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Sunshine    by Robin McKinley order for
by Robin McKinley
Order:  USA  Can
Jove, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robin McKinley has long been on my must read fantasy list for her unique re-tellings of stories like Beauty and the Beast (Beauty), Sleeping Beauty (Spindle's End) and Robin Hood (The Outlaws of Sherwood). I especially like her Damar tales - The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown - and wish for more of them! McKinley typically gives us heroines who doubt their own abilities and self worth, but grow in understanding and confidence through the story. There's usually a subtle romance in there too.

She gives us the same sort of decent and sensible heroine in Sunshine, but has branched out in fantasy world and storyline. The result has the feel of a cross between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, with maybe a tinge of Anne McCaffrey's Restorée and Terry Brooks' Knight of the Word. It's a world in which humans live alongside, and are steadily (since the Voodoo Wars) losing ground to, 'Others'. These monsters range from fallen angels, sprites, demons and 'were-skunks' to the 'Darkest Others', that is vampires (commonly called 'suckers').

Rae Sunshine Seddons' life centers on Charlie's Coffeehouse, her co-workers there (who include her stepfather Charlie, her mother, and her ex-biker boyfriend Mel) and restaurant regulars. Sunshine gets up most mornings at 4 a.m. to bake cinnamon rolls and other goodies (which all sound delicious!) Of her mother she says 'If my mom is the lightning bolt, I'm the tallest tree on the plain.' One day, Sunshine heads to her mysterious father's cabin at the lake. She's captured by vampires, and shackled beside one of their fellows, Constantine, who is also a captive - staked out by his 'master vampire' enemy to tempt him to break his principles.

After days of fear and suffering, Sunshine remembers her grandmother's teaching, and manages to invoke her own undeveloped talents. Compassion prompts her to help her fellow prisoner, who ends up saving her. A bond develops between them, one she must keep secret from her friends, especially the SOF ('Special Other Forces') gang who eat at Charlie's. As Sunshine develops her own talents she fears that she has a dark side which might take over. She also discovers that her abilities are badly needed to save the world, starting with the immediate threat of Constantine's enemy Bo.

Along the way to the major showdown (which she doesn't expect to survive), Sunshine collects a few important talismans, and additional unlikely supporters. She goes to battle warded in 'lightflakes', with a vampire at her side. Sunshine is a dark and mesmerizing fantasy, grounded in community and caring - and I hunger for a sequel!

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