“I hadn’t thought of evil as being without color but it is. Once you get past plain everyday wickedness, the color is squeezed right out of it. Evil is a kind of oblivion, having destroyed everything on its way there.”
The Twilight Saga might have brought the literary vampire craze to the forefront of our civilization, but let me tell you, it sure as heck wasn’t the first popular vampire novel to come about in the last century. In fact, there have been plenty of good novels featuring these bloodthirsty supernaturals written in my lifetime. But only one of those can hold the coveted spot at the head of the – if you’ll indulge the pun – coven of vamp lit. That place could only ever belong to Sunshine by Robin McKinley, which is, without a doubt, the best vampire novel since Bram himself penned that little book you might have heard of, Dracula.
I know this is a pretty huge claim to make, but I’m prepared to back it up with a list to prove that McKinley’s story is the only book you need to sate your thirst for your favorite mythical predators.
The Top Six Reasons Sunshine Runs Ahead of the Pack:
- The protagonist is someone you could actually hang out with. Mel is, at heart, very normal. No, not Bella Swan normal, as in boring and dead-eyed and completely lacking in personality. I mean she’s actually relatable. She’s funny and sharp, she loves to read (as so many great literary heroes do) and she is obsessed with vampires. Basically, she would be the person reading this book if she weren’t starring in it. I love this quote that sums her up perfectly: “So, what do you do when you know you have two days to live? Eat an entire Bitter Chocolate Death cake all by myself. Reread my favorite novel. Buy eight dozen roses from the best florist in town–the super expensive ones, the ones that smell like roses rather than merely looking like them–and put them all over my apartment. Take a good long look at everyone I love.”
- The vampires are terrifying. These are some real bloodsuckers – they’ll suck you dry and not think twice about it. There’s no sugarcoating it – McKinley’s vampires aren’t creatures you want to meet. That is, unless you’re a masochist.
- Yet the vampires are diverse, just like people. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that McKinley humanizes them, she does show you that they’re all different. That they have motivations other than bloodlust, and that they have a lighter side to them as well. This isn’t to say that they’re good, but…
- McKinley seamlessly blurs the line between good and evil. This novel will make you think. There are points where it is impossible to know for sure what side you fall on. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things, and the motives (on both sides) are often questionable.
- Despite that, the characters are likable. Really, the entire novel is likable. I find it impossible to get through without rooting for the main characters, because I really really want things to work out for them. I connected with them because Mel’s narration is frank, funny and believable. That’s hard to pull off, and McKinley manages like the pro she is.
- This isn’t a romance novel. There is some love, but it’s not a book about romance or the power of love. It’s part thriller – what will happen next? It’s part mystery – what’s going on? And it’s part Coming-of-age (even though Mel is not a teen protagonist) asking questions we all have – Who am I? What do I want? What makes me happy? Where do I belong? How do I fit in?
It’s a beautiful tale, with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. The descriptions are so vibrant I felt like I was there, feeling the warmth of sunshine on my face, the mist around my legs, and the wind beating against me, battling me back. There are some things in this book you wouldn’t even believe could be described unless you read it.
Since I started with one of my favorite passages from the book, I want to end with one as well:
“What we can do, we must do: we must use what we are given, and we must use it the best we can, however much or little help we have for the task. What you have been given is a hard thing–a very hard thing… But my darling, what if there were no one who could do the difficult things?”
Overall Reaction: “What the heck is going on?!” (In the best kind of way).
Up Next Week (Or Tomorrow, actually): The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
See you soon,