A Tunnel in the Sky

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by Robin McKinley

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 5, 2023

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Sunshine is the nickname of Rae Seddon, but that isn't her original name, both it and the nickname were given to her by her stepfather Charlie Seddon, who her mother met when she started working at his restaurant, Charlie's Coffeehouse, and Rae began working there as a baker when she was about seventeen, which required Charlie to add on to the building for the bakery ovens. She started life as Raven Blaise, daughter of Onyx Blaise, a notorious magic handler (and possible sorcerer), whom she had not seen since she was five, after her mother left him and didn't want anything to do with him or any of his family, but a little more than a year later she relented and allowed Rae periodic visits with Gran, always at her cabin at the lake, where Gran taught her some basic magic, mostly transforming objects, starting with a flower into a feather, then to a leaf, then blade of grass, but usually ending up where she started with the flower. Those visits lasted only about a year because Gran and Onyx disappeared, no one knowing where or why, and then came the Voodoo Wars, which is a misnomer since no voodoo was used, and it would have made more sense to call them the Wars with the Others, since they pitted humans against multiple Others; demons, various weres, and the most dangerous, vampires. Fifteen years later the rumor is that the vampires will have defeated humans within the next hundred years, Rae hearing the rumor from a member of SOF, the Special Others Force, many members of which are frequent customers at Charlie's. Rae's current boyfriend Mel also works at Charlie's as a cook, but he doesn't figure into the narrative much, other than as a calm and steady influence on Rae, which is surprising considering his history; former motorcycle gang member, and veteran of the Wars.

I love a well written first-person narrative, whereas I know some readers don't, and many writers won't even try, and when they do they may not succeed. McKinley succeeds, but there are still a few questions I could raise. For any first-person story, is the narrator reliable, or do they only tell us what they want us to know, and especially do they try to depict themselves in the most positive ways? In this case, I would say that does not apply, since on many occasions Sunshine says she is weak (she is not). I wrote the first paragraph in an attempt to mimic her narrative, which is full of long, run-on sentences, with quite a few digressions and sidetracks, sometimes going on for pages before she gets back to the original point that prompted those digressions. We also have to ask, when is she telling the story? Is it ongoing, in between bouts of action, or after the fact? It is not quite present tense, which is very difficult to pull off successfully, but at times it seems to be at the time the events are occurring. Orůmaybe she is strapped to a medical chair or table, pumped full of drugs by the Goddess of Pain (no, I won't say more about her), forced to tell her story for as long as it takes, and the drugs are what makes her ramble so much. There are a few other possibilities, one of which is, since she says several times she knew she was going to die, she is speaking to us from beyond the grave, or maybe as a newly made member of the Undead. Multiple characters turn out to be Others, either fullbloods or halfbloods, some of them having been recruited by SOF, which most of the public thinks of as a purely human organization, but a lot of the Others hate vampires too, the major threat to everyone. I kept expecting to find out Mel was one, maybe even Sunshine's mother and Charlie, and the prospect of Onyx and Gran returning to the story was forever on my mind. I will neither confirm or deny any of those suppositions.

I'm not saying much more about the plot, because I was not spoiled ahead of reading and I don't think anyone else should be either. It is set in contemporary times but in an alternate world, without any historical references to our reality. Everyone has known about vampires and Others for a long time, even though some might think they are still just stories. I won't tell you why Sunshine acquired her nickname, or why it is very pertinent to the story. Suffice it to say that Sunshine illuminates the narrative throughout, with compassion, fortitude, and strength, both physically and mentally, no matter how many times she says she is adrift. Published in 2003, Sunshine won the Mythopoeic Award for adult literature. It is the most mature book of hers I've read so far, more than the previous Deerskin. More sexual situations, and language I had not expected from her, but it is brief, and in character. Not only more mature, it is my favorite so far too. Twenty years later it still appears to be a standalone story, so every reader is free to envision Sunshine's future, maybe with Mel, or possibly with Con, or whatever he wants to call himself now. Highly recommended.


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Robin McKinley

September 30, 2003

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