Literature / Sunshine

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Sunshine is a novel by Robin McKinley. It tells the story of Rae "Sunshine" Seddon, a young woman who works in her stepfather's coffeehouse as a baker. The novel is set in a unpleasant alternate reality about ten years after the Voodoo Wars. These wars left the world in rather a mess—"bad spots", effectively magical toxic waste spills, get mentioned several times.

The novel begins with a ten-page Infodump about the title character's life as a coffeeshop baker, followed by five pages of Expospeak about her world's vampires. After that, the book moves on with the plot: she wakes up in the forest, surrounded by vampires, who take her off to a large lake house where they have a rival vampire, Constantine, chained to the wall. Sunshine is being provided as his dinner, as part of an attempt to torture/corrupt his Friendly Neighborhood Vampire tendencies out of him before killing him.

Unfortunately for the vampires, Sunshine's father was a sorcerer, and her grandmother taught her to use her heritage to transmute, which lets her make a key for her shackles. Really unfortunately for the vampires, Sunshine's world has elemental magic, and Sunshine's element is, well...such that even though she escapes during the day, she can take Constantine with her.

The rest of the book is concerned with fallout from her kidnapping (including a Wound That Will Not Heal Without Vampiric Blood Magic, the intense interest of the Special Other Forces, and partially-faked PTSD), and also with the fact that the gang of vampires who kidnapped her is run by a master vampire, Beauregard, who does not take their escape well. Fortunately for Sunshine, Constantine comes back and helps her deal with the problems, and being a mage with an affinity for sunshine does make it easier to kill the bad vampires, as well as save the good ones...

Sunshine includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Reluctantly, but once Sunshine starts staking vampires with nothing more than a table knife or her bare hands she definitely qualifies.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Sunshine's mother has this reaction when her daughter goes missing for several days, turns up with bleeding feet and a huge cut on her breast, and claims she doesn't remember what happened to her. She was also against the idea of her daughter moving out when living at home would be more convenient and safer.
    • Vampires generally have no qualms about knocking out their prey, regardless of age, and carrying them away to feed on later. Sunshine saves a teenage girl from suffering this fate.
    • Also Sunshine's mother suffered this in the past after leaving her husband with no money, and no support from his family or hers. She then had to contend with a sick child, since the apartment they were living in was a basement, and Sunshine needs sunlight to be healthy.
  • A Friend in Need: Many.
  • After Action Patch Up: Constantine, after the escape.
  • Anti-Hero: Constantine. He's a vampire, with all that implies, but he doesn't do anything particularly evil in the book; other, much nastier vampires are out to destroy him implicitly because he's unusually nice. He's still off-putting, reticent, prideful, extremely violent (in a pinch and against other vampires), all but says he's drained people's blood in the past, and takes quite a while to become comfortable with Sunshine — almost as long as it takes for her to become comfortable with him.
  • Arcadia: New Arcadia was once a backwater, and is still surrounded by nature.
  • Badass Biker: Mel. He fought in the Voodoo Wars and has magical tattoos with unusual and unspecified functions.
  • Badass Family: The Blaises are implied to be one.
  • Bad Dreams: After the kidnapping.
  • Betty and Veronica: With a Badass Biker as a Betty to a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Veronica.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Sunshine's narration explains that successfully staking a vampire is actually very difficult and specifically requires an iron or wooden stake, preferably of a particular type of wood, to stand any chance of being effective. Thus, when she manages to kill a vampire with an ordinary metal table knife, everybody takes notice.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Being partially demonic is more of a curse than a gift due to Fantastic Racism. Sunshine mentions how a star athlete she knew lost all of his scholarships and trophies after he found out he had demonic heritage. Also, the SOF is more likely to forcibly recruit you because it's "rotten" with partblood demons.
    • Sunshine's luckier in that she's a magic handler, and magic handlers merely need a license and training. Even so, she hates that her affinity for sunlight makes her really good at killing vampires, especially when she and Con manage to escape Bo. She doesn't want to kill, ever.
    • Con's healing rite heals the poisoned cut on Sunshine's chest, so she won't die of it; she even gains some of his abilities. However, it involved drinking a doe's blood (with Con as the vessel) when Sunshine is very staunchly a vegetarian, it conferred some of his vampiric nature upon her and she really doesn't want that, and seeing the way vampires do turns out to be annoying because she can see equally clearly in light and shadow and her brain just can't parse it properly. Con, for his part, isn't thrilled about picking up some of Sunshine's humanity and is severely weakened by the rite... and then the metaphysical link forged between them saves his life. Which he feels awkward about.
  • Book Dumb: Sunshine (true more to the spirit of the trope than the name; she's a fan of books). She may have barely graduated high school, but she also survives three encounters with vampires.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Which Sunshine realizes while dealing with the giant cut on her breast and skewering a vampire with a metal table knife. If she and Con don't deal with Bo before Bo finds her, then she may as well say goodbye to her bakery life. And her life, period.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: And puts them under arrest due to Sunshine being in a state of hysteria and covered in Bo's blood.
  • Cheerful Child: Paulie, Sunshine's apprentice. It annoys her when he starts to whistle.
  • Chef of Iron: Sunshine.
  • Close-Knit Community: The coffeehouse and its customers.
  • Compelling Voice: The media puts an electronic effect onto vampire voices, just in case it turns out they can do this.
  • Collector of the Strange: Constantine's deceased Master/sire. Unlike Con, he liked to accrue physical things, especially magical objects. His taste was very... baroque, and Sunshine spends some time making fun of it.
  • Cool Old Lady: Sunshine's landlady Miss Yolande.
  • Cowardly Lion: Sunshine considers herself a "wimp", but she doesn't like bullies and rescues a girl from a vampire.
  • Crapsack World: "I think the [myth of the] phoenix has at least a fifty-fifty chance of being true, because it's nasty. What this world doesn't have is the three-wishes, go-to-the-ball-and-meet-your-prince, happily-ever-after kind of magic. We have all the mangling and malevolent kinds. Who invented this system?"
  • Cycle of Revenge: Bo is supposedly out to kill Con because Con killed Bo's Master; Con did that because Bo's Master killed his Master. Con implies that, while those deeds were committed, the feud is actually an excuse to get rid of him before his ideas about surviving without a gang spread to Bo's followers and reduce Bo's power.
  • Damsel out of Distress: When she gets kidnapped, Sunshine calls on her long-unused powers to not only rescue herself but also forge a friendship with Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Con as she rescues him too. In broad daylight, which is supposed to be impossible.
  • Dark Is Evil: The vampires are all about darkness. A human under a vampire's thrall is said to be "under the dark".
  • Disappeared Dad: Sunshine's father, Onyx Blaise, mysteriously disappeared many years ago. No one knows what happened to him. No, we don't find out, either.
  • Elemental Powers: Magic-users are described as usually having a particular elemental affinity which gives them resistance to things that element opposes or neutralizes. The most common ones are (of course) fire, air, water, and earth, but metal and wood are also known possibilities. The title character's is, appropriately, sunlight, which is an unusual affinity falling somewhere between air and fire and "something else".
  • Emotion Eater: Dabbled with; vampires can draw sustenance from tears in place of blood, although it is weaker.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Averted during the Voodoo Wars (fifteen years before the book starts) but expected to happen within a century after the book ends — the vampires will own humanity, and all we'll be to them is livestock.
  • Enemy Mine: Sunshine initially views her rescue of Con as this and freaks out about helping a species that is Always Chaotic Evil, at least in the media. Later on she develops a genuine bond with him.
  • Expospeak: Sunshine often digresses from the main plot to explain details of her world — we find out, for example, that the man who invented the test for demonic ancestry that SOF uses discovered quickly that he himself was a partblood, quit before he could be fired, and spent the rest of his life breeding roses with ridiculous names.
  • Faking Amnesia: Sunshine pretends she has PTSD that made her forget or block her memories after escaping from being held captive by vampires. Mostly she does have PTSD but she hadn't forgotten anything, she just didn't want to talk about it or explain A) why she saved a vampire and B) how she saved a vampire.
  • Fantastic Racism: Humans with demon ancestors (partbloods) tend to have a lot of trouble getting and holding jobs or promotions.
  • Film the Hand: Sunshine does this to avoid being filmed by an overly zealous reporter. At the time, she didn't know whether vampires would be watching the broadcast, and she was still desperately trying to make things go back to normal.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Or allies, at least. Because Sunshine rescues Con, he helps her escape without getting tracked. In this universe, that actually creates a metaphysical bond that they both have to deal with. Very awkwardly.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: A mild example. The evil vampire's name is Beauregard, and his nickname is Bo. Sunshine comments that it sounds like a name someone would give their sheepdog.
  • Food as Bribe: Inverted; if you eat Sunshine's food, she becomes your friend. This is a problem with Con because he doesn't eat pastries; his least creepy meals are raw meat and bottled water.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Most vampires form gangs and torture humans in order to taste the fear in their blood when they finally get around to eating them. Constantine may be creepy, and has experimented with the nastier ways of being a vampire in the past, but we never see him hurt a human, and he has a several opportunities. This behavior means Constantine is both unusually powerful and independent, since he has no problems moving around (other vampires his age have become so corrupted over the years that they can't come outside at all, even during the darkest nights, because the faint light from the stars is enough to harm them. They rely on their gangs to get things done). Sunshine's never heard of any others like Con, though, so they're either very rare or very secretive.
  • Girl Next Door: The magic-wielding, vampire-slaying version.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Sometimes Sunshine makes dishes too well. She remembers making a fluffy pudding with a thick fruit filling that earned the name Death of Marat; it was so popular that she got sick of making it, since it's a "brute" to make fluffy puddings with heavy fillings. A similar thing happens with cherry tarts after Charlie gets her a cherry pitter when the fruit is in season.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: You never, ever look into a vampire's eyes. Things get very weird for Sunshine when that no longer works on her.
  • I Am a Monster: Sunshine struggles with this through the book, first as she helps Con escape from Bo since humans do not rescue vampires, and later as she gains Con's vampiric abilities and becomes (she believes) tainted from killing Bo.
  • I Gave My Word: She worries when Constantine does not show up on time. He had said he would. She's right to worry.
  • I Know Your True Name: Vampires use name magic. Constantine laughs at the narrator for asking him his name, and later reveals it as a gesture of trust. Unlike most works, in Sunshine, the name is the name — or names — you use. The narrator is as vulnerable through her nickname "Sunshine" as through her legal name ("Rae Seddon"), and more so than through her birth name ("Raven Blaise"). Fortunately for Sunshine, she hasn't used "Raven" in years, and old and evil vampires can't even say words related to sunlight...
  • Imposter-Exposing Test: When Sunshine and Con are being interrogated by the police, Con is exposed to sunlight as they suspect of him being a vampire. Sunshine manages to use her magic to keep him from frying and hence passing the test.
  • Just Before the End: The human race is still hanging on, but only just.
  • Lady in Red: Sunshine is dressed in a blood-red dress before being given to Constantine. This could be metaphorical as red = availability and she is available to be eaten. Since vampire blood taking has long been seen as a metaphor for sex...
  • The Last Dance: When Sunshine realizes she has two days before she has to face Bo and end the conflict, she does this. Her list is as follows: eat an entire pan of Bitter Chocolate Death (which she can't finish), buy several dozen roses, and not tell anyone that she's going on a Suicide Mission.
  • Light Is Good: Or at least used by the protagonist to destroy an unquestionably evil vampire.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Everyone except Sunshine knows about her family heritage. While technically she does know, it's been a very long time and she's deliberately forgotten most of it.
  • Made of Iron: Vampires are vulnerable to sunlight, but the only other known way to destroy one is to stake it through the heart. This is harder in this universe than in some others, because vampires are extremely fast and have fully-functional rib cages and breastbones protecting the heart. You get one shot, and if you miss, you die. Also? The stake has got to be wood or wrought iron, preferably wood from an apple tree with mistletoe growing on it; try with anything else, and you won't even get that one shot.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Sort of. At the very least, Sunshine and Con have a very strong platonic bond due to them saving each other.
  • Meaningful Name: Sunshine. It's a nickname, but it's been assimilated so thoroughly by everyone who knows her that nobody calls her anything else.
  • Meaningful Rename: Sunshine's birth name is Raven Blaise, but her mother made a dedicated effort to bury that name after the disappearance of Sunshine's father and her remarriage to Charlie Seddon. Raven Blaise therefore became Rae Seddon, and by the time the book starts everyone knows her as "Sunshine."
  • The Mentor: Sunshine's beloved grandmother taught her the basics of transmuting, but disappeared after the Voodoo Wars.
  • Mugging the Monster: Lampshaded by Con when Sunshine tells him her real name. If he had drunk her blood, as Bo had intended while they were chained side by side, he would have become powerful enough to wipe the latter out in a few days. Sunshine by herself proves to be quite a formidable threat once she and Con escape.
  • Must Be Invited: Here's an interesting little wrinkle to the traditional rules, where are also in play: a vampire can't do much to a human that the human doesn't want them to do. Unfortunately, vampires have such powerful mental domination abilities that they can indeed convince a human to be eaten by vampires. (Sunshine muses a little on if this applies to other forms of invitation. It turns out it does, but vampires don't bother having sex with humans.)
  • My Beloved Smother: Sunshine's mother comes off as this, wanting her daughter to move back home. Sunshine mentions arguing with her mother frequently.
  • Nature Lover: Constantine's stated motive for living near New Arcadia.
  • Never Was This Universe: Simply very similar.
  • No Ending: The book ends with several secondary threads Left Hanging (the disappearance of the Blaises, Mel's Dark and Troubled Past, the goddess of pain, Sunshine and Constantine's romance etc.), but the main plot points (the threat of Beauregard and Sunshine's struggle to accept magic as a part of herself) are more or less resolved. It's actually a great ending, but there's plenty of material for a sequel.
    • McKinley herself has quite a bit to say on this, especially on her blog posts here and here.
  • Noodle Incident: Con is capable of feats that are said to be impossible for a vampire of his age and strength — his ability to move around in strong moonlight being the most obvious. It's implied that this is because he has rejected the darker ways of being a vampire (and in doing this he upsets the nastier sort, who don't want their underlings to get ideas), but we never get an explicit explanation. More amusingly, the reason why pissing off were-skunks is a bad idea gets left to the reader's imagination.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: "The goddess of pain," who, ironically enough, is completely correct in suspecting Con to be a vampire.
  • Occult Detective: Special Other Forces (SOF). As befits The Unmasqued World, they're a fully-funded non-secret government agency described as cops for the nonhumans.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Although we never see any full-blooded demons, we do see a few humans with demon ancestry who have things like extra teeth, horns, the habit of turning blue when they hold their breaths, and so on. SOF has some impressive technology designed to ensure that they hire only pure-blooded humans. Part-bloods have varied and equally-impressive means of getting around said technology, and quite a few of them work for SOF.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Were-chickens, were-rats, were-skunks and others. Werewolves exist but are relatively rare. Drugs exist to suppress the Change, though they are illegal.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires are much less human in Sunshine than in most works, and they get progressively less human as they age. This process apparently is much slower for Friendly Neighborhood Vampires than for the other kind: Constantine can deal with twilight and moonlight, and most vampires his age can't.
  • The Power of the Sun: Sunshine's powers.
  • The Quiet One: When Constantine says things, he's definite about them. Otherwise he'd rather say nothing. You get "Yes," and "No," and not much else unless he's really excited. He also has a tendency toward Brutal Honesty; Sunshine wonders if she could teach him to say "Perhaps," or the comforting words humans say when they're worried.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Charlie Seddon as the owner of Charlie's and Sunshine's stepdad. He's able to calm her down when she's in a bad mood and fends off the press. However, she can't tell him about Con.
  • Refusal of the Call: Sunshine doesn't really want to be a SOF agent, but she can off suckers with common household utensils, and they want her out there doing it.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Sunshine becomes one after she and Con escape from Bo. It only gets worse as she skewers a vampire with a table knife, and by the end she's convinced that killing Bo has tainted her.
  • Talk About the Weather: Yolanda does this very well.
  • Through His Stomach: In the generalized form.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Rae when she starts using her magic again as she helps Con escape along with her.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Favorite dish; Sunshine's speciality is "cinnamon rolls as big as your head."
  • The Unmasqued World: Everyone sort of woke up to the existence of magic, vampires, werecreatures and demons before or during the war that wiped out most of the normal humans.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Some of Sunshine's Expospeak is later revealed to be mistaken; see e.g. Wizards Live Longer below. Sometimes she even contradicts herself without external help, e.g. first she says that by handling magic without a license she committed the kind of crime that SOF really hates, but a bit later she tells us that the licensing thing was piffle. Several times she also discusses the fact that not everything she thought she knew is turning out to be true ("Where did sorcerers get their tattoos? Maybe I didn't know anything anymore.")
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: With Con.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Completely averted. Sunshine loves her stepdad Charlie, and even took his last name. He gave her mom a job, and her a place in the kitchen when she was old enough to handle responsibility. Sunshine has more issues with her biological mother, while Charlie serves as a buffer between them.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Sunshine has always thought of this trope as wish fulfilment. She learns from a retired professional magic handler that while most ordinary magic handlers won't notice much difference, those who are powerful and steep themselves in magic can live to be very old indeed. This is not a cheerful thought, given that The End of the World as We Know It is predicted within the next century. If she continues doing what she does but doesn't do it well enough, she might live to see it.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Sunshine gets one. It takes Blood Magic to heal it.
  • A Year and a Day: How long her mother kept her warded from her father's family
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sunshine has a boyfriend the entire book. Still doesn't keep her from having some pretty intense moments, including something that could only count as foreplay, with Con. It doesn't go anywhere definite; though Sunshine makes it clear that she's attracted to him, Con is resistant for reasons that, as usual, he isn't interested in explaining.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Trying to spot vampires, for instance.

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