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Sunshine - Robin McKinley, Laural Merlington First time reading Robin McKinley. I have heard good things about her, but she struck me as a bit of a fanta-twee author. Anyway, Sunshine was on sale at Audible, and I like a good vampire story, so decided to check it out.

First, if I'd known about the romantic undercurrents, I'd have run screaming. Another vampire romance? Oh, hell no.

So this is another book that got to pleasantly surprise me because I didn't know enough to reject it outright.

"Sunshine" (the main character's nickname, and guess what, it's not meaningless) is just an ordinary 20-something slacker who works at a bakery. She decides to go down by the lake one evening, just to get away from it all, and is immediately captured by vampires.

Wait, what? Like, she knows about vampires? Yes. The details of the setting are not dumped on you all at once, or in expository prologues. Instead, we learn things a little at a time. This is not our world. This is an alternate world where magical creatures are real. Demons, weres, genies, angels, leprechauns, phoenixes, dragons, pretty much everything — and vampires.

The world avoids become Harry Potterish or silly because most of those creatures are only mentioned. Vampires are the only ones who figure into the plot. But we also learn that magic is real, and coexists with modern society, and this will become very significant.

So, Sunshine wakes up chained to a wall, with another vampire chained to a wall with her. Obviously she has been caught in the middle of some kind of vampire feud, and she's being dangled in front of the winning gang's captive as a snack. So she knows she's dead, because no one ever escapes from vampires.

And yet she does. And goes on to spend much of the book talking about baking and cinnamon rolls. Which was actually kind of neat, and made me hungry while listening.

This was actually a pretty good story, worldbuilding and vampires and all. The vamps are nasty critters, like vampires should be. Sunshine of course is special, and so is her vampire hottie, but it's a decent tale that seems to subvert a lot of the tropes you'd be expecting in this post-Twilight genre. Sunshine is actually pre-Twilight, which is too bad, since Sunshine, unlike Bella Swan, actually has a personality and does things.

Now, mind you, the book is still half contemporary fantasy/vampire story and half dark-undercurrents-of-hawt-brooding-sexuality between Broody McBiterperson and the ordinary young female protagonist. So, there is no way in hell it gets 5 stars from me because the suck factor is automatic. (Har har. Suck, vampires, gettit? I slay me.)

Buffy rolling her eyes

And stripping away the unconsummated sexing (the most graphic the book gets is when bad boy Constantine gives our heroine a serious case of blue... ladybits), the story is only okay, the worldbuilding interesting if unexceptional, and the writing decent.

So, this is a nice solid 3.5 star book. Which is pretty damn high for me to rate a vampire romance.

Now, in fairness, it's not so much a romance. Constantine is still a vampire. McKinley does a good job of making him enigmatic and mysterious. It seems he's an "ethical" vampire — the conflict that sparks the plot is between him and a more traditional "master vampire" who's of the pure dark and evil recreational torture and slaughter variety. But does Constantine still kill humans? It's definite that he has in the past, and it's not clear whether he now manages to feed without killing. So he's kind of like Dexter, an improbably moral sociopath who couldn't exist in real life. (I mean, aside from being a vampire...)

But he's sure got more going for him than Edward effing Cullen.

The target audience for this book is unquestionably the same target audience as Twilight, girls who get hot at the thought of a good-looking but super-dangerous predatory monster who only she in all the world is safe to be with.

However, I repeat: Sunshine actually does shit. And she bakes a mean cinnamon roll.