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I'm going to attempt a series of Book posts about my favorite books. I had an Introduction up a few weeks ago, talking about why I love to read (I think), and now I'm going to talk about individual books that I love. This is the first one!

So ...If I am going somewhere for longer than two or three weeks, I will bring a book. (Okay, sometimes if I go somewhere for longer than a few hours, I will also bring a book, but I'm talking traveling.) I upsize or downsize the number of books I bring depending on how long I'll be gone, how long the plane flight or car/bus ride is, and whether I'll be charged for excess weight of checked luggage.

Generally, speaking, I will always bring AT LEAST the following books:

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
and ONE Terry Pratchett book (either a Witches book or a Watch book, pref. one of each; specifically Night Watch, Fifth Elephant, Thud!, Witches Abroad, and/or Lords and Ladies)

Of these, my absolute favorite in terms of plot is: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn.

I won't try to convince you that this is fine literature, or that it has the best writing. But this book and its plot was designed to hit my buttons. The romance, the heroine, the plot, all are perfectly proportioned and perfectly balanced.

I am not saying that this is a perfect book, but this book is a perfect fit for my tastes. If I could create a book out of moonbeams and stardust that had all my top fictional kinks, that was my perfect book, this would be that book.

It's not for everyone. Not everyone likes fantasy, and the plot is pretty straightforward in terms of Girl - Boy - Happy Ending. But these are the reasons I love it:

1. Coriel. As a main character, she is awesome. I think what I like best is that she is at heart a peasant girl, and though she's had training in courtly life, she lives in a hut nine months of the year, and she sees the lords and ladies as a silly pastime. More than anyone else at court, she understands what really matters, what life is really like, and even at her silliest, she has that hardened edge of practicality.

My second-favorite thing about her is that she is always speaking her mind. Related to the first-favorite thing, she knows that you're supposed to fake it at court, but she'd rather tell you upfront what she thinks. She's going to be blunt and call Matthew out on his bullshit, and when Kent callously disregards her life, she's not going to sulk privately about it, she's going to make it clear exactly how hurtful and unthinking his words are.

I also love the way we see her evolve. The silly Corie at the beginning of the book, she moons after the Prince and sees the pretty trappings of court life (balls! dancing!) as something fun she gets to sit in on once in a while, and she still naively believes she can go back to being a healer when all is said and done ... that Corie slowly grows older, learns life lessons, and becomes the equally idealistic but much more practical Corie, who sees the Prince as the asshole that he is, sees the gilded cage of court life as something she cannot wait to escape, and when she is willing to fight for the lifestyle that she wants to lead.

I love that Corie has her vocation, that she wants to be a healer, that her healing plays such a large role in her life. I love that Corie is a catalyst, that she changes the people around her, and inspires love in everyone she meets, and that she is an activist. I mean, this girl singlehandedly ended slavery in the entire fucking kingdom, sort of, and she woke up the next day and tried to save the life of a man she despises, because that's what healers do.

I love Corie like burning because she is strong-willed, independent, imperfect, and yet perfect. I love when she sends Hennessey away with forgetfulness, the herbs she sprinkles in every letter, the friendship she strikes up with the aliora, the lessons she learns. I love how fiercely she loves her sister, and how when she cannot save her sister, she decides to do the next best thing and free all the slaves.

Actually, I just want to take a minute and talk about how genius I think Sharon Shinn is, the way young!Corie is so utterly young and naive and ridiculous and we can SEE that, but find her endearing in spite of that. And how as she learns more and we learn more, you can see the character development and character progression, and even then there are things she's dense about, namely boys, because she has other things on her mind, namely saving the kingdom.

2. I love Kent. He is my dream boyfriend, behind Gilbert Blythe. This is a boy who, despite a ruthless father and spoilt cousin, grew up a decent man. He is not perfect, but he tries. But mostly I love Kent because of how much he loves Corie. (Regardless of how much Corie doesn't see it; but of course, Corie is also very class-conscious and she NEVER thinks of herself as a noble, and so I doubt she was ever like, "I'm in the same league as Kent.") I love what he does for her, I love the way he moderates Bryan, I love how he hates and despises Bryan but he knows his duty.

I love that Kent loves Corie, but he never pushes it on her. She doesn't even realize he loves her (which, granted, he kissed you and gave you his ring and writes you letters I think he might like you! gasp, shock) and certainly is never pressured by him. He loves her in a pretty selfless way, that is about making her happy and not about his happiness. And I love him because he is pretty badass himself, just in a more diplomatic and courtly way.

3. I love the romance between Corie and Kent and if I could read Kent/Corie fanfic all day I would. Sadly, there are like 3 fanfics about this book in the whole wide Internet. And I wrote one of them.

4. I love Elisandra, mostly because here is a noble courtly lady who is the epitome of gentility. She is always quiet and sweet and gentle and then when you least expect it she POISONS HER HUSBAND. I love that all her strength is quiet, that she's kickass in an entirely different way from Corie, and I absolutely love how fiercely she loves Corie.

5. I love the world. The worldbuilding isn't groundbreaking or anything, it's kind of a generic medieval fantasy pseudo-Europe with elves, but I like how it's soft around the edges, and I like the things that Sharon Shinn chooses to emphasize. I like the herbs and poisons she chooses to talk about, the fruits, the stories of the aliora, all the small things that she puts thought into are the things that I like.

6. And of course, this book is plotted for my id. You have the girl with common street-smarts making her way through the castle, cutting through bullshit, fighting against slavery, who returns to live as a commoner even though everyone knows she has a secret past, and then THE END. <3

--

When I reread, these are the bits that I reread:

1. I reread the bit where she's working as a waitress and Kent comes to propose. It's very fairytale. No, that's not the right word. It's all very superhero. She appears to be a common bar-wench, but she has a secret identity and a secret past and a secret love and it all culminates in her being QUEEN. <3

2. Then I reread the badass part where freed all the aliora and faced off Matthew.

3. Then I reread the above two scenes ad nauseam!

Those are my two favorite parts, of course, but some of the other scenes I like to revisit:

- the scene where Kent talks about how bastard boys are inconvenient but bastard girls can be dealt with, completely forgetting who he's talking to; I like this scene because for once it is Kent that clueless, and also because it highlights the huge class/background difference between Corie and Kent. Even though she lives the court life three months a year, she's not one of them and she never will be. And he forgets that sometimes.

I also like the leadup, the idea that she wanders the palace at nights, the work that she does to help Tiatza, the scene where she dives into the fountain, and Kent watches her, and he is concerned, and he comes see her.

- the scene where Corie gets proposed to by Hennessey, because she deals with it like a ... I believe the common Internet epithet is BAMF. It's also a callback to the earlier scene where she poo-poohed ever needing to learn how to turn down a proposal because she was a bastard girl and nobody would propose to her.

- the scene were wee Corie and wee Kent traipse around dancing in the balconies. I mean, they're not actually wee, but it's a cute scene.

- any scene where Corie demonstrates her badass healing skills, probably most notably the scene where she heals Roderick's and Kent's gashes (and I like the leadup to the scene to, where she invites them back to her room but remembers that she's at court now and things are different and that would be scandalous), or the one where she helps prescribe herbs to Phyllery

- Shorro/Cloate/Clem/Estis. I love all their scenes, from the scene where she first meets them and decides to brew the potion, to the wedding (<33333), to when (Cloate, I think it was?) steals a kiss and tries to steal more. It's just nice to see Corie relate to people who aren't nobles, because that is who she feels like she really is.

- The aliora hunting trip that started the book off. Sure, Corie gets on my nerves a little here because she's still young and immature and thinks Bryan is the world and doesn't see anything wrong with aliora. But even young and immature, she's still smart and practical and I just like her interactions with all the different guys, and how completely down-to-earth she is.

- The scenes where she's learning from her Grandmother. It's easy to see where Corie gets her personality.

And that's why this book is my ultimate go-to comfort read, and I'm sad there's not more fanfic.
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