Shadows by Robin McKinley

Shadows Robin MckinleyShadows
by Robin McKinley

I have a complex relationship with Robin McKinley’s books. I love The Blue Sword and Beauty. They were wonderful. I thought she was doing something interesting with Rose Daughter, since it was a second rewrite of the story of Beauty and the Beast, and yet quite different from her first version, Beauty. And then she wrote Sunshine, which is really in contention for being the best book ever, and won her (in my mind) a life time achievement award: she was thereby a favorite author and I loved her writing.

Where it gets problematic is that I don’t actually care for many of her other books. I found Deerskin unpleasant, Chalice seemed more like a semi-written outline for a book rather than a complete book in and of itself, and I never even managed to get past the first chapter of Pegasus due to the extreme level of twee.

So I’d mostly decided that I would love her intensely and pretend that she wasn’t writing anything anymore. And yet, when her newest book came out, I checked it out from the library.

And I liked it a lot.

The first chapter or so made me wince with the over use of made-up slang and general teenage fraughtness but then it settled into the plot and I discovered that I actually really enjoyed it. The characters and the character interactions and the world they live in are all fun. However, much like how, with Rose Daughter, McKinley had apparently decided that she wanted to try a variation on Beauty, Shadows reads a like McKinley decided she wanted to try a variation on Sunshine. (Even the titles parallel each other!)

Sunshine is so fabulously good that it can definitely support a knock off. In fact, a knock off of Sunshine is a whole lot better than many originals. But, it does add an odd quality of double vision to reading it, see how the characters, plots, and descriptions in the two books map to each other.

One useful distinction, though, is that Sunshine is intended for an adult audience, while Shadows is a teen reader. By this, I mean that the romantic relationships in the two books as well as the level of gore are variably age-appropriate. But they both look at magic and reality and perspective and hope and determination and making due with what you have.

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book, but it doesn’t do much to resolve my issues with McKinley, since now I can’t even rely on her writing books that I don’t want to read. (I also find it somewhat irritating that she really doesn’t like fanfiction and is one of those authors who has their attorneys send cease-and-desist letters. Which is particularly questionable of her given that she apparently writes AUs of her own stories.) Also, just as with Sunshine, I would love to see a sequel of Shadows, or a prequel, or anything else further exploring the world contained within.

The Outlaws of Sherwood

By Robin McKinley

Book Cover: Outlaws of SherwoodI mentioned The Outlaws of Sherwood in my previous review as a possible non-homophobic treatment of a heroine-in-disguise romantic plot. I decided that since it had been years since I’d actually read it, though, I was a bit fuzzy on the actual treatment, so figured I’d better reread it.

Robin McKinley is a favorite author of mine, so even though this isn’t one of my favorite books of hers, it is still better than most books out there. It is also the most realistic and least romanticized version of the Robin Hood story that I’ve ever read/seen/heard. This can make it a bit slow at times—Robin is often unsure of himself and uncomfortable with his increasing renown—but the characters really shine. The outlaws of Sherwood Forest are desperate people who are simply trying to stay alive in a time of political and economic upheaval while keeping as much a moral compass as possible in their circumstances.

Unfortunately, per my previous review, the Little John storyline was not quite as extensive as I’d remembered, with the woman-in-disguise element dealt with summarily enough that it does not really address the issue of potential homophobia. On the flip side, the female characters themselves are, I believe, the most interesting and nuanced characters, so at least there is a strong feminist theme.


Stalking Authors, the Ilona Andrews edition

Magic_RisesPeriodically I like to drop by the websites of my favorite authors to see when their next books are coming out and if they have anything new and interesting up.

Lois McMaster Bujold doesn’t tend to update her website very much, alas. But she does actively support fanfiction, which I appreciate.

Patricia Briggs is pretty good with her website, although she’s gotten somewhat less active on it as her career has taken off.

Ilona Andrews is still very active on social media, including their own website, AND posts regular free stuff.

Robin McKinely has a decent website, although I’m generally somewhat disappointed in her. I love her early work (The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Beauty) and feel like Sunshine was her absolute Best Book Ever! Ever since, it’s been just kind of down hill. But I still like to check up on her, periodically, to see if maybe there will be a sequel to Sunshine at some point, or if any of her more recent books look good.

Megan Whalen Turner has possibly the least active author’s website I’ve seen, and yet I still check back because, by god, if there’s going to be another book in series, I will start stalking bookstores and possibly publisher’s warehouses in the hopes of getting to it just that much sooner. (So far, no luck. I will just have to re-read the four that already exist.)

Anyway, this is all a long wind up to letting you guys know that Ilona Andrews has the first chapter of her next book up! This is book 6 is the Kate Daniels series, Magic Rises, due out on July 30, 2013. Yay! You can read the excerpt: HERE!!!

I love this series.

However… the chapter raises some concerns for me.

Thus: Here Be Spoilers (for both Book 5 and for Book 6).

Continue reading


By Robin McKinley

Book cover: SunshineYou know those Eat This, Not That books? This is a Read This, Not That book review. During the height of the Twilight craze, whenever I saw someone reading or talking about the Twilight books, I wanted to grab them and shout, “Go read Sunshine!”

It is definitively the best spunky-young-heroine-and-vampire novel I’ve yet read, and that is saying a lot considering both how saturated that market is and how many of them I’ve read. McKinley has a long history of writing strong female leads (The Blue Sword was one of my favorites growing up), but lately she’s been sort of dicking around with dragons and pegasus, when she must know perfectly well that her fans all want a sequel to Sunshine.

The heroine, nicknamed “Sunshine,” is just out of high school and working as a baker in her family’s cafe (there are lots of extraneous but delightful descriptions of pastries) in a post-magic-war world where various magical creatures are an acknowledged reality but avoided if possible. The world-building is solid and interesting, and the action begins fairly quickly when she gets randomly kidnapped by a gang of vampires.

Avoiding spoilers, but attempting to describe what makes this book so much better than the Twilight series, especially for teen female readers: Sunshine acts almost entirely on her own recognizance at all times, relying on her own intelligence and summoning up unexpected personal strengths when the situations call for it. The particular vampire she aligns with is both frightening and intelligent, and their alliance is born out of need and not romantic in any sense (at least not right off the bat).

Sunshine actually takes three-dimensional characters, puts them in fraught situations, and then fleshes out how that changes and matures them. It is seriously the anti-Twilight, and everyone should read it (although perhaps not young kids, because it does have sex and violence).