My sweetie and I have taken multiple multi-state road trips, and we always have problems with food. I always want to try somewhere new and local, enjoying the brief hope and possibility that it’ll be the best place I’ve ever eaten. He always wants Panera or Cracker Barrel. After a few too many Winchester diners and disappointing local ‘flavor’, I started to understand his choices. With Panera and Cracker Barrel, you always know what you’re getting. It’s the same in West Virginia as it is in Missouri, and that can be a comfort. (We worked out a compromise and trade turns choosing, because I can’t give up hope completely.)
Sharon Shinn is Panera on a road trip. Dependable, not too taxing, not alarming to the digestion. Good solid writing, likeable characters, a plot you’ve encountered before. And sometimes, that’s just what you need.
Corie is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman and an herbalist/witch. She has the Dread Disney Disease (dead parents), but her uncle takes her from her witchy grandmother’s cottage to Castle Auburn so she can get a taste of civilization, and then when she’s of marriageable age, be used as a pawn for the kingdom’s regent (she doesn’t know that last bit till later). We start the book with Corie at 14, hero-worshipping her older sister, who’s betrothed to the handsome prince, and thoroughly enjoying castle life. As she gets older, she realizes that the prince is basically a less-evil Joffrey, the kingdom is on the verge of falling apart, and things are not as they seem.
Also, there are the aliora: basically fairies who are hunted and sold as slaves for the wealthy noblefolk. In the beginning, this is just The Way Things Are, and little Corie is fine with it and makes friends with the castle aliora. Again, as she gets older, she recognizes this as slavery and becomes very uncomfortable being at all complicit with it, even as her assigned maidfairy bathes her and dresses her every day.
It’s a lovely journey, watching Corie grow up, learn what her guns are, and stick with them. It’s nothing you haven’t read before, but it’s done well, and the happy ending feels earned.