by Robin McKinley, published by Berkley Books in October 2003, 389 pages
I've been meaning to review this one for quite some time now. I first read this book in early 2007, shortly after taking the class Book Lust with Nancy Pearl. (You may have heard of Nancy, she does book recommendations for NPR, and has her own action figure! Her superpower is that if you talk to her for a minute or so, she will be able to recommend the perfect book for you to read. It's really quite eerie.) For her class, we had to read at least one book from each fiction genre. I mentioned that I hadn't read one for horror yet, and she recommended this book, Sunshine.
Her recommendation was excellent. Sunshine has a perfect blend of magic, vampires, strange other things that are creepy, some nice sensual bits, and a good coming of age story (one of my weaknesses, and why I'm drawn to young adult fiction in general) for my tastes.
It's told in first person by Sunshine, a young woman who does the baking for Charlie's Bakery, who is living as simple a life as people can anymore, after the Voodoo wars that decimated the population and made certain areas of the cities unlivable. Charlie, her stepfather, has created a family around the people who work and frequent his bakery, and they all get along well, gather for movie nights every Friday, and generally get by.
Sunshine gets a little bored and cramped by all this one day, and goes for a walk by herself. She goes to the lake, which is a little too close to a Bad Area, and gets abducted by a gang of vampires. They leave her in a deserted house to tempt their enemy, a very strong and powerful vampire who they have managed to capture and chain up in the house.
An uncertain truce develops between them, and this drags Sunshine into the middle of a vampire war. She learns that vampires have gotten closer to taking over the world than any human had yet feared, and maybe by joining forces with her new vampire friend she can help to prevent it. Along the way, she also begins to discover she has some secrets of her own that might just come in handy.
This is definitely a horror book; there is plenty of gore, destruction, and scrapes with death here. There's also a bit of graphic sexuality that was actually a bit shocking (I think I've been reading too many young adult books). Plenty of vampires and other demons to keep any Buffy fan happy. In fact, there were more than a few things that reminded me of Buffy.
Something that I really appreciated was the author's ability to blend normalcy with the supernatural. One moment Sunshine is in her bakery, making cinnamon rolls "as big as your head", something she is famous for at Charlie's. The next page, she's chained up next to a vampire, dripping with blood. When Sunshine is next at home, she spends several pages (or chapters? I can't remember) trying to forget what happened and pretending everything is normal again. That resolute desire to have everything back to normal just by pretending is something I'm sure we've all felt at some point. We can even get away with it sometimes. That dread of a buried experience builds up the tension and horror in a very effective way, is maybe even scarier than being attacked by a vampire.
I don't think I've given away too much, even with this lengthy of a review. I highly recommend this book, if you are up for the horror bits. I liked it so much, I re-read it with the year, and proceeded to read everything else I could find by this author. None of her other novels come close to this one, in my opinion.