Sunday, January 24, 2010
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
My first review of the new year!
Coriel Halsing, the illegitimate daughter of a wise woman and a deceased royal lord, has split every year since the age of six studying to become a wise woman under her grandmother's tutelage in their small village, and living the privileged life of a Lady during her annual summers at Castle Auburn. Corie finds happiness in both worlds. As her grandmother's apprentice she thrives in learning potions and cures and prepares to take over the position as her villages wise woman upon her grandmother's death. In Auburn she shares precious time with her beloved sister Elisandra, uncle Jaxon, and the many people she has come to call friends over the years.
During her fourteenth year, Corie's summer at Castle Auburn becomes an adventure. She sets out with her Uncle Jaxon, her sister's betrothed Bryan the Prince of Auburn, his kinsman, Kent, and guardsman, Roderick on a hunt for aliora. The aliora are mystical creatures that inhabit a secret realm deep in the woods. They are hunted, captured, sold and kept as servants in the noble houses. For all of the young people on the trip, there is no greater prize than returning to Auburn with an aliora.
Corie is excited about her excursion for more reasons than one. She, like every other young woman in their realm, has harbored a crush on Bryan for as long as she can remember--and to spend an entire trip in his company pleases her to no end. The hunt for aliora doesn't go as planned and Bryan's actions on the trip leave her conflicted, but Coriel does return to the castle with new friends in the handsome, but serious Kent, and the easy-going Roderick.
The next few years pass like all the ones before it and soon Corie is seventeen and fast becoming a woman. Her summer return to Auburn is met with much enthusiasm from young and older men alike, as Corie had reached marriageable age and is now a hot commodity. Due to her new popularity, Corie begins to find out things at Castle Auburn aren't exactly what they have seemed. Dark secrets come to light, the summer becomes suffocating, and Corie wishes to be anywhere but Auburn, a place she once loved.
Her eyes are opened to the machinations and calculations of the people around her. Where she once thought happiness lied, she now finds sadness. Those she believed honorable, prove to be anything but. Corie's awakening isn't reserved for only those around her, though. She realizes that in her naivety, she has overlooked her own unjust practices. Enlightened by her new wisdom, Corie takes matters into her own hands and attempts to rectify the wrongs around. This lands her in a danger she never thought possible. Everything around her comes crumbling down and life as she knows it is forever changed.
Summers at Castle Auburn is a coming of age story of love, exploration, romance, and intrigue. Corie starts out a head strong young girl, blind to the people around her, seeing only what she wants to. These characteristics could easily make Corie hard to relate to. It is only through her self awareness that she escapes being annoying in her naivety. When Corie finally begins to dig deeper and stops seeing everyone on a surface level, she becomes a more endearing character and her struggles become more palpable.
What I loved most about this book is the writing. I've read a couple of books from Shinn's Samaria series in the past and have admired her lyrical prose. While not as prominent here, she does a wonderful job at describing the ethereal Aliora in a way that is nothing short of enchanting. The book as a whole is immersing and easy to get lost in. I read for hours without realizing how much time had passed. Any book that can sweep me into its pages so completely is a winner for me. I also loved Corie's first person perspective. Her voice was very strong and grew more mature over the course of the story. The only fault I can find with this point of view was how it may (or maybe not) have affected believability of the romantic revelations toward the end of the book.
It is no secret that Shinn likes to tackle issues of oppression in her stories and she does so very well, in my opinion. That said, I have to wonder if the way that the issue with the aliora were dealt with in Summers was a little too pat. I felt that the resolution to their enslavement was glossed over and never got a true understanding of what was to happen with them in the future. I feel like I'm treading on spoiler territory, so I'll stop there, but if anyone else has read this book, let me know what you thought about this aspect in the comments, please.
Overall, Summers at Castle Auburn was very good. I enjoyed getting lost in the fantasy for a few hours. Grade B+
Visit Sharon Shinn here. More about Summers at Castle Auburn here.