General Winston's Daughter, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, May 03, 2012

TITLE: General Winston's Daughter
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Viking Juvenile

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: YA Fantasy

When seventeen-year-old heiress Averie Winston travels with her guardian to faraway Chiarrin, she looks forward to a reunion with her father, who is a commanding general, seeing her handsome fiancĂ© Morgan once more, and exploring the strange new country. What she finds is entirely different. Although the Chiarizzi appear to tolerate the invading army, rebels have already tried to destroy them; Morgan is not the man she thought he was; and she finds herself falling in love with Lieutenant Ket Du’kai, who himself comes from a conquered society. Can the irrepressible Averie remake herself in this new world? Sharon Shinn’s newest romance has an epic sweep, piquant humor, social commentary, and love to spare—just the thing when you want to lose yourself in another world.
Averie Winston has spent her whole short life in close proximity to members of the Aeberelle army. Her father is a general, and her fiance, Morgan, is one of his right-hand men. She's never questioned what they get up to as anything other than necessary and right. But that all changes when her father and Morgan are posted to the newly-taken-over country of Chiarrin.

Averie and her companion, Lady Selkirk, follow them a few months later, and even before they arrive, Averie's eyes begin to open. It all starts when she meets Lieutenant Du'Kai on the ship going over. He's from Xan’tai, which has been an Aeberelle colony for about a century. Even though Du'Kai has joined the Aeberelle Army for the rare opportunities it gives someone from his country, he has some issues with how his country was just invaded all those years back. This makes him really uncomfortable with being part of the forces taking over yet another country, and he shares some of those opinions with Averie, who's completely shocked at the idea.

The initial shock fades, but leaves Averie much more aware of issues she'd never before considered, much more attuned to signs that people in Chiarrin are not receiving them joyfully. Or even impassively, actually, because before long, it's clear that there is still a strong resistence to the invasion. And Averie is not even sure they're wrong.

On the whole, I really enjoyed General Winston's Daughter, but had some mixed feelings as well. What was good was wonderful, but there were a few little niggles.

My main mixed feelings were about Averie. On one hand, I really liked her. I respected her curiousity and openness about her new home, as well as her willingness to challenge what she didn't understand and what she thougth was wrong, even if this was something that was not the done thing for someone in her position. I didn't blame her at all for not seeing these things before. She'd clearly been brought up being told that her own country was doing good by conquering those overseas land, bringing progress and modernity to primitive, suffering people. It sounded like opposing views weren't much tolerated in Aeberelle, so this trip was really the first time Averie was exposed to any doubts. And to her credit, she actually thought about these issues, rather than rejecting them out of hand just because they were uncomfortable to consider.

Still... I was left wishing this wasn't YA, and that Shinn had made her protagonist a bit older, someone with more at stake. I never got the feeling that Averie risked anything more than a mild scolding from her father or Morgan if she behaved in a way they thought inappropriate. Also, much as I liked her, she was a bit immature, which meant that I struggled to really buy the romance. Mainly, I thought her love interest deserved someone more grown up, and had no idea why he fell in love with her.

As always, the setting was fantastic. Vivid and colourful, I could actually see and hear and smell the city of Chesza, and I loved the idea of their very unique gods. I especially loved how they were very relevant to the character of the people who worshipped them, and in a way that made complete sense. The world building was enjoyable as well, even if I felt it was a little bit too based on the real 19th century. Shinn might as well have called Aeberelle England and Xan'tai India, and left just Chiarrin as a made up place. Not a big problem, though, and I thought what Shinn was saying about colonialism came through loud and clear, probably louder and clearer for the transparency of the comparison.

Through most of the book, I was thinking B, but the ending really bumped up the grade. I read the last 50 pages with my eyes wide like saucers, shocked that Shinn was actually going there. And I'm saying this in the best possible way. It raised so many issues that are relevant today as well, and well, the message was one I very much agree with, so it was all a very good surprise.



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