Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

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Title: Summers at Castle Auburn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 352 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
As a child, Coriel Halsing spent many glorious summers at Castle Auburn with her half-sister-and fell in love with a handsome prince who could never be hers. But now that she is a young woman, she begins to see the dark side of this magical place...

Overall Rating: 4/5

I almost wish I had read this when I was younger, because I think I would have been absolutely enchanted with this story. Coriel is an illegitimate daughter of a high-ranking noble, spending nine months out of the year learning herblore and healing with her grandmother, and spending the three months of summer in a castle with her half-sister and the other nobles of the realm. Summers at Castle Auburn is a story about Coriel growing up and realizing what she wants out of life, while at the same time making realizations about the people she has known since she was a child. While she loved castle life at the beginning of the story, she comes to see the horrific things that go on around her.

The story starts off with a hunt. Coriel's uncle takes her and a group of boys to hunt for the aliora, who are magical creatures that live in the forest and live in a peaceful, harmonious society. Using base metals, nobles trap them to turn them into slaves. Even after they are made slaves, however, the aliora are peaceful and even loving. Coriel often marvels at how Cressida, her aliora servant at the castle, can care for her so much even though Cressida is an unwilling slave.

I was a little annoyed with Coriel at the beginning. She was just too much of an airhead, I felt. Too obsessed with boys and too clueless about some things. A little way into the novel, she grows up and stops being this way, thank goodness, so I didn't mind it so much. I think it's actually needed to show how much she grows as a person by the end of a novel. In fact, Shinn does a great job with the development of all the characters, even the minor ends. By the end, all of them have changed and grown, which is something I really love to see in a story.

The best part about Summers at Castle Auburn is how Shinn adds in a great deal of darkness without completely horrifying the reader. She definitely does not go for shock value; instead, the bad stuff is subtly weaved into story. Like much of what she writes, there are a lot of topics covered for something that is incredibly entertaining and hopeful. Slavery, women's rights, and issues of responsibility are all main subjects. And like I said, the reader isn't beat over the head with the message. The message isn't directly stated; rather, the reader is left to themselves as to what they want to get out of it.

Aside from all that, however, this is simply a good story. There is a good balance of everything in here. It has suspense, humor, mystery, romance, and generally everything I want in a story. The characters surprised me sometimes, and I find myself growing along with Coriel, opening my eyes to the real events taking place in the castle. The romance is perfect. As is usual with Shinn's books, the couplings are a bit predictable, but they're predictable in a satisfying way (if that makes sense), so it's all good. Lovers of young adult fantasy will love Summers at Castle Auburn. It's yet another of Shinn's brilliant novels.