Thursday, December 22, 2011

Musings: Summers at Castle Auburn

Summers at Castle Auburn
Summers at Castle Auburn is a book that has sat patiently on my shelf for over five years.  Someone- of course, I can't remember who it was- mentioned it in a blog post recently, so I decided it was time to pick this one up.  A light romantic fantasy seemed like the perfect way to start winter break.

Summers at Castle Auburn starts when Corie is 14 years old.  She's the illegitimate daughter of a deceased nobleman and a wise woman, and every summer since she turned six, her father's brother comes to take her away from her grandmother's home so that she can experience the life the other half of her upbringing deserves.  So every summer, Corie goes to Castle Auburn and spends idyllic months with the handsome Prince Bryan, on whom she has a massive crush, his cousin Kent, the beautiful enslaved Aliora that the gentry employs, and her favorite person in the world, her sister Elisandra.  But Corie is growing up and as we pass through the next four years with her, she begins to see people for what they really are, what they are capable of doing and, more importantly, what she must do to ensure her own happiness.

There were many things about this book that really stood out to me, in both positive and negative lights.  When I first realized that Corie had a beautiful half-sister, I felt certain that Elisandra would be the villain of this book.  When I realized that Corie loved her sister, I felt sure that Elisandra would be a perfect ice princess that no one knew.  When I finally met Elisandra, I assumed she would be the sort of great friend at the beginning that became a backstabber at the end of the book.  There were many stereotypical roads down which Sharon Shinn could have traveled, and she chose to follow none of them.  For which I am very grateful.  Elisandra was by far, in my opinion, the most complex and fascinating and interesting person in this book.  She was hard to know, yes, but she knew herself so well and held so fast to what she believed.  In a book full of fairly light and unambiguous characters, Elisandra stood out as someone who really understands power and the responsibility that goes along with it, and who weighed risks according to what she thought would be best for everyone.  She really strayed into moral gray areas, and I loved that about her.

I didn't really love the other characters, though.  Prince Bryan is some sort of sociopath, and I have no idea why so many of the women in the book were in love with him.  Supposedly they were completely blinded by his beauty, but I have difficulty respecting any girl who could have a crush on such a tool.  That's part of the reason why I never really warmed to Corie- if she could be so in awe of a guy for so long, she clearly is missing some sense.  Really, it seemed like Corie was blind to a lot of things for a very long time- the prince's selfishness, her sister's determination, her uncle's profiteering and the suffering of the Aliora slaves.  It's only when people point out to her what is going on that she finally seems to open her eyes and notice.

Also, one thing that bothered me a lot was Corie's inability to see that a certain guy was in love with her.  She kept assuming he was in love with her sister, even when the poor man gave her gifts, kissed her and basically told her he tried to become a better man for her.  I mean, how dense can you be?  This is something that upsets me in a lot of books.  I can't for the life of me understand why female characters are so often written as completely dense when it comes to romantic interests.  I think sometimes it's so that the male romantic lead gets the opportunity to give a big beautiful speech about how perfect the completely unaware heroine is, telling her that he wants her in his life no matter what, that life is empty without her, that he needs her to complete him, etc., etc.  And then the female lead realizes her heart is beating madly, her breathing is becoming haggard, and her eyes shine as she meets the hero's gaze and comes to the startling conclusion that she's been in love with him all along.

What is so wrong with women knowing that a man is attracted to her?  Big romantic speeches are very nice and quotable, but isn't there something to be said for the comfort and warmth that comes from knowing that you are appreciated and valued for more than the two minutes before you declare I love you and get engaged?  Or isn't there romance in two people knowing they are in love with each other earlier on, and then working together towards a goal they both believe in?  Or, perhaps, for a girl to realize she's in love with a man before he declares his feelings for her?  This happens not only in books, but in movies and TV shows and plays and any other cultural medium.  It's as though the girl needs the man to point out to her that she has value before she can believe it.  Or, worse, that the girl is so flighty and scatterbrained that she needs the sensible, kind-hearted man to set her straight on things.

I realize that this is a lot to be reading into a novel, and I'm not in any way saying that this book is worse than others that do the same thing.  It is a quick and enjoyably light read, but I just wish that the characters- Corie in particular- had a little more substance to them.


  1. It sounds like there were some great aspects to this story, but that the main character was a bit thick at times. I also think I would have been frustrated at that, and might have lost patience.

    I have never read anything by Sharon Shinn before, but have heard some good things. I am happy to hear that at least the story wasn't predictable!

    Happy Holidays to you, my friend! I hope that you get to spend lots of time filling your belly with good food, and your ears with good conversation!

  2. Why would she not see that?! I mean I am sure I have thought guys have liked me for less ;) So yes sheesh

  3. I think that's the reason romance novels don't work well for me. The female characters don't have much substance.

  4. All your excellent thoughts on romance made me want to shout HARRIET VANE AND PETER WIMSEY, but I know you're not crazy about him. Sad sigh :P But yes, you're absolutely right. I want more stories that do that.

  5. I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages, too!

  6. I was struck by your comment that you pulled this book off your shelf after five years...I have many books like that, and I can never really identify why I pluck them from the shelves, lol.

    Sorry that this one fell somewhat flat...I can see how she would be quite a frustrating character.

    Hope you have a lovely holiday.

  7. Have you read any other Sharon Shinn? Some of her books are weaker than others--her earlier stand-alones tend to be a little less strong, I've found. The first few Samaria books are great, especially Archangel, and I loved the Safe-Keeper series, though they're for a younger audience. I think my favorite is Troubled Waters, though.

    What I love most is how well she paints these methodical pictures of the details of life in her world. Shopping and cooking and working and singing are all so interesting when she writes about them.

  8. Nope, this is the only Shinn I've read. Your point is well-taken. She does describe the details well. I will look into the Samaria books, too. Thanks!

  9. Haven't read this book, but so totally get what you mean about the obliviousness of too many female heroines in relation to a man's attraction to them. Your little parody of the heart beating madly, etc. definitely captures it. :) It's just a needless contrivance in novels, especially nowadays, when it is so obvious a construct and the author seems to have to bend backwards to make the obliviousness work.

  10. It's interesting that you say she surprised you by not falling into all the stereotypical habits that many authors rely on heavily in storytelling; I like the sounds of that! (I also love it when the bookish universe sends little nudges and then suddenly one of those nudges is what urges you to, *at last* pick up a book that has been waiting for your attention for aaaaaages!)

  11. I was very impressed by Shinn's The Shape-Changer's Wife and have been intending to try more of her books but for some reason I haven't yet done so. This sounds like a fun book, though not quite on the level of the one I already read.
    And I also find it irritating when female characters are made too dense too notice when a man is obviously attracted to her. I imagine authors do this to prolong the romantic tension in the story.


I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.