Desert Isle Keeper
Summers at Castle Auburn
Sometime last year I found myself stuck in a reading rut. So I decided to experiment with other genres and drifted over to Fantasy and Science Fiction. One of the authors I discovered there was Sharon Shinn. She has written a number of books, combining both science fiction and fantasy with romance. I liked them all, but her newest, Summers at Castle Auburn, is in my opinion, her best one yet.
Coriel Halsing is the illegitimate daughter of Lord Halsing, one of the highest nobles in the kingdom. When Lord Halsing dies, his brother Jaxon honors his dying wish to find Corie and bring her to Castle Auburn. This visit establishes a pattern for her life. She spends every summer with Jaxon and her half-sister Elisandra at Castle Auburn learning the important skills of a lady. The rest of the year she lives in a small village with her grandmother, learning to be an herbalist and wise woman. Over time she becomes fully acquainted with her two worlds, but less and less a true member of either.
The story begins in the summer of her fourteenth year. Jaxon is a great hunter of aliora, a fairy like folk who live deep in the forests. He catches them and sells them as slaves to the aristocracy. This year he takes Corie hunting with him. He also takes along Prince Bryan, with whom Corie is madly in love, and Bryan’s cousin Kent, a much kinder, more considerate young man. Corie has a wonderful time with all of them but this summer marks the end of Corie’s childhood, because at the end of it she begins to realize that the people and things she has loved and valued are not really what she has perceived them to be. She begins to be aware of the plots and intrigues that spin at Castle Auburn, including those involving the fates of herself and her beloved sister. As the years pass and her strange position at court solidifies, Corie must decide who she is and what she will be.
The Fantasy genre is a natural extension of the fairy tales many of us loved as children. And this story reads just like a lovely long fairy tale. The magical creatures here are the aliora. They are fey and friendly and healing just to be around. Corie loves the aliora, she loves to be with them, but as she grows older, she becomes more and more horrified at their state of enslavement. Interestingly paralleled with the alioras’ plight is that of Corie, her sister and all the women at court. How they all seek freedom from their bondage is touching and sad and, occasionally, horrifying. Shinn expertly weaves all their stories together in a fascinating way.
And, as in all of her books, Shinn includes touches of romance. There are three romantic sub-plots here, and the sweetest and most developed is Corie’s. She starts off young and quite infatuated with the unattainable (and, in many ways, undesirable) Prince Bryan. But as she ages, matures, and decides most emphatically who she is, she comes to better understand her heart and chooses more wisely whom to love. And like any fairy tale heroine, she gets a full and glorious Happily Ever After for her efforts.
Summers at Castle Auburn is a fully satisfying read. It has wonderful characters, mythical creatures and places, and a dash of court intrigue and scheming to make things even more interesting. Sharon Shinn is a fine author, and I very much look forward to any future offerings. For those of you who like fairy tales or wonderful stories in general, do pick up a copy of this book.