My Rating: 3 stars
I was so excited when Forgotten YA Gems chose this as their October read. I adore Robin McKinley, especially her fairy tale retellings, and I’ve been interested in seeing her take on vampires for years. But let’s get a little general warning out of the way: this book is not YA. It is thoroughly adult, maybe New Adult if you really want to put a label on it. But definitely not YA. There are some explicit scenes that I was not expecting because I’m used to McKinley’s clean, fairy tale romances. So definitely be aware of that when picking up this book.
The inciting incident ended up being my favorite part of this book. It’s scary and kept me on the edge of my seat. Our protagonist, Sunshine, is kidnapped by a group of vampires and used to taunt their vampire captive, Con. I was so engaged during this part of the book. McKinley expertly creates an atmosphere of terror, and I wanted to learn more about the vampires, Con, and the magical powers Sunshine has. I actually think this section would have made an excellent short story. It packs enough of a punch to stand on it’s own, and it comes to what would be a satisfying though open-ended conclusion. That probably would have been a five star read for me. Unfortunately, I found everything after that this part boring.
McKinley has created a really interesting world. I’m used to seeing her work with high fantasy worlds, so seeing her create an urban fantasy world was a lot of fun and quite unexpected. It’s an alternate universe; there are cars, coffee shops, and computers, but there is magic and the Others, such as vampires, werewolves, and demons. The book is set after the Voodoo Wars, which was a major conflict between the humans and the Others. We see a lot of the Special Other Forces, or SOF, who are a law enforcement branch focused specifically dealing with the Others. There is so much promise in this world. However, almost all of the worldbuilding was done through info-dumping, which leads to my biggest problem with the book.
We all know the good, old “show don’t tell” rule, and this book breaks it 99% of the time. I’m not sure what happened here because I know McKinley is a good writer. I know from her other books that she is able to show me a character’s feelings and the world they live in. But that just didn’t happen here. After the first section, the whole book is just Sunshine telling us what’s happening. I couldn’t connect to any of the characters emotionally, and I couldn’t visualize what was happening. Instead of seeing the world unfold as the story progresses, we get massive sections of Sunshine just telling us information about it. I ended up being bored through most of the book, and I had a hard time caring about the characters.
Overall, Sunshine has a great premise and amazing concepts, but the execution just didn’t work for me. But despite it’s flaws, it’s still worth checking out if you’re a fan of McKinley or looking for a new vampire story.