as lesser gardens had flowerbeds, and had been watched over and cared for during so many years that the trees had grown to such a size and breadth. The hedge grew higher than her head, although no more than half the height of the trees; and it was starred with flowers, yellow, ivory, and white; and she thought perhaps they were responsible for the gentle sweet smell that pervaded the air.
There were arches cut through the hedge, each of them tall enough for the tallest king with the highest crown to pass through without bending his head: four arches, as if indicating the four points of the compass. She looked at each of them slowly, and through them saw more close-trimmed grass, and flowers; through the third a fountain stood in the middle of what looked like a rock garden of subtle greys and chestnuts; and through the fourth she saw—people.”
“You’re quite welcome, I’m sure,” said the frog mechanically. “But I wonder if I might ask you a favor.”
“Certainly. Anything.” Even facing Aliyander seemed less dreadful, now the necklace was quenched: she felt that perhaps he could be resisted. Her joy made her silly; it was the first time anything of Aliyander’s making had missed its mark, and for a moment she had no thoughts for the struggle ahead, but only for the present victory. Perhaps even the Crown Prince could be saved….
“Would you let me live with you at the palace for a little time?”
“The sighting of the Golden Hind had troubled the Hunt several times in the past two years; troubled, because the sight of her ruined the dogs, deerhounds tall and fleet and rabbithounds resolute and sturdy, for the rest of the day of that sighting. The dogs would not then follow her, nor any other game, but cowered to the ground, or ran in circles and howled. Thus it was that all realized that this Hind, although she was of a color to bring wonder to the cruelest eyes and tenderness to the darkest heart, was not a canny thing; and so mean feared her, and feared that sight of her might prove an omen for more ill than just of that day’s hunting.”
“What business do you seek at the castle of the King?”
The soldier walked on till he stood inside the barred shadow, in the twilight of the courtyard. He replied; “I seek the twelve dancing Princesses, and their father the King; of him I see the favor of three nights in the Long Gallery, that I may discover where his daughters dance each night.”
Recommended Age Range: 12+
What I Liked:
All four of these stories were wonderful. I enjoyed “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” more than the two original (“The Hunting of the Hind” and “The Stolen Princess”). Perhaps it was the familiarity, perhaps it was the way McKinley handled those two stories, but I did like them more. I liked the way she rewrote them, with stories and events set in the background or in the past that the original fairytales did not have (for example, the back story of the soldier in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and a sinister twist to “The Princess and the Frog”). The original stories were very good as well, for the most part, with that fairytale feel to them. “The Hunting of the Hind,” I think, was based on several fairytales, as the Hind plot itself is not original, I think.
Of course, all four were full of romance and love and rainbows and unicorns (okay, maybe not the last two) and were very cute and warm-feeling-inducing. The signature Robin McKinley style of writing is present in all of them and although I have had my issues with her writing style in the past (such as in Rose Daughter and the Damar books), it fits well here.
What I Didn’t Like:
The romance present in McKinley’s two original stories is not very well-developed (but then again they are fairytales and they are short stories). It’s more of “love at first sight,” which I tend to dislike in general, and it’s very abrupt. I enjoyed “The Stolen Princess” up until Linadel sees Donathor (by the way, these names are totally reminding me of The Lord of the Rings) and then, while I still enjoyed the rest of it, it was to a lesser extent than before. “The Golden Hind” had an even worse “love at first sight” since it happened twice, and the ending was a bit dissatisfying.
I wish we could have seen a bit more of what was going on in the princesses’ heads in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” I would have liked to know more about what the eldest princess thought at the end.
The Door in the Hedge is a great collection of fairytales. The romance is abrupt, but it fits the “love at first sight” theme that fairytales generally have. McKinley has a knack for retelling fairytales that carry all the familiarity of the original and yet still have an originality of their own.
Coming Up Next: Physik by Angie Sage
Note: I’m starting to run out of my backlog of already-written reviews since I can’t read as much or as quickly while I’m in school as I can when I’m out. I might need to take a couple weeks off in order to read and write some more reviews or I might move the Series Week up a bit because I’ve completed that. I’ll keep you notified.
Rose Daughter is written by Robin McKinley. It is her second adaptation of the tale “Beauty and the Beast,” her first being Beauty (which I reviewed here). It was published in 1997 by Greenwillow Books. McKinley’s website can be found here.
“‘It is the heart of this place, and it is dying,’ says the Beast. And it is true; the centre of the Beast’s palace, the glittering glasshouse that brings Beauty both comfort and delight in her strange new environment, is filled with leafless brown rose-bushes. But deep within this enchanted world, new life, at once subtle and strong, is about to awaken.”
“The thorn-bushes had all disappeared under their weight of leaves. Even the deadest-looking ones round the almost-invisible statue had not been dead at all, only slow to wake from winter. And then flower-buds came, and Beauty watched them eagerly, surprised at her own excitement, wanting to see what would come. The weather turned cold for a week, and the buds stopped their progress like an army called to a halt; Beauty was half frantic with impatience. But the weather turned warm again, and the buds grew bigger and bigger and fatter and fatter, and there were dozens of them—hundreds. They began to crack and to show pink and white and deepest red-purple between the sepals.”
“The glasshouse was itself big enough to be a palace, and it glittered so tempestuously in the sun she had to find a patch in its own shade for her eyes to rest upon. It was very beautiful, tier upon graceful tier of it rising up in a shining silvery network of curves and straight lines, each join and crossing the excuse for some curlicue or detail, the cavalcades of panes teased into fantastic whorls and swoops of design no glass should have been capable of. Merely looking at it seemed an adventure, as if the onlooker’s gaze immediately became a part of the enchanted ray which held the whole dazzling, flaring, flaunting array together.”
Recommended Age Range: 12+
What I Liked:
This book, although based on the same story, is radically different from Beauty. The writing style is much more similar to McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown and it is focused much more on roses and gardening. This is definitely a much more involved, complicated tale than Beauty was. You could read both of them back-to-back and come away thinking you’ve read a completely different story. Completely different characters, setting, tone, situations, and even a different ending.
I loved the relationship between Beauty and the Beast. The ending is really sweet. The relationship between Beauty and her sisters, Lionheart and Jeweltongue, is also very well-done. There are some genuinely funny bits that I really enjoyed.
What I Didn’t Like:
It really drags in the middle, unfortunately, when Beauty is at the Beast’s palace. It gets tedious and even a little boring, which is sad because there is some really beautiful writing.
In comparison, I would have to say that I enjoyed Beauty more overall, but I like Rose Daughter’s ending more than Beauty’s.
Rose Daughter is a masterful re-telling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. The middle is a bit dry, but the ending is fantastic. McKinley has once again developed a beautiful adaptation of the fairy tale, and both books are worth the read.
Coming Up Next: Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Note: This post is the first that has a new section, Recommended Age Range! I’ve been mentioning an age range in the Overall Review section so far, but I’ve decided to give it its own place. This is my recommended age range based on the content of the book. It is in no way meant to be anything conclusive; it is merely my opinion. I will be updating all my previous posts with this new section.
The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to The Blue Sword (my review of which can be found here). It is written by Robin McKinley and was published in 1984 by Greenwillow Books. McKinley’s website can be found here.
“Aerin is the only child of the king of Damar, and should be his rightful heir. But she is also the daughter of a witch-woman of the North, who died when she was born, and the Damarians cannot trust her.
But Aerin’s destiny is greater than her father’s people know, for it leads her to battle with Maur, the Black Dragon, and into the wilder Damarian Hills, where she meets the wizard Luthe. It is he who at last tells her the truth about her mother, and he also gives over to her hand the Blue Sword, Gonturan. But such gifts as these bear a great price, a price Aerin only begins to realize when she faces the evil mage, Agsded, who has seized the Hero’s Crown, greatest treasure and secret strength of Damar.”
“In the back of the book Aerin found an even older manuscript: just a few pages, nearly illegible with age, sewn painstakingly into the binding. Those final ancient pages were a recipe, for an ointment called kenet. An ointment that was proof against dragonfire—it said.”
“Maur was waiting for them. They had spent the night separated from the dragon by no more than a knob of rock a little taller than Talat; and it was in the direction the dragon lay that Talat had so often looked during the dark hours. Or perhaps Maur had approached them from where it had lain yesterday and it was the weight of its footsteps Aerin had felt as its heartbeat as she lay awake by the smoky campfire.
Perhaps the dragon was not so large as a mountain; but the heavy black cloud that clung around it made it larger than a mountain, and when it first caught sight of them it lifted its wings, briefly, and the sun disappeared, and a wind like a storm wind howled around them. Then it bowed its long neck to the ground, its nose pointed toward them, and its half-lidded red eyes started straight at them.”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
Before I reread both The Blue Sword and this book, I’d always thought that I preferred The Blue Sword over The Hero and the Crown. Well, now I don’t. I love this book. The Blue Sword is great, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer The Hero and the Crown. Aerin is much more of my type of heroine—a little weak at first, with some negative qualities that she gradually overcomes. Aerin just felt much more real to me than Harry (Harry was much more Mary-Sueish), which is strange, because they’re also very similar.
SPOILER(?). Aerin and Luthe. Aerin and Luthe. Their departure is so bittersweet and heart-breaking. It’s even sadder when you realize that Luthe is alive in The Blue Sword and Aerin is not (even though she’s not quite mortal. I never understood how that worked out. And when will they see each other again, as they say they will?), and Luthe in Sword says something along the lines of “Aerin was very dear to me” with this sad little smile. GAH.
Loved every bit of this book, from Aerin’s experiments with the kenet, to her fighting dragons and Maur, to her time with Luthe, and the final showdown and inevitable happy (and yet bittersweet) ending.
What I Didn’t Like:
As I mentioned in The Blue Sword, the writing style here is hard to take. It’s very beautiful, but also…clumsy? Wordy? Long? I’m not quite sure how to describe it.
The Hero and the Crown is a worthy, and maybe greater, successor to The Blue Sword. Another fantasy that should be read by any fan of the genre and even by those who aren’t. They don’t get much better than this.
Coming Up Next: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Beauty is written by Robin McKinley and was published in 1978 by Harper Trophy. It is a retelling of the classic story Beauty and the Beast, and McKinley’s first (she retold the story in a different way in her later book Rose Daughter). McKinley’s website can be found here.
“Sixteen-year-old Beauty has never liked her nickname. Thin, awkward, and undersized, with big hands and huge feet, she has always thought of herself as the plainest girl in her family—certainly not nearly as lovely as her elder sisters, Hope and Grace. But what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in courage. When her father comes home one day with the strange tale of an enchanted castle in the wood and the terrible promise he has made to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows what she must do. She must go to the castle and tame the Beast—if such a thing is possible…”
“The Beast thought for a moment and then said: “I will spare your miserable life on one condition: that you will give me one of your daughters.”
“Ah!” cried Father. “I cannot do that. You may think me lacking in honour, but I am not such a cruel father that I would buy my own life with the life of one of my daughters.”
The Beast chuckled grimly. “Almost I think better of you, merchant. Since you declare yourself so bravely I will tell you this for your comfort: Your daughter would take no harm from me, nor from anything that lives in my lands,” and he threw out an arm that swept in all the wide fields and the castle at their centre. “But if she comes, she must come here of her own free will, because she loves you enough to want to save your life—and is courageous enough to accept the price of being separated from you, and from everything she knows. On no other condition will I have her.”
Recommended Age Range: 12+
What I Liked:
I love Robin McKinley and I love Beauty and the Beast. This is a fantastic retelling of that story. The back story is well-done, enabling the reader not just to care about Beauty, but about her family as well. Once Beauty gets to the castle, the relationship that develops between her and the Beast is developed well, allowing for that wonderful ending that we all know so well to really pack a beautiful punch. As soon I finished this book I wanted to read it again.
I also like that McKinley actually doesn’t describe the Beast overly much. She simply calls him “the Beast” and describes his claws, but there is no description as to what he actually looks like except for his long hair. This leaves it up to the reader’s imagination and adds to the mysterious, enchanting nature of the castle. Also, the Beast himself is so sad throughout most of the book that you just want to give him a hug (don’t worry, he has his Beast moments, too).
What I Didn’t Like:
While I love the ending, it has its confusing moments (such as, how did Robbie get from six months away from her family to riding up with them to the castle? How did her family get there so fast?) Luckily, it can all be explained away by one word: magic.
Anyone who loves Beauty and the Beast will love this book. It is one of the better retellings that I’ve read. It’s a beautiful, wonderful book with lovely characters and a classic romance.
Coming Up Next: Breaking Beauty by Jennifer Shaw Wolf. This will be up next Friday, as I will be gone on Tuesday.
The Blue Sword is written by Robin McKinley and was published in 1982 by Greenwillow Books. Her website can be found here.
“When Harry Crewe’s father dies, she leaves her Homeland to travel east, to Istan, the last outpost of the Homelander empire, where her elder brother is stationed.
Harry is drawn to the bleak landscape of the northeast frontier, so unlike the green hills of her Homeland. The desert she stares across was once a part of the great kingdom of Damar, before the Homelanders came from over the seas. Harry wishes she might cross the sands and climb the dark mountain where no Homelander has ever set foot, where the last of the old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk, still live. She hears stories that the Free Hillfolk possess strange powers—that they work magic—that it is because of this that they remain free of the Homelander sway.
When the king of the Free Hillfolk comes to Istan to ask that the Homelanders and the Hillfolk set their enmity aside to fight a common foe, the Homelanders are reluctant to trust his word, and even more reluctant to believe his tale of the Northerners: that they are demonkind, not human.
Harry’s destiny lies in the far mountains that she once wished to climb, and she will ride to the battle with the North in the Hill-king’s army, bearing the blue Sword, Gonturan, the chiefest treasure of the hill-king’s house and the subject of many legends of magic and mystery.”
“Harry stood only a few feet from the bottom step, holding her pony’s bridle. Cassie and Beth were somewhere behind her, and the stable boy stood frozen a few steps from her elbow. Corlath still had not noticed them and Harry stared, fascinated, as he came nearer. There seemed a roaring in the air that beat on her eardrums and pressed against her eyeballs till she blinked. Then he looked up abruptly, as if from some unfathomable depth of thought, and saw her: their eyes met.
The man’s eyes were yellow as gold, the hot liquid gold in a smelter’s furnace. Harry found it suddenly difficult to breathe, and understood the expression on Dedham’s face; she almost staggered. Her hand tightened on the bridle, and the pony dropped its head and mouthed the bit uncomfortably .The heat was incredible. It was as though a thousand desert suns beat down on her. Magic? she thought from inside the thunder. Is this what magic is? I come from a cold country, where the witches live in cool green forests. What am I doing here? She saw the anger the man was holding in check; the anger stared at her through the yellow eyes, and swept through the glistening white robes.”
“Harimad,” barked a kysin; and Tsornin jolted forward before Harry had registered her name. She was set facing a boy in a green robe and yellow sash; the kysin said, “Begin,” and Harry feinted Tsornin to the left, back, forward, and the boy’s sword fell to the ground, and his yellow sash fluttered down to cover it. A bell rang.
Harry was a bit taken aback. The kysin waved her aside. Tsornin flattened his ears; he was not interested in boys who did not know what they were doing. Next Harry removed a dark orange sash from around a sky-blue robe; and then a white sash from a purple robe. Harry began to feel as irritable as her horse, and with each cry of “Harimad” the two of them turned and stood and attacked and wondered when the real thing would begin. Harry began unhorsing her opponents before lopping off their sashes just to give herself something to do.”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
I love Robin McKinley. She has a great world in Damar with great beliefs and legends. Harry is a stranger adjusting to a new culture, learning new things, and McKinley has her learn at just the right speed. We see enough of Corlath and get his view enough times to connect to him as well as to Harry. The ending is sappy and amazing and the best part of the book, in my opinion. Even the animals, especially Tsornin the horse and Narknon the cat, are fleshed-out and have their own distinct place in the novel.
What I Didn’t Like:
The romance, while I love it, does come a bit out of nowhere. It might confuse/surprise some people.
Harry, while a good heroine, is also, I think, somewhat of a Mary Sue in that the Hill-folk all love her and she wins the laprun trials without even a challenge except from Corlath. First of all: all the Hill-folk love her? Really? This stranger who just comes and starts taking over and winning things? Isn’t there anybody who is resentful or something? Second, the person who only had six weeks of training beats people who have trained for years? I mean, she had magic on her side, but no one gives her at least a bit of a challenge until Corlath? Don’t get me wrong, I like Harry. But those two things are a bit of a stretch.
The writing style gets a little hard to read at the end. Long sentences full of commas, etc., very descriptive, old-fashion-ish. Very beautiful, but hard to take near the end. It’s probably because of the time period (‘80s) it was written in, or just McKinley’s style in general (or it might just be me). It’s not a bad writing style, per se, but it’s hard to take in large sections.
Despite my objections, The Blue Sword is a fantastic fantasy. The world and magic of Damar are beautifully and intricately thought-out. Harry’s journey is realistic and well-written and I highly recommend this book and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, to any who enjoy fantasy, heroines, dragons, etc.
Coming Up Next: Beauty by Robin McKinley