Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

"I never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires."

Rae 'Sunshine' Seddon is a baker at Charlie's Coffee Shop in Oldtown, rising before 4 a.m. everyday to start making her prized cinnamon rolls for the early risers at 6:30. She lives in a post-Voodoo Wars town in North America, where most major cities have been decimated, and vampires threaten to overrun what is left of the human, and other races. Her step-dad, Charlie, runs the shop with the help of Rae's mother, herself, and a few others, providing a sort of community gathering place for anyone who wants to stop and have refreshment.

On Monday night, instead of staying for popcorn and a movie with the rest of the staff, Rae takes off in her car to the lake, to visit her parents' old cabin and try to figure out why she has this restlessness, this irritating need for something more in her life . . .

And the vampire gang came and took her, silent as death, dragging her into a situation so bizarre that she could barely comprehend what was happening, even while she was fully conscious.

Here was the revealing rag of a red dress the one giggling vampire made her put on, and then there was the shackle around her ankle. Now she was sitting on the floor of this lonely behemoth of a house, in what would seem to be an empty ballroom in the dark of night, chained to the wall.

Another dark lump sat across from her in the vacant room, barely visible. From what the gang leader said, that lump was a vampire and he also was being held prisoner. Then Sunshine understood that she was the main course for dinner when the gang leader laughed and said that 'Connie' hadn't had anything to eat in more than two days . . .

Rae and the other prisoner, Constantine, are then left alone. The vigil begins, and the two look each other over. Then the vampire speaks, asking her to respond as a sane and thinking creature. Rae nervously answers, and the night passes by as she lets the words gallop from her lips. Constantine says very little, preferring to be distracted by her words than the smell or sound of her blood. Then dawn comes, and Con diminishes, pulling into himself even as Rae revives from the sun shining in the window.

The long morning and afternoon pass, as Rae eats the meager food left behind, and Con falls into a stupor, barely cognizant of her presence. As the dusk approaches, they come to an understanding, since Con does not want to let his adversary, another vampire named Bo, to succeed in any way; Rae just wants to successfully escape . . .

She has had plenty of time to think about the whole situation, and she draws on some early magical training her grandmother gave her before she was 10 years old--she transmutes her pocket knife into a key to unlock the shackles. Then she transmutes the key into a 'shield'--a layer of magic that flows like honey over Con's body, protecting him from the burning of the sun, to allow him to escape with her.

Constantine is surprised, and continues to marvel at the bond that forms between Sunshine and himself, as they repeatedly save each other's life and sanity again and again as months pass from when she was first kidnapped. He heals a septic wound left by the gang leader on Sunshine's chest; she draws him out of a cold and draining stupor back to deal with the realities of Bo's enmity towards both him and her.

Sunshine's magic has been released from its Pandora box; she pursues the reasons for this, which she discovers reside in inherited talent from her father's family, the Blaises. They are sorcerers, and she learns she is a sorcerer's child, with a wealth of raw power just waiting to be tapped.

Bo and his 'gang' continue to track them down, even as Sunshine adapts to the rising strength of her new abilities. A confrontation is inevitable, and she reluctantly decides to take the dreaded step, for her family, for her friends and finally, for Con.

The battle is engaged in a ratty warehouse, pitting her against 'Beauregard' as Constantine protects her back . . .

At the last, as the smoke clears, and semi-friends are sorted out from enemies, she returns to her apartment, to nurse her wounds and deal with the shock and memories of her ordeal. Sunshine realizes that a line has been crossed, a decision made; things will never be as they once were before that impulsive ride out to the lake.

She will always make cinnamon rolls, and drink in the sunlight for her strength. But she has also forged a bond with the dark, with Constantine, and with her distant magical relatives, and Sunshine will never relinquish it.

This is a stand-alone novel, one of Robin McKinley's finest, winning the 2004 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.

Fellow author Neil Gaiman said it was a 'page-turning, pretty much perfect work of magical literature' . . .

Look for Sunshine in the VBPL catalog.

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