I first read this book many years ago, when I didn’t write reviews and neither GR nor BL existed. In fact, it was so long ago, I didn’t remember anything about the book except that it was sitting on my shelf, reminding me of pleasures gone by. This reading felt as fresh as if it was a new book. After almost fifteen years since its publication, I guess it was, in a sense.
Like many novels of this writer, this one is gentle and seemingly slow. It is a classic growing-up story. It starts when the heroine, Corie, is fourteen, ends when she is eighteen, and is told from her POV.
An orphan and an illegitimate daughter of the late bastard brother of an important lord, she lives with her grandma, a village witch, when her uncle, Lord Jaxon, rides in, looking for her. He makes a deal with her grandma that Corie will spend every summer at the royal castle, learning the ways of the court. Learning her own strengths and weaknesses. Learning to love and hate, to understand and forgive.
With her shining, courageous spirit and her kindness, Corie makes friends easily and indiscriminately. Many among nobility, servants, and guards are attracted to her. She is not perfect but she is alive: opinionated, compassionate, and smart. Sometimes she makes mistakes and misjudges people and situations, but she is brave enough to admit her faults and generous enough to give of her heart.
The more summers she spends at Castle Auburn, the less she feels as if she belongs to her village heritage. Unfortunately, the older she gets, the more she abhors the backstabbing and the political maneuvering of the royal court. Straddling two worlds, she doesn’t fully associate with either. It takes her some time to find her place in the universe.
Through the changing seasons, we see her mature, with the court life swirling in the background, supporting a complex and multidimensional cast. Each character is as alive as the protagonist, each with his or her own unique thread; all of them contributing to the colorful tapestry of the book.
There is Corie’s beloved half-sister Elisandra, composed and determined. There is guard Roderic, Corie’s stalwart friend. There is Prince Bryan, a petty arrogant boy in the beginning of the tale transforming into a cruel and haughty man by the end of it. There is Kent, the prince’s cousin, a young man who changes the least throughout the story but captures everyone’s heart as much as Corie’s. And then there are mysterious aliora, enslaved by humans – Shinn’s exclusive and totally original take on the fairies.
Despite its slow pace, quiet as a whisper, this book found its way into my heart. I loved its low-key lyrical story. I loved its sensible heroine. I loved the dash of intrigue and the whiff of romance. I loved Corie’s infallible sense of justice and her inner freedom. I loved the aliora. I loved the lightness of this novel, especially with so many darker stories dominating the fantasy genre these days.
I simply loved it.