Summers at Castle Auburn, by Sharon Shinn, was published in 2001 by Ace.
Summers at Castle Auburn has been on my reading list for quite a while—since the first Sharon Shinn book I’ve read (The Safe-Keeper’s Secret), I think. The title, plus the rating on Goodreads, plus my love for 2000s fantasy, all contributed to my desire to read the book. It took me a while to actually get it, though.
But, boy, did it not disappoint.
Now, I’ve read other books that are more immediately gripping—The King of Attolia, for one—and it’s not the type of book that I feel I could read over and over again. But I enjoyed it the way I enjoyed Juliet Marillier and Kate Constable—and Shinn’s other works. It’s slow, and meandering, but there’s so much to think about and to see develop.
The book is pretty slow up until about the middle, but once you get to the middle, you see why the first part was important. There’s a bit of odd stuff scattered around, but it all contributes to the world and to the characters. The most prominent is the aliora, which seem like a pretty useless addition—take them out of the story and everything stays the same—but they do contribute to the world in a way that perhaps wouldn’t be as effective if they had been left out.
There’s a lot of court intrigue, which I loved, but the best part is that its intrigue interpreted through the eyes of someone who isn’t really involved in all the intrigue. So we see parts of it, and only get hints at the rest. The best part of this intrigue is, of course, the slow reveal of the character Bryan’s personality and tendencies, as he goes from flirtatious, energetic teenager to smiling monster. And, of course, my favorite part of the book was the ending, where intrigue collides with tension, and there are several big character moments for all of the main characters.
Shinn does make a small error towards the end—basically, Corie tells her sister something, and then later on wonders how her sister knows about that thing—but everything is so well paced and revealed that I could ignore it. And what I mostly cared about was the romance, which was maybe not as romantic as some people might like, but it was very well-developed, and I loved what it had to say about love and about how sometimes loving someone means doing something you normally wouldn’t do.
I’m not sure Summers at Castle Auburn will be on my “Could Read Again” list, but I thoroughly enjoyed almost every page of it—even the slow beginning. Shinn and 2000s fantasy prove their worth again!
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Dark themes (murder is the most prominent, subtle hints at rape)
The Dream-Maker’s Magic is my least favorite of Shinn’s Safe-Keeper trilogy, though it’s still a delightful read. Kellen, whose mother has always insisted that she was a boy, learns to find her own way in life with the help of her friends, especially Gryffin, the lame boy she befriends in school. Along the way, several (unsurprising) plot twists occur, faces from the previous two books appear, and several happy endings occur.
While this last book is about the Dream-Maker, that really takes a backseat to Kellen’s story. Shinn is fond of the long, slow development, something I noticed in The Truth-Teller’s Tale. She likes to build the characters up before doing much of the plot, so the book is much more character-driven than story-driven. I didn’t quite like the romance as much in this one, but Kellen’s journey is delightful, though predictable. Shinn has a knack for really making small-town life come alive with its own unique characters and dramas. As an added bonus, while she does include several things that are darker, her fantasies are, overall, light and fluffy, which is nice. Sometimes I want to sit down and read some Finnikin of the Rock, but sometimes I want to sit down and read Sharon Shinn, who I know will deliver me plot, character, and the light-heartedness I crave.
Overall, I’m very pleased with my discovery of Shinn. Though I’d probably not reread The Dream-Maker’s Magic, as it was a bit too slow and plodding for me, with an underwhelming romance and plot, I would definitely go back and reread the first two books, as well as, of course, discover her other books.
The more I read 2000s fantasy, the more I become convinced that the YA and middle grade fantasy of that decade was particularly strong. Or maybe it’s just the authors I’m reading were particularly strong. Whatever the case, Sharon Shinn delivers another delightful tale in The Truth-Teller’s Tale.
Now, I read The Safe-Keeper’s Secret a very long time ago—at least a couple of years. I loved it, if I recall, and Shinn immediately jumped to the top of the “authors I must read more of” list. However, it took me a while to get this book, though I’m not sure why. I think I simply forgot about it. Once it arrived back on my radar, I didn’t hesitate in picking it up.
I love the magic of the world Shinn has built—the magic of the Safe-Keepers, the Truth-Tellers, and the Dream-Makers. The Truth-Teller concept is especially intriguing—and, luckily, that’s what we get to experience the most in this book (as you might expect from the title). I’m not sure if Shinn is trying to say that all Truth-Tellers are blunt, or if Eleda’s personality simply makes her an exceptional Truth-Teller, but the development and the results that come about because of Eleda being a Truth-Teller were some of my favorite bits of magic in the book. And I like that it’s subtle magic—less flashy and more ingrained in the character.
As much as I enjoyed the book, especially the ending once Things Started Happening (despite the rather obvious reveals), the beginning and middle parts were fairly slow. I understand that the book is very concerned with developing the characters, but I wish there hadn’t been quite so much time spent on “let’s watch the characters grow up before getting to the part the book summary talks about.” By the time Part Two rolled around, I was getting just a bit exasperated with the slow pace of the book. Of course, Part Two almost immediately made me forget about Part One’s slow pace.
It’s books like The Truth-Teller’s Tale, with its sweet romance, interesting magic, compelling characters, and a plot that if easily guessable is at least interesting, that make me love the fantasy genre. Shinn has cemented herself as an author who I want to read more of, so you can expect to see more of her works on my blog.
The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn was published in 2004 by Viking.
Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, agrees to take the foundling. She names him Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow in to teenagers, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be.
I was not expecting to be so caught up in The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter as I was while reading. Looking at the cover, I thought it looked interesting but might ultimately end up being contrived or disappointing or any other number of things to make it less than appealing to me. Starting the first chapter, I thought it seemed interesting but might end up becoming a trudge.
And then I became completely enthralled.
I’m not even sure what it was. Something about the characters, the world, and the conflict caught me up. I had a hard time putting the book down; not because it’s particularly gripping, but because I wanted to know what happened next. I was fascinated by the “magic” of the book, by the Safe-Keepers, the Truth-Tellers, and the Dream-Makers. I was struck by the tight bonds between the characters and the way those bonds shone through in their gatherings together. And I was intrigued by the mystery of the book, of the question of fathers and mothers and familial ties.
Of course, I guessed correctly halfway through the book, if only because I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if this turned out to be true?” and lo and behold, I turned out to be right. It was not a surprising reveal, but it was a satisfying one, and there was another reveal that I did not guess that fulfilled the “shock factor” (if also the “okay, I think that’s stretching it a little bit” factor).
The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter was neither a trudge nor a disappointment. I ate up every word, even after I had figured most of the plot out, and I’m glad that a book that at first glanced seemed like another poor fantasy turned out to be so appealing to me. I like it when books surprise me. I hope Shinn’s novels continue to do so.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some dark secrets are told in the book. Beware of hints and tellings of murder, infidelity, abortion and incest.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Fiona gave him a sharp glance, then took the whistle from his hand. Putting her mouth against the blowhole and her fingers on the openings of the pipe, she breathed in.
But no sound came out.
She tried again and again, each time blowing harder, but the whistle would issue no music. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why doesn’t it work? Is it broken?”
Thomas shook his head. He was still standing with his hand against the trunk of the tree, watching her with his shadowed eyes. “Because a kirrenberry tree won’t make a sound,” he said. “You can cut its branches to make two sticks that you hit together along with the beat in a reel—but they make no sound. Hit it with an ax and the tree yields up no ringing noise. Fell it in the forest, and you will not hear it toppling to the ground. A whistle makes no music. Birds who land in its branches forget their own songs.”
Now she was frowning. “That makes no sense.”
He nodded. “That’s why the kirrenberry tree is planted in front of the house of every Safe-Keeper in every village from her to the Cormeon Sea. Because a kirrenberry tree signifies silence.”