Sunday, November 13, 2011

Summers at Castle Auburn, by Sharon Shinn

I've been using the "if you liked this..." algorithms at Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Amazon to try to find more books. All of them insisted I would love Summers at Castle Auburn, by Sharon Shinn. I take these recommendations with a grain of salt: they also insist Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself is right up my alley, but I can't get past the prologue with the manly barbarian doing his manly barbarian things.

But I've enjoyed Shinn's Samaria books, so this one seemed a likely prospect; it became part of my massive Kindle sample spree. I'm trying to remind myself that the sample spree does accomplish one of its intended purposes - it prevents me buying a book I'm not enamored with, by making "looking at a different book" just as easy as hitting the "buy now" button. However, it's apparently doing nothing to abate the serial purchasing aspect, because when I am intrigued by a sample, I still hit the "Buy now" very quickly.

Well, I should have known. The whole point of getting a Kindle was to make it incredibly easy to access new material. I still have to work on habits to dampen the frequency at which I avail myself of this luxury, though. Alternating ebooks with library books, maybe.

Anyway: Summers at Castle Auburn: awesome. The algorithms did not lie on this one. I was caught before the sample was even half-over; it was a very comfortable first-person narration, very easy to sink into.

The narrator is Corie, a bastard daughter of a high royal house, who spends her summers at the castle, where her half-sister is betrothed to the prince. She's fourteen and naive: she believes her uncle's tale that she's there to claim her place in the family; she adores the handsome but dangerously spoiled prince who's to wed her sister; she's excited to go on an "aliora hunt" with her uncle, the prince, and some other nobles, it never once occurring to her that there might be anything wrong with capturing and enslaving these elf-like creatures as household servants. Since she only spends summers at the castle, and the rest of the year in her village, she isn't at court often enough to see beyond the glamor of it all. She's a very competent apprentice to her grandmother, a herbalist/wise woman/witch, but not so good at the whole political/social realm. For several years, it doesn't even really occur to her that intrigue exists, or that she's a pawn on the board.

I sort of think I was a very naive person for a very long time, so I could identify. I liked how the narration showed things that told the reader what was going on, without Corie really registering them at the time; I liked watching her illusions fall away, and watching how she dealt with having been wrong all this time. I liked watching her stand up for what was right, in the end.

I would've liked to have known Elisandra, her sister, a little better, though. She's very reserved. This is important to her character, and to the story, buuuuut... I was sorry to not see more of her, when she's so important to Corie.

This will probably become one of my comfort-food books: my very first non-print one! I'm sort of thinking about re-reading it soon, actually. It's not clear from the beginning of the book who will wind up the love interest - there are two options, both of whom I approved of - so I'd like to see what the shape of the story is like once you know who the right one is.


  1. Ooh, I'll have to read this!

    I've been pleasantly surprised by Shinn's standalone books, though I'm not quite sure why I didn't expect them to be all that compelling. Maybe because the Samaria series ended up being formulaic in ways that kept catching my attention and irritating me (the continual reliance on earthshaking metaphors to describe kisses, eyes lighting up and turning the air under one's wings blue with their intensity, ugh). But _The Shapechanger's Wife_ is melancholic and lovely and perches on the verge of a fairy-tell retelling, but goes in more interesting and original directions by examining marriage through the lens of the fairy tale.

    I also really enjoyed her _Troubled Waters_, though it feels--while self-contained--very much like the start of a series (each focused on a different element, of course).

  2. Ahhhh, The Shapechanger's Wife also rated high on the algorithms. I'll have to look into that one! I read the sample, but it didn't go far enough into the story to hook me.

    I think I read somewhere that Troubled Waters is, in fact, the start of a series. Can't remember any further details than that, though. I haven't read that one yet, myself.

    Have you read Shinn's Twelve Houses series at all? I read Reader and Raelynx, which comes late in the series, and was not terribly impressed - I can't even remember what it was about, save that there were a lot of hooked-up character pairs that clearly must have had their own books earlier in the series, they were so... intimately written, yet without stated backstory. And I just read the sample for Mystic and Rider, and was similarly not impressed; there was an absurd amount of infodump.

    But a lot of people seem to really love that series, so I dunno what to think. I could get Mystic and Rider from the public library's Kindle stash, but I'm skeptical about whether I'd enjoy it at all.