Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Summers at Castle Auburn, Sharon Shinn

Title: Summers at Castle Auburn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2001, Ace
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 9/10

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.


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! :)


Anonymous said...

Oh you're gonna love Shinn's Samaria series then! I had to go out and buy the series too, I loved it so much. I also bought her Safe-Keeper's Secret trilogy because it's great.

I'd say Sharon Shinn is in my top 5 favorite authors.

And I haven't even read Summers at Castle Auburn yet. I'm waiting for my life to calm down so I can get right into the rest of her her books.

dancechica said...

I read the first book in Shinn's Samaria series (Archangel) and enjoyed it. I've been meaning to pick this one up too.

Anonymous said...

Shinn is a good work-horse writer. Solid stories. I've really enjoyed almost all her books I've read (though the last two of the Samaria novels were flat for me, after the first three). This one is sweet, which is odd with the slavery and all, but, well, what can I say?

Anonymous said...

Yay - I'm glad you liked it! It's one of my favourite books ever. Agree with Gwen, it is a sweet book.

Re the spoiler you mentioned, I think it adds a layer of ambiguity and makes it a bit more interesting. However, I wasn't thinking about the YA perspective - you raise an interesting point there!

I've just read her latest YA book (General Winston's Daughter), and while it's good, I think it's a bit more heavy-handed with the social issues (colonialism) than this book. This one is just *right*.

Jennie said...

Kristina--I have actually read Archangel, and I did like it. I'm not sure why I didn't love it like I did this one -- I remember being a bit annoyed by the heroine. I do have the rest of the Samaria books in my TBR though, so I'll definitely be pulling them out soon.

Dance Chica--I highly recommend this one!

Gwen--She does seem to be a very consistent author, which is always good. This book was sweet, though it was quite sad at some points too. A good mix, I thought.

Li--Yes, thanks for the recommendation! I'm so glad I read it. And I was wondering about General Winston's Daughter -- I think I'm going to wait for the paperback on that one. Especially since I have about 5 other Shinn books in my TBR already. ;)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book!! It made me run out and buy Archangel, which I thought was ok, and I read the one after that with the broken angelica... but with great big pauses in between reading sessions. I just didn't get sucked in I guess. Summers at Castle Auburn is exactly the type of story I love to curl up with though! Definitely on my comfort reading book shelf.

Jennie said...

I didn't love Archangel either, though I've still bought the rest of the Samaria books. A friend told me that she liked the later books more. We'll see. ;)