Sunshine: My First Vampire Novel

I don’t read a whole lot of mainstream YA novels.

Particularly the ones about vampires.

So you could say that I read Sunshine due to an accident.

You see, I was assigned Robin McKinley’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast for school. And because I’m an obsessive little bean, I decided I was going to read all her other retellings as well. Beauty was my first exposure to the genre and I was fascinated.

What I didn’t know was that McKinley didn’t just write retellings. Some of her books are original. Sunshine is one of those… those it could perhaps be viewed as a distant cousin to a retelling of George MacDonald’s Little Daylight? I don’t presume to know.

In some ways, then Sunshine seems so out of McKinley’s league. But there were still moments that were so distinctly her and that was good to see. You shouldn’t lose your distinctive flair and personality just because you make a genre jump.

Admittedly, once I began reading – and realized that this was not a retelling, as I had expected – I wanted to see it through. If only because this book was a complete departure from what I normally read.

I had some big problems with Sunshine. But I also learned some things I previously did not know.

One of my biggest issues with the genre as a whole is that YA authors seem to feel like in order to appeal to the audience they have to include sex and obscene language.

Because apparently that’s all we’re interested in – sex – and all we do – use profanity. Why must mainstream YA is so predictable in this respect!

It doesn’t bother me  to hear profanity used but to see it is unbearable. They are ugly words. They don’t look nice. And I like writing to look pretty.

Sunshine was predictable in every respect, to be honest. Crude, lurid, mindless, overdramatic. Like, “Oh, my life is so hard because I think I might be in love with two guys at the same time and can’t pick, so I’ll lead them both on!” Am I supposed to be able to relate to this? I can’t.

In my – admittedly limited – experience, YA novels are always about teenagers – which is understandable, I suppose – hot guys – more rare than such books lead you to believe – and said teenagers “saving the world” or participating in other activities that are equally questionable in the realism department.

That said, I found myself enjoying this book against my better judgement. I thought I was “above” this. I despised the stereotypical teenage girl books. I thought I knew better than to be interested in things like dark romance and messy relationships and craving human blood.

I apologize for my arrogance. I was wrong.

I thought vampire novels were the worst of the fantasy genre, but Sunshine made me realize that “vampire” is a genre all its own and – just like every genre -has its good and its bad.

That doesn’t mean that I think that Sunshine is the best of its genre.

It was much different – and better – than was expecting it to be.

Just because a book is about vampires doesn’t mean it is automatically poorly-written, mindless trash.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t completely farfetched! It was plausible. It worked. This made me realize that when set in an appropriate world, one can do almost anything without it coming across as unrealistic.

It was complex, the world created. But also overwhelming for a newbie like me. I am basically illiterate in this genre. I don’t read much fantasy. The Lord of the Rings, Eragon, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia were as far as I went.

I didn’t realize at first that it was understood that this is all taking place after the Apocalypse – or… sometime in the distant future, when the world looks nothing like it does now. Maybe that is an understood fact about all vampire novels, I don’t pretend to know. I’m too new to the genre.

Another thing I liked was that Rae didn’t have these perfectly panned speeches. She couldn’t always find the swords to say what she wanted to.

I have a huge problem with protagonists who come up with great speeches on the spot. Katniss, I’m looking at you.

Who does this? Certainly not me.

It is unattractive to have a constantly tongue-tied character, but let’s face it – that’s how most of us would react to situations like the ones these girls are facing.

Unfortunately, Rae’s charm ended right about there, at her realism. She is too cliche.Tough loner girl who has powers she somehow didn’t know she had…Where have we seen this before? 

She is a baker… So that’s fairly different? But in my book that doesn’t outweigh being cliche.

Con, on the other hand, is great. Stoic and stiff and gentlemanly and Darcy-like. I read the whole book just for him, I think. It was boring when he wasn’t around. The beginning part of the book where they are trapped together is the best part.

It is kind of obvious that Rae and Con will fall in love.  Is this okay in some circumstances? It’s certainly something to consider…

I was thoroughly annoyed with facets of their relationship though. For example, Con and Rae have exactly one heated sexual encounter and then McKinley backs off and tries to act like it never happened.

Um. You can’t do that.

You’ve been setting this up for half the book! The audience demands resolution! Either they are together or they break up! You can’t tell me they are just friends when desire is obviously present.

The forbidden love because-he’s-nice-but-also-wants-your-blood trope is terribly overused. Anybody else thinking Twilight at this point?

Then again, the fact that Rae had a boyfriend who was not villified in any way was a breath of fresh air for the Love Triangle Society. I kept waiting for him to turn out to be working for the dark side, but it never happened, so…

I do think that Rae should have felt a little more guilty – or, rather, guilty at all – for messing around with two guys at once.

Ultimately, the end was terribly dissatisfying. All the buildup seemed to be for nothing. The climax fell flat.

In closing, I will just say – thank goodness for standalones! We do not need another series in the world!

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Do you ever make a complete departure from what you normally read? Do you read mainstream YA? Are there any good vampire novels? Do you think people should step outside of what they normally read to try new things?

 

Song Of Seare Trilogy: I Did Not See That Coming…

The Song of Seare trilogy follows a young man named Conor Mac Nir and his journey to overcome the evil threatening his world, and, on a more personal level, Conor’s journey as a man.

In the first book in the trilogy, The Oath of the Brotherhood, we meet Conor Mac Nir, a puny, scholarly boy who has powerful gifts as a musician. Conor does not really seem to fit in anywhere. When Conor’s foster father dies, Conor fakes his own death to cover his trail and joins the Firein, a group of monk-like “brothers” – the difference being that the otherwise monastic brotherhood are trained in the fighting arts as well as spiritual disciplines.

But Conor soon grows restless and wants to leave the brotherhood to do something about the darkness that has begun to threaten the outside world.

Finally, Conor leaves Ard Dhaimin, to join Calhoun Mac Cuilinn’s army. Calhoun is the older half-brother of Aine, a beautiful young girl Conor fell in love with in the short time he stayed with her family before joining the brotherhood.

Aine, in Conor’s absence, has developed her own unique gifts and has gained renown for her incredible healing abilities. When Aine is kidnapped, Conor risks everything to save her and the two are reunited and married aboard a ship that they hope will carry them to a new life.

This first book really sets the stage nicely for the other two books to come. It’s a little slow in the beginning but interest really soars when Conor joins the brotherhood and really becomes a hero worth cheering for.

I have to say, when a character is described as puny, it kind of gives you a mental picture of that character that is irreversible, even if the we are told that the character really beefs up later on in the story (which, of course, they always do, because where’s the attraction in a guy who does not have bulging biceps and a perfect six pack?). Fortunately for Laureano, this is not the case with Conor; his progression from wimpy boy to muscular man is slow enough and convincing enough that your not permanently stuck thinking of Conor as that toothpick-limbed guy we envision when we were first introduced to him.

In the second book in The Song of Seare Trilogy, Beneath the Forsaken City, Conor and Aine have been separated in a storm at sea and now must pursue separate journeys.

Conor is made a slave but is set free and escapes with one of his fellow captives, Prince Talfryn, there under cover to save Conor. As his honored guest, Conor remains with Talfryn while he awaits news of Aine.

But while there he comes up against unforeseen obstacles – things are not what they seem within the kingdom. Briallu, the only daughter of his friend, holds a strange attraction for Conor that he struggles to resist.

Aine makes her way to her native land, where her aunt is currently in power and magic of all kinds – such as Aine now wields with more power than ever – is held in extreme suspicion. While some welcome Aine back, or grow to love her, her aunt’s veiled dislike of her serves to make her even more lonely and distraught. Aine struggles desperately against doubt and confusion, and is bewildered when attempts on her life become disturbingly frequent and there seem to be veiled threats on every side. Aine no longer knows who she can trust.

Both of their paths eventually lead them both back to Seare, however, and Aine and Conor are finally reunited once more.

Beneath the Forsaken City builds well on the first book. Separating Conor and Aine the way she does is a masterful move on Laureano’s part – it allows readers a chance to get to know them as individuals, apart from one another, something we got to do in Oath of the Brotherhood with Conor, obviously, but not as much with Aine, and since her role is only increasing, it’s important that we really get behind Aine. This is the closest thing to a flaw that I foresee for this trilogy. That we won’t ever get to know Aine enough to ever like her. Honestly, when we first met her back in Oath of the Brotherhood, she never appealed to me. I like her better in this book, but the connection between her and the reader is not as strong as it should be – something Laureano will have to remedy quickly if she wishes to redeem Aine.

That is the trouble with reserved, sweet characters. While the writer may just think of them as quiet or shy, or just kindhearted and compassionate, they come across to the reader as boring and dull, lacking life and personality. Such characters give us very little reason to get behind them, to laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, because we don’t really know what would make them laugh or cry. They have remained so aloof and distant, hiding behind that facade of reserve or kindness, that We The Reader don’t really know them at all.

In the last book in the Song of Seare Trilogy, The Sword and the Song, Aine and Conor are reunited in Ard Dhaimin and the future is looking bright for them. The couple is expecting their first child, they are happy, and Ard Dhaimin has become a refuge for many fleeing the darkness and danger that has become rampant in Seare.

But it soons becomes apparent that everything is not as perfect as it seems. Eoghan, Conor’s closest friend, is the fulfillment of the prophecy, and as such, he should be taking leadership of the Firein. But Eoghan is hesitant to step up, which causes friction between Conor and him. Eoghan reached out to Conor when he first arrived friendless in Ard Dhaimin, Eoghan mentored and trained Conor until he became a better swordsman than Eoghan himself, Eoghan risked severe punishment to leave Ard Dhaimin and help Conor, saving his life, and Eoghan saved Aine’s life when she returned to Seare after struggling with doubt and defeat in her homeland. So the bond between the two men is still strong… but it’s strength is being tested. Especially as it becomes more and more obvious to everyone, Conor, Aine, and Eoghan himself, that Eoghan is falling for Aine – the pregnant wife of his best friend.

Conor has thought of a way to protect Seare and fight back against the Red Druid, Diarmuid – but it requires leaving Ard Dhaimin.

He gets back in plenty of time to witness the birth of his child – but almost as soon as he returns, he has to leave again.

On an even longer journey this time.

Conor’s mission is almost complete when Diarmuid attacks Ard Dhaimin. His goal is to kidnap Aine’s soon-to-be born, specially gifted child. Because of Aine’s growing powers, she is able to communicate mentally with Conor – but he is experiencing difficulty as well: he has been badly wounded, and help cannot reach him. In an unexpected twist, Conor’s foster sister who has been living in Ard Dhaimin, once a confederate of Diarmuid, turns on him suddenly, killing him. But it is too late for Conor.

With his last words, he names the son he wanted to desperately to witness the birth of, the son he so desperately wanted to be a good father to, the son he will now never meet… his son is born only minutes later.

Wow. I did not even see this ending coming.

It is superb. I was so close to tears.

I’ve read a lot of books, a lot of endings, a lot of good endings, even. But I don’t know that I’ve ever read an ending quite like this one. It is unique and so oddly moving.

I think because it really is very surprising. Conor is so very afraid that if he dies, Aine and Eoghan will be together and forget him, that you never think that that will actually happen! You just assume that because they want it so much, because Conor and Aine deserve it so much after all they have been through, all the separation and pain and doubting each other and not knowing if the other is even alive, and feeling unworthy of the other’s love, you just naturally assume that they will get that happy ending… You want them to have that happy ending.

You want Conor so see his son. You want them to be able to be a family. And so it is really depressing when Conor dies when he is so close to achieving this dream.

This last book really highlights Conor’s strength as a character. He has become the hero. And that is something I find rather fascinating: Conor didn’t start out the hero that you were hoping for – he becomes that hero.

You really begin to see his depth in this last book, his brokenness and disappointment with himself, his frustration and anger as he starts to really snap and kind of lose his grip on sanity. (I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a completely sane hero anyway.)

Aine, though, actually regressed, in my opinion. She effectively loses all the ground she gained in the second book.

Overall, this last book was not only by far the best but was a great way to end the series; Laureano got better with each succeeding book.