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Summers at Castle Auburn
Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 355 pages

Jean Pierre Targete
Summers at Castle Auburn
Sharon Shinn
Sharon Shinn's previous novels include The Shapechanger's Wife, Wrapt in Crystal, Heart of Gold, and the Samaria Trilogy. She is a 1996 John W. Campbell Award nominee, and winner of the William Crawford Award for Achievement in Fantasy.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Alleluia Files
SF Site Review: The Alleluia Files
SF Site Review: Wrapt in Crystal
SF Site Review: Heart of Gold
Sharon Shinn Tribute Site
An Interview with Sharon Shinn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Coriel Halsing is the illegitimate child of a noble line. She lives a divided life: nine months of the year with her grandmother, a village wise woman and healer to whom she is apprenticed, and the three months of summer at Castle Auburn, where she lives the life of a highborn courtier.

Coriel loves her summers at the castle. Strong-willed as she is, she sometimes finds it difficult to fit in, and often would rather study herbs and spells than manners and deportment. But she has a staunch ally in her adored older sister Elisandra (with whose betrothed, handsome Prince Bryan, she's infatuated), and a firm friend in Bryan's cousin Kent. And her Uncle Jaxon -- a dashing, mercurial man who has made a fortune capturing and selling aliora, a race of strange magical beings who are in great demand as body servants -- can always be relied upon to get her out of trouble.

But as Coriel grows older, she begins to perceive darker currents beneath the idyllic surface of life at Castle Auburn. Handsome Bryan is, in fact, shallow and cruel, and Elisandra's apparent tranquillity masks deep unhappiness. Kent is consumed with unrequited love, and Jaxon's pursuit of the aliora has begun to change him in mysterious ways. As for the aliora themselves, Coriel finds it less and less possible to close her eyes to the cruelty of their enslavement. As Bryan's and Elisandra's marriage day approaches, personal and political tensions tighten toward the breaking point, with Coriel in the middle of it all.

There's not a great deal of depth to this tale. Shinn, who usually creates complex backgrounds for her books, has settled in Summers at Castle Auburn for a fairly generic medievalism, and hasn't fleshed even this out with very much detail. The suffering of the aliora and their ambiguous bond to the human beings they serve are sensitively evoked, but it's never really clear how they fit into the world. And though there are dark themes -- Bryan's casual cruelty, Jaxon's growing obsession with the aliora, the steely will beneath Elisandra's apparent passivity -- Shinn only skims them, keeping the tone resolutely light.

But she's a gifted storyteller, with the ability to create vivid characters and believable relationships; and these, together with the book's smooth prose and expert pacing, make Summers at Castle Auburn a fast, absorbing read. Coriel's gradual awakening to the discordances of court life, the shedding of her adolescent infatuation and her growing need to question what she has always taken for granted, are well-handled, as is the main romantic thread. And the happy ending, if a bit predictable, is just as it should be. It's an enjoyable confection from an author who is capable of much more.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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