posted at Monday, April 10th, 2017 at 8:00 AM | Reviews, Young Adult
Published by Ace on April 30, 2002
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Amazon • The Book Depository
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...
This backlist title has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the book blog community over the last year or so. Several people have told me that I simply must read this book, but Gillian (Writer of Wrongs) was the one who finally nudged me into it by sending me a copy for my birthday. I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect, other than that I know that anything Gillian recommends will almost definitely have a great ship, and the book’s description certainly would not have helped a whole lot. It’s not wrong, but it’s…misleading. It makes everything sound way melodramatic, which is like the total opposite of Summers at Castle-Auburn, which is an understated, voice-driven, charming coming of age fantasy with a lovely cast and, yes, fantastic ship.
As I said, I didn’t know what to expect particularly, but I still managed to be completely surprised by the opening of Summers at Castle Auburn. We meet Coriel at age fourteen, excited to be going on an aliora-hunting excursion with her Uncle Jaxon and a veritable harem of boys, including her crush Prince Bryan. Corie’s voice immediately charms. She’s young, naive, sweet, and impossible not to love. It’s massively hard to pull off a character like Corie and have her come off as genuine and young, rather than stupid.
Corie’s just this remarkably sweet, friendly, trusting person, so she doesn’t question what she’s been taught until she gets older. The whole book is Corie’s journey from blind faith in those around her to realizing the darkness underlying her idyllic world. As a child, her only complaint is that the people at court expect her to behave in particular (read: boring) ways, but, as she grows, she has to confront the problematic racism (the aliora are fae creatures with intelligence and their own community), the fact that Prince Bryan is actually kind of a shitty human, and that, generally, no one is as simple and perfect as she had thought.
Summers at Castle Auburn takes place primarily over three summers: Corie’s fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth summers. At fourteen, Corie’s adorable and precocious. Her naivete could be trying, but she’s been sheltered from the world’s harsh realities, both by her situation and the fact that others try to protect her; no one wants to be the one to crush such a sweet, happy nature. In her seventeenth summer, Corie’s eyes are opened (perhaps by a potion in an adorable set up or just by growing up), and she’s working on understanding the world in this new way. In her eighteenth, Corie returns a bit less perky and a lot more determined.
I love Corie in every incarnation, and I love watching her change and grow up through the years. I love how boy crazy she is, and I love that this does not remotely translate to wanting to get married; she dreams of a life as an herbwitch, not as a wife of some lord. She’s got this puppy love crush on Prince Bryan, because he’s so cute; if Bryan had a fan club like Prince Char does, Corie would have been the president.
Enough gushing about Corie, though I could go on. Her relationship with her sister is absolutely precious. It’s so freaking adorable that Corie has trouble understanding that Bryan doesn’t love Elisandra because Corie simply cannot conceive of anyone not loving Elisandra. To her, Elisandra is a paragon of womanhood, but there’s so much more going on under the surface. Elisandra’s way more complex than that, but she does love her sister with a fierceness.
The romances are super fucking adorable. I totally shipped all of them from the first scenes the couples had together, because this is my realm and clearly Shinn is a fan of shiptrash just like I am. Based on the shirtless scene and the dancing and the carriage scene, Shinn is such a shipper, and just bless her really. Kent is such an adorable goober who is trying so damn hard but being waaaaaay too subtle about it. Darling, precious Kentley.
Plotwise, Summers at Castle Auburn reads very much like a fairy tale; there’s a dreamy, magical quality to everything. Some plot elements, particularly the aliora, while being a big part of the book, don’t necessarily get the handling you might expect. Villains don’t always get punished, View Spoiler »like whoever murdered Tiatza and her son, Bryan’s bastard, « Hide Spoiler and some plot developments only appear as a casual aside in one letter or bit of narration. Summers at Castle Auburn is subtle, and you definitely need to pay attention to catch everything (including Corie’s secret snark).View Spoiler »In some ways, my absolute favorite part of the book is that Elisandra murders the shit out of her husband, risking killing extra people by accident, and she gets to marry the dude she loves and inherit the family estate. It’s such a morally grey thing to do, and it works like gangbusters for her. She planned well (I totally saw that coming when she interrogated Corie about her herbs), but she also had no fucks to give. It is better for the whole world that she did it, but I suspect her motivations were entirely selfish. Love this murder princess quite a bit, and I love that the perfectly-behaved princess is actually the bigger rebel (as Corie admits she never could have done that. Meanwhile, the kind-hearted Corie risks everything to free the aliora. Together, they protect Auburn from itself.
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What an incredibly lovely novel! I’m already making plans to work through Sharon Shinn’s novels, because any author who brings the ship like that is an author I need to read obsessively.
<spoiler>“Do you love me?” he asked.
I fell silent.
“For the rest of it is glitter and noise,” he said. “At the heart of it all is love. You make that choice, and you go forward from there.”</spoiler>
Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy: