Summers at Castle Auburn
by Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 2002, ISBN 0-441-00928-X
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
Corie is the illegitimate daughter of a high-ranking nobleman in the kingdom of Auburn, a kingdom ruled over by an impossibly in-bred royal family, which perhaps explains the mental instability of the heir, Prince Bryan. (The kings of Auburn always marry daughters of the house of Corie's father. Always.) Her mother, long since deceased, was the daughter of a village wisewoman. After Corie's father died, his brother Jaxon discovered Corie's existence and, after a tug-of-war negotiation with her grandmother, Corie began spending her summers at the royal castle. Another reviewer has said that Corie, the viewpoint character, is "annoyingly naive". That's true, but I found it fairly believable; Corie's summers at Castle Auburn are really just that--summer vacation. She spends most of her year in her grandmother's cottage in a village a few days' journey away, learning how to be a village herbalist and witch. She shows much better judgment and less naivete when dealing exclusively with people of what she thinks of as her own class, and all her naivete involves royalty and the upper nobility. She's slow to notice that Prince Bryan, about whom she and all the girls except her elder half-sister Elisandra moon romantically, is in fact thoroughly unpleasant with anyone but girls he's interested in charming. It takes her almost as long to notice that her Uncle Jaxon's hunting trips to capture Aliora-- fairy-like beings kept as slaves in every household rich enough to purchase them--have a connection to her Aliora servant friends in the castle, who are unhappy at their permanent separation from their home and families. That she also fails to connect the fact that the kings of Auburn always marry daughters of the house of Halsing, and her sister Elisandra is betrothed to the heir, Prince Bryan, with her own potential value as a bride for some ambitious nobleman, seems entirely reasonable. Her stepmother works hard enough to convince her she's of no importance, even while striving mightily to turn her into a conventional and obedient young lady, three months of the year, and she does spend the rest of the year regard farmers and artisans and shopkeepers as her social equals.
Eventually, of course, everything blows up in her face, as it has to for there to be any story. Pleasant, lightweight fantasy.