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.
- A Friend in Need: Many
- After Action Patch Up: Constantine, after the escape.
- Arcadia: New Arcadia was once a backwater, and is still surrounded by nature.
- Badass Biker: Mel
- 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.
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: And puts them under arrest.
- Chef of Iron: Sunshine.
- Close-Knit Community: The coffeehouse
- Compelling Voice: The media puts an electronic effect onto vampire voices, just in case it turns out they can do this.
- Cool Old Lady: Sunshine's landlady Miss Yolande.
- 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?"
- Damsel out of Distress: When she gets kidnapped, Sunshine calls on her on powers to not only rescue herself but also to forge a friendship with Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Con as she rescues him too. In broad daylight, which is held to be impossible.
- Dark Is Evil: The vampires
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Friendly Neighborhood Vampire:
- Constantine may be creepy, and is implied to have experimented with the nastier ways of being a vampire, but we never see him hurt a human, and he has a rather good opportunity. Sunshine's never heard of any others, though, so they're either very rare or very secretive.
- Other vampires torture humans in order to taste the fear in their blood when they finally get around to eating them. Constantine's "friendliness" means that he doesn't play with his food before eating. He CAN eat deer, but whether he still sometimes eats humans as well is not revealed.
- This behavior has led Constantine to be one of the strongest vampires around, 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).
- Girl Next Door: The magic-wielding, vampire-slaying version.
- I Gave My Word: She worries when Constantine does not show up on time. He had said he would.
- 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...
- Impostor 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
- 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...
- 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 forgotten most of it.
- Made of Iron: Vampires are vulnerable to sunlight, but the only other ways mentioned to destroy one are:
- Stake them through the heart. This is harder in this universe than in some others, because vampires are extremely fast, and because they have fully-functional rib cages and breastbones protecting the heart. 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're dead.
- Be a mage whose affinity is for sunlight, in which case the rib cage/breastbone is somehow less of a problem, and the "stake" can be a table knife, a jacknife, or bare hands.
- Mayfly-December Romance: Sort of.
- Meaningful Nickname: Sunshine.
- Nature Lover: Constantine's stated motive for living near New Arcadia.
- Never Was This Universe
- 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, but we never get an explicit explanation.
- 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, turn 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
- 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.
- 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 specialty is "cinnamon rolls as big as your head."
- The Unmasqued World
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: With Con.
- Wizards Live Longer: Sunshine has always thought of this trope as wish fulfillment. 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.
- 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.
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Trying to spot a vampire, for instance.