Title: Summers at Castle Auburn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2001, Ace
Category: YA Fantasy
I've been meaning to try one of Sharon Shinn's YA books, and Li recommended this one. Ack! I loved it. Really a lot.
Young Corie is the illegitimate daughter of now-deceased Lord Halsing, an important aristocrat of Auburn. She's been raised in the country by her grandmother, a wise-woman witch-doctor, who is training Corie as her apprentice. Corie's uncle Jaxon decides that Corie should spend her summers at Auburn castle with her half-sister, Alisandra, who is now engaged to Prince Bryan, the heir to the throne. The book opens when Corie is 14, as she excitedly sets out on a hunting expedition with her uncle Jaxon, Bryan, and the prince's cousin, Kent. They aren't hunting animals, though -- they're hunting aliora, mysterious and magical elf-like creatures that are almost impossible to catch, but once bound by metal shackles they are made into servants for the aristocracy. Corie has always accepted the presence of aliora without much thought, but this trip opens her eyes to the fact that the aliora living among humans are slaves kept against their will. Over the next few years, Corie goes from naive girl to a young woman aware of the many injustices that exist among the political circles of the court of Auburn. She also begins to see that Bryan is not the wonderful, dashing prince of a fairy tale with whom all the girls (including Corie) are in love, but a very flawed man whose arrogance and cruelty make for a dangerous ruler.
Let me count the ways I loved this book! Corie is such a lovable character -- she is one of those lucky people who makes friends wherever she goes, spreading her affection to high- and low-born without discrimination. (Well, actually with excellent discrimination, but based on important things like kindness and good-will rather than money and position.) And she is such a rebel! Strong-willed and intelligent, she refuses to be coerced into acting in any way she does not think is right, even though it sometimes seems like everyone is against her.
This is very much a coming-of-age story, and I loved seeing Corie go from youthful innocence to wise young woman. The theme of slavery (both the literal slavery of the aliora and the more insidious subjugation of women) are handled so well, with a nice light touch. And the romance is so, so lovely. It's a traditional fairy-tale ending turned completely on its head, resolved in a way that was (to me, anyway) very unexpected and wonderful. And while the overall story is fairly simple, it's just full of lovely, thoughtful details of a fantasy world.
BIG HUGE SPOILER! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK.
I have to say I was not very comfortable with Bryan's sad demise. Obviously he would have been a horrible king, and Alisandra was painted into a difficult corner, but, DUDE, she murdered him! Seems sort of a bad lesson for young adults, which is upsetting because the rest of the book was filled with such admirable things. Kent and Corie both agree that they could never do such a thing, but I don't think that really makes up for it. And Alisandra's calm attitude toward it all was sort of creepy.
I got this from the library, but I've already ordered a copy because it must be MINE! MINE! :)