Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

Anyone else have a book they love to reread? I have a few that are like literary comfort food, or a visit with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Robin McKinley’s, Sunshine, is one of my rereads. The copy I have now is getting so tattered the spine is almost unreadable. It’s my third copy of the book. Looks like I’m due for a fourth.

I just reread it again. The urge to do so came up when I made a comment on my other blog about literary smackdowns. The question I asked:

You’re going to your twentieth high school reunion and you need to show those noodleheads how well you’ve done for yourself. Which vampire is your escort? Eric Northman (Charlaine Harris) or Constantine (Robin McKinley)?

My pick: Constantine.

Robin McKinley would be so horribly insulted. Here is what she has to say about Constantine:

“But . . . Con isn’t handsome.  This is important.  It’s important enough to me anyway that I’m risking shooting myself in the foot about it.  Even almost-ten years ago when I was writing SUNSHINE, which was before the colossal burst of vampirature, before urban fantasy turned into its own dare I say monster genre, I was pulled by this particular story partly because the undeniable draw between Con and Sunshine is not based on the standard sexy powerful-male tropes.  He’s powerful and enigmatic all right, but the kind that makes you want to throw up.  That’s the point.  As soon as you say ‘powerful, handsome and enigmatic’ you’ve turned it into some other story, with Con as Mr Rochester or Colin Firth.‡‡‡  He’s a VAMPIRE.  Vampires are monsters.  Vampires are undead monsters, as in ewwww.  In the McKinley version anyway, vampires are very, very, very icky.  ‘I didn’t realise till it raised its head with a liquid, inhuman motion that it was another vampire. . . . Overall he looked . . . spidery.  Predatory.  Alien.  Nothing human except that he was more or less the right shape. . . .  Vampire skin looks like hell in sunlight, by the way.  Maybe bursting into flames is to be preferred. . . . I waited a moment longer before I turned to look at him.  Vampire.  Dangerous.  Unknowable.  Seriously creepy. . . .’  Part of the strength of the connection between Sunshine and Con is that everything about each of them except their connection is trying to drag them away from each other.

            Con is not handsome.   If you met him, you’d burst into tears and wet yourself.”

The thing is, she’s right, but I also disagree. I think Constantine is a wonderfully romantic character and every time I read the book, I fall in love with him all over again.

Which is actually pretty strange since I do agree with Robin that vampires are terrifying and icky.

The first book I remember terrifying me was Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I was about eight when I read it and I had to look up a lot of words in the dictionary, but I got the gist of it. It may have made me wet myself. I know it gave me nightmares. What scared me then, and what scares me now, is not the monsters and chases and battles and wolves and scary fogs. It’s the idea that a vampire could make you yearn for and demand your own destruction. “Yes. I will open my window and invite you in and bare my throat and let you suck the life out of me.” Worse, even worse, doing that would get you turned into a monster, too. Temptation is terrifying.

Which is why Constantine is such a wonderful character. The theme of the book (or at least what I’ve taken away from it) is the question: Are you who they say you are? Or are you who you are determined to be? The heroine struggles throughout to be her mother’s daughter, a perfectly normal baker, lacking any of the magic from her father’s side of the family. Even though Con is a vampire, and an extremely powerful and dangerous vampire at that, he has chosen his own path. He doesn’t spell out exactly what that means, but you can guess that it means he doesn’t kill humans or otherwise act evil.

For example this passage from a scene where Sunshine and Con are being held captive in an old mansion. Both are shackled. Con’s enemy wants to break Con by forcing him to kill and eat a human. He is, when Sunshine is captured, starving, tormented, and stubborn.

I hadn’t realized I’d started crying. My long-ago, lost life. The tears were running– pouring– down my cheeks.

And suddenly the vampire moved toward me. I froze, thinking, Oh no, and at last, and okay, at least my last thoughts are about everybody at the coffeehouse, but all he did was hold one of his big hands under my chin, so the tears would fall into his palm. I cried now from fear and anticipation as well as loss and sorrow, and my tears had made quite a little pool before I stopped. I stopped because I was too tired to go on, and my whole head felt squashy. I suppose I should have been flipping out. He was right next to me. He hadn’t moved again. When I stopped crying he lowered his hand and said calmly, “May I have your tears?” I nodded, bemused, and very precisely and carefully, he touched my face with the forefinger of his other hand, wiping up the last drips. I was so braced for worse I barely noticed that this time a vampire really had touched me.

He moved back against the wall before he licked the wet finger and then drank the little palmful of salt water. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help it.

He wouldn’t have had to say anything. Maybe he’d liked the story of my life. “Tears,” he said. “Not as good as…” a really ugly ominous pause here “…but better than nothing.”

Time after time throughout the story Con is given good reasons to act like an evil vampire. Time after time he chooses not to. Because he is not evil, he has the strength of character to resist the evil inherent to vampires. He transcends his nature.

How irresistible is that?

Eric Northman, Charlaine Harris’s vampire is sexy and occasionally adorable, but he’s vampire-lite compared to Constantine. Constantine would kick Eric’s ass into next week. I love the Sookie books (most of them anyway) but I enjoy them because of Sookie Stackhouse. The whole sex with vampires thing is (to borrow Robin’s description) icky. Harris writes a rousing good sex scene, but I have to turn off the thought that is a cold, dead guy Sookie is boinking, otherwise I get creeped out.

Don’t click to look inside, run over to Amazon and check it out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: