Sunday, November 29, 2009


I've recently finished the novel Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. I'm of two minds about it. First of all, I think the worldbuilding in the novel is top-notch. It's a really interesting "not quite the world you know" setting, revealed gradually and naturally. Quite a few of the core concepts of the setting were not fully explained and I would have loved to hear more about them. In addition, the writing is witty, the story is well-paced, and I was fully prepared to love the book.

Except for the main character. She starts out likable enough, in an intriguing predicament, but as the story went on, I found it harder and harder to sympathize with her, until by the end of the novel, I really could have cared less to read about any of her further adventures. You see, despite the fact that the main character, Sunshine, is surrounded by a group of caring, supportive friends and family members, and despite the fact that a number of folks go out of her way to reach out to her, and to offer assistance regardless of personal risk, she basically lies to all of them throughout the entire book. She only confides in folks when she's forced to and when the truth of her situation is undeniable, and even then she only tells as much truth as is absolutely necessary. Even in situations where the people asking her the questions desperately need the information, not only to save their own lives and the lives of other, she still keeps her mouth shut and declines to offer assistance.

The central conflict of the story is initially focused around her, but even though it becomes clear that the implications of the situation stretch far beyond her own life and comfort, and potentially impact the welfare of innocent people both near and far, she clings to her self-centered view, only exerting the effort necessary to save herself, and showing very little concern for what happens to anyone else. The exception is a single dark mysterious figure that she chooses to ally herself with, and you could argue that her defense of this dangerous companion demonstrates her altruism; however, she demonstrates rapidly that she is willing to trust this stranger much more easily than she trusts her friends, family, or lover.

It's Sunshine's whole attitude of "oh my life is difficult and complex and I have to keep it all inside because I'm all alone and can't trust anyone to help me" that made me wince more and more as the book went on. You could also argue that this is intentional; that Sunshine is meant to be a troubled young woman presented suddenly with a number of very difficult crises, and as a human being, she makes a few bad and rash choices. That's fine. But at the end of the day, I want my fictional heroes to be heroes. If I'm shaking my head and rolling my eyes at the decisions of the main character every tenth page, it really breaks my connection to the story.

From what I see on Wikipedia, McKinley may be planning another novel set in the same universe as Sunshine, but with a different story and characters. I'd be interesting in seeing such a book, especially if it's not a sequel to Sunshine. I'd be happy to pay another visit to the setting McKinley has built, but I could really care less if I hear another word from Sunshine herself.