Today, however, we will be doing a good book:
Author: Robin McKinley
Genre: Urban Fantasy
What You Need To Know Before You Buy: Neil Gaiman says it's pretty much perfect. It makes me green with envy and gives me the gold colored fluffies every time I read it. Go buy this book. Why haven't you bought this book already? GO! GO!
Unfortunately, when I went on a trip up to Waco, I left my copy of Sunshine at my grandmothers, and it's too late in my pay cycle to go buy another new copy. I will not consider getting a used copy because that would fall apart too quickly. That is how good this book is. When having to replace my previous copy, my primary concern is how long the replacement will last.
This is not the kind of book you read once and then recommend to all your friends. This is the kind of book that you read the first time, recommend to all your friends, and then keep next to that pint of In-Case-of-Depression Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. If I had twenty four hours notice that the world would end, I would go down to Barnes and Noble, buy the fifteen dollar trade paperback I really can't afford, go back home and start reading. Because if I start now, I could read it twice.
Sunshine is Urban Fantasy about a girl who falls in love with a vampire. If Twilight ever killed your will to live, this is the book version of CPR.
Our Main Character is Raven Blaize, AKA Rae Seddon, AKA Sunshine. She's got inborn magical powers, a famous bloodline, and can do at least five impossible things before breakfast (the sixth thing is her cooking, which comes during breakfast) All of which means she SHOULD ring every Mary Sue alarm attached to books ... except she doesn't.
Her counterpart and eventual love interest is a vampire named Constantine, who is somehow different from other vampires. This is never explained, though for reasons to be revealed, I think it means he doesn't suck on humans. Or kill them. Or something. Which means he should also ring alarm bells (Marty Stu, in his case) ... and again, he doesn't. Robin Mckinley is an awesome author, and this is your first clue. She takes two characters who should suck harder than a vacuum attached to a black hole and makes them awesome.
Now, the bad news is, I don't have the book on hand to provide awesome quotes. The GOOD news is, I have most of the good parts, if not memorized, then close enough to find them using Amazon's "Search inside" function. We open with:
"It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn't that dumb."
Our first scene is mostly dedicated to Sunshine's life. She's a baker who barely graduated highschool and works in her stepfather's coffee house making cinnamon rolls and something called Bitter Chocolate Death. You get a quick snapshot of her life which SHOULD be boring as hell, and isn't because Robin McKinley has a narrative voice that's the mental equivilant of mainlining heroin. Sunshine, after a long day in the bakery and an even longer day with her family, decides to head out to her grandmother's abandoned house by the lake ... and is kidnapped by vampires looking for takeout.
Instead of killing her right away like they're supposed to, they dress her up in a ballgown, drag her to a second abandoned lakeside mansion and chain her to the wall. Sitting directly across from her is another vampire, this one also chained up. He can reach her no matter where she runs. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dinner is served.
I'm guessing like this, only redder.
Except her fellow prisoner doesn't chow down, though he's obviously hungry. Instead, he talks to her (and more importantly, gets her to talk to him) and refuses to eat because she is a thinking creature. This, and the two times he mentions he is a different sort of vampire, is what makes me think that Constantine AKA Con doesn't eat people. Her being staked out like the goat in Jurrassic Park is Constantine's enemy's way of taunting and torturing him. How this is torture is never fully explained and is something you don't actually need to know.
In between conversations, Sunshine remembers her other trips out to grandmas, where her grandmother taught her how to handle magic and transmute things into other things. Near the end of this section, she transmutes the jackknife she hid in her bra into a key for her shackles (this is impossible by the rules of Sunshine's universe, and she knows it) breaks Con out and magically supports him while they walk into town in broad daylight (also impossible by the rules of this universe). Constantine gets Sunshine home, fed and in bed, and then leaves. End of part one.
At this point, my only question is, why the FUCK does this book work? Sunshine ticks off every single one of my Mary Sue criteria, from her parentage to her backstory to her romantic interest (the really powerful and equally impossible Con) and yet she's one of the most believeable and realistic characters I've ever read. That plot should suck, hard, and it is so fan-fucking tastic I want to go spend that money I don't have to get the TPB so I can read it again.What the hell, how do you get to be this awesome?
The Twilight comparison is unavoidable, so let's get that out of the way. It's the same basic plot, except that Sunshine is a little older than Bella Swan and Con is FAR less human than Edward. In fact, Robin takes a potshot at Twilight the first time Sunshine leads Con into the sunlight:
"Vampire skin looks like hell in sunlight, by the way. Maybe bursting into flames is to be preferred."
God, I love this book.
In Twilight, Bella's human life effectively ends when she meets Edward ... though it takes four fucking books for the ending to, you know, fucking end. She has no ambitions or interests that do not involve vampirism and the Cullens and the ONLY thing she talks about other than How Much She Loves Edward is how scared she is of getting old. All her problems are solved by the vampires, right down to what she'll do with her life (Because Edward is Richie Rich with fangs and body glitter)
In Sunshine, Sunshine's human life stays front and center. Her reaction to a lot of the supernatural complications is along the lines of "Sure, sure. Can we get this over with before three am? I have to go back to Charlie's to make cinnamon rolls and it's rye bread day." (As a scratch baker myself, I know exactly what she means. I fucking hate rye bread day) Her parents -- mother and step-father, as her powerful sorcerer father is missing and presumed dead -- are worried, and express their worry by annoying the snot out of Sunshine, who annoys them right back. The police get involved. Her friends get involved. As for her magical powers, and I cannot emphasize enough how ridiculously overpowered Sunshine is, her primary concern is registering for her magic handler's license and what that might do to her baking career.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that part? Unlike Twilight, City of Bones, Harry Potter and any other number of magic/realworld crossovers, Magical stuff is very much a part of this world, right down to magic handlers having to register by law. People use charms like burgular alarms (Sunshine's mom buys her charms by the bucketload once she gets back from the vampires) and nobody goes jogging because they WILL get eaten. There is a special police department to deal with vampires, were-whatevers, demons, fairies and the like. Sunshine's biological father is famous for being just as insanely overpowered as his daughter. One of the vagrants that lurk outside the coffee house turns into a giant lizard if he takes the wrong drugs, and the only people who are surprised are the tourists. Sunshine getting kidnapped by vampires would be the real world equivilant to being kidnapped by drug runners.
Also, Sunshine is a dyed in the wool bitch. The best example of interaction between Sunshine and Con is when Sunshine magically appears in Con's resting place (impossible thing number 9999.5671-B) and falls on top of a very naked Con, waking him out of a literally dead sleep. Sunshine is also naked, and things progress naturally to a point, after which Con gets squicked out and leaves an extremely horny, pissed off Sunshine in bed while he (I assume) takes a very cold shower. Sunshine bitches at him so profoundly I ought to turn over my profanity gun and let her rule the universe. Leaving aside the total awesomeness of the completely inhuman vampire being the one squicked out at vamp/human sex (role reversal FTW) the character interaction is just plain dreamy.
Sunshine is the reason why I think any material can work in the right hands. And it does, oooooooooooooh god, it does. There is nothing to break you out of the story. The world is perfectly developed, and most of the pitfalls of having a unique (read as: You-Neee-Cooo) and magical MC are avoided beautifully. Sunshine is perfect, and if you are not reading it RIGHT THIS SECOND you are missing out on life. The end.