by: Robin McKinley
The Berkley Publishing Group, New York, NY 2003
I really enjoyed this book. I have to agree with Neil Gaiman who said, “Pretty much perfect.” I’ve read several of Robin McKinley’s retellings of fairy tales. This is not one of them. Many of the reviews you read will reference Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t buy it. This tale stands alone (and begs to become a series, but the author says no.)
The main character, Sunshine, is a baker. That by itself is enough to draw me in. My daughter is a baker and she claims it’s from helping me in the kitchen. Bakers are alchemists, transformers. They turn slurry into dough. They combine savory and sweet into something that sends our senses reeling. And it seems that Sunshine is all that and more.
This is a world that humans “share” with the big three: Weres, Demons, and Vampires. The weres (and apparently you can be a were anything) are not such a problem. It’s a once a month thing and there’s a drug for that. Demons are rarely able to pass as human and when they do it’s because that’s what they want to be. Vampires are a problem.
I am not big on vampire fiction. I’m not enamored by the notion of romancing the undead. I didn’t even get on the Buffy bandwagon until years after it aired and even more years after it was on DVD. These vampires are spot on.
Robin McKinley manages to write with a sense of humor, a nod to fandom, and an ability to engage all of the senses. When she describes being in the same space as a vampire you can feel your skin crawl along with the narrative. She includes those senses of knowing without knowing how you know.
She also writes, not just the horror, but the impact of the horror. Her characters don’t confront the monsters, wipe of the sword and prepare to fight another day. They suffer real trauma. Their relationships are impacted by their experiences. Shared experiences build relationships and experiences that can’t be shared create wedges.
There is a lot of grey in Sunshine’s world. There are people she knows who probably should be “registered” as supernatural, but aren’t. There are law enforcement agents that are friends because of their stories, but who may not be trusted with secrets. There are family connections that no one in the family will talk about, and plenty of speculation about what that might mean.
This is an engaging story. A well crafted fantasy romp. It might also be an allegory for the world we live in now. There are no firm answers about where the tale will lead from here. It really does beg for a sequel. It also really stands very strongly on its own.