Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Sunshine - Robin McKinley

“Sunshine” by Robin McKinley

I have to give “Sunshine” a seemingly wishy-washy 3 starts out of 5.  The good stuff is marvellous.  The good is then tarnished by wholly correctable muck.  The good parts show McKinley to most definitely possess the writing skills, which makes the thick, clumsy parts all the more irritating.  My mind clenches in trying to work the puzzle.  Does she have a harsh allergy to rewriting?  Are her beta readers nothing but bootlickers, providing no useful suggestions?

The heroine shines and sparkles like the title suggests.  The menacing horror crackles and hisses.  The alternate reality is engaging and intriguing.  It’s all good, edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Except when it’s not.  It’s such a writing ping pong game of “great vs thick”.

When McKinley describes a vampire or a bucolic lake or a bakery, she’s fantastic.  Apparently, though, describing humans and workaday things is boring (or something).  We are only given the sketchiest hint of what the hero Sunshine looks like at the literal halfway point of the novel!  Describing the hero is difficult when the book is written in first person point of view, but that doesn’t mean the author is excused from the task.  Putting that aside, it doesn’t explain the lack of description for the supporting cast.  It’s a world populated by stick people wearing name tags.

She never lumbers us with explanations about this world where humans compete with the Other (supernatural entities).  She slips tantalizing bits of slang and expletive into dialogue that let the reader know this is not our Earth, but an Earth with an alternate history.  Excellent and succinct!  Well done!

But that praise is cut short by myriad info dumps, often provided in the worst places.  Tension-filled moments are buried like they were hit by an avalanche of soggy futons.  The hero Sunshine will go off on a rambling inner monologue for paragraph after paragraph to clue the reader in.  (for example, in the middle of a not-quite police interrogation, one of their comments sends her off on mental alarm mode, with an explanation for the alarm and the cultural historical examples of people who suffered from this condition…and by the time Sunshine stops and we leave her mental babbling, I’m surprised she doesn’t have to wake the cops up in order to continue the conversation.  I’d certainly lost track of where the hell we were.)

Avoiding the dreaded info dump is perhaps the biggest challenge for a writer of SF&F, but you gotta try.  Again, it’s obvious McKinley has the chops to do avoid long-winded upchucks, so I can only assume she couldn’t be bothered to try.

There are a sprinkling of thumb tacks that annoyed me.  How often must I be told Sunshine bakes the best cinnamon rolls in the world?  I think I got the idea after the first dozen times in the narrative.  (the book is so stuffed with cutesy bakery references, McKInley must have written the book in her favourite coffee shop-bakery.) It’s amusing that the cops refer to their humourless, strict boss as the “goddess of pain”, but when Sunshine finally meets this person face to face, it’s time for an actual name.

Equally, there are brilliant moments.  These are harder to describe without spoiling plot moments.  In a major crisis, Sunshine receives a bit of support and aid for her struggle.  The source of the support and aid had been neatly foreshadowed thru the book.  No further clarification required. It clicked neatly into the moment.  By this time in the book, sadly, I was wincing, wondering if this would be left alone to be twinkling elegant or would it trigger another two-page Sunshine commentary.

The book ends up being worthwhile to read, but it is a salad of the garden fresh mixed with the unripe sour on a bed of the crisp blended with some questionably limp.

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