Rae, nicknamed Sunshine by her stepfather, is the baker at her family's coffeehouse. She's happy getting up at 4 am to make cinnamon rolls for the breakfast rush, and dealing with people and food all day. But one evening she needed somewhere she could be alone for a little while, and there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years. She never thought of vampires. Until they found her. (quoted from Robin McKinley's website)
"It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn't that dumb."
I wanted so badly to love this book. McKinley's fantasy The Hero and the Crown is one of the novels that I keep rereading over and over because it's so dear to me. However, Sunshine just didn't impress me much, despite its many excellent reviews. Still, there are some things that I did like about it. The world created here is an odd mix of the real world we live in and the supernatural. It puts a new spin on common concepts like vampirism and magic; government and vampires and technology and spells and baking and love and secrets are all mashed together. There is a post-apocalyptic feel to it, as the conflicts with the 'Others' have left the inhabitants of this world wary. And yet, life still proceeds as usual, which is something that I found to be rather intriguing. The second thing that I liked about Sunshine was the humor, which was quite witty. I also thought the way the vampires were written was very artful, because they seemed so inhuman and far away from the normal people, and yet so morbidly fascinating. And the scenes where Sunshine bakes and works at the coffeehouse were warm and enchanting - they made me want to get up and make some cinnamon rolls myself.
Sadly, the negatives in this book outweigh the positives. The novel was very confusing at many points; I felt like there was just such an overload of information that it was difficult to focus on the actual story and characters. Yes, the world is intricate and complex, but it's not interesting to learn about it when all those facts are just dumped on you in these long, dense passages. The plot, which is actually quite good, is overshadowed by all the exposition. The protagonist, Rae Seddon (aka Sunshine), is an intriguing person, but I really don't think that 1st-person narration was the best choice for the telling of this story. Sunshine frequently segues into extensive inner monologues (those information dumps I was talking about earlier) and that just makes the book unnecesarily muddled and dull. There are times when Sunshine begins to do something, then drifts off into a long speech about something or the other, and then two pages after she begins the action she continues it, leaving me going, "Wait, what exactly was going on before she started ruminating on and on?" I also felt that McKinley's descriptions were confusing and unclear a lot of the time, and I just couldn't get a good grip on what was happening, where, why, etc. (this is especially true when Sunshine is tracking vampires). I think that some of the characters could have been more fleshed-out, especially Mel and Con, who are closely linked to Sunshine and strongly affect her life. There's just so much left unresolved about them, and while it can be good to have ambiguity in a novel, this is too much mystery for me to relate to them or care about them.
Overall, I felt that this novel could have been a lot better. I get the sense that with more editing and polishing, Sunshine could have been a truly amazing book.