This fantasy-romance debut features faerie king Rain Tairen Soul, a man tormented by age-old grief: a thousand years ago, the woman he loved was slain in battle, and in his rage he laid waste to half the world. Now his people are dying out and the evil mages of Eld are rising again. When Rain hears the call of his lost soul mate, Ellysetta, he journeys to the neighboring kingdom to find her; when he claims a woodcarver's daughter as his mate, he scandalizes the nobility of her country and rouses the interest of Eld's wicked wizards, who come seeking her in order to get at Rain.There's been a lot of buzz around the romance blogsphere about this book and its sequel, Lady of Light and Shadows (which is the second half of the story and I have on reserve from the library).
I was both interested to read it and a bit sceptical at the same time. On one level a lot of it sounded very same-old/same-old. There were shapechangers, an innocent girl with unexected backbone, soul mates, magic and evil mages. None of it sounded new and unexpected. But after seeing good reviews I decided to see if my library had it. It didn't. But a friend pointed out to me that you could request that they buy certain books and she was going to do it with this one and its sequel. Inspired by this idea, I did the same (as we live in different regions of Auckland that have their own local government and therefore library systems).
I'm glad I did so as I enjoyed the book. It is different after all, and many of the differences are in the execution rather than the basic idea. First off, this book is slow. Not agonising and annoyingly slow, but delicately slow. Instead of rushing into a wild adventure, it slowly lets us get to know the characters as they get to know each other. This is a book about set up and I assume we'll get more plot in Lady of Light and Shadows which has just been published this month. I found the pace a little surprising as I'm so used to books that pack as much as they can into the pages, and often into just a few days of story time, but it was a pleasant surprise.
Instead of rushing into each other's arms as soul-mated lovers are wont to do (even if they are yelling about how much they hate it as they do it), Rain and Elly slowly get to know each other as Rain officially courts her and it is beautifully done. Wilson's concept of the soul-bond here is not as demanding and ruthless as they often are in novels of the kind. It's being demanding to Rain because he's already accepted it, but Elly has to take her time until she is ready to accept it - and that isn't chosing to say yes (or fall into bed), it's a gut-deep acceptance that she can't force. One that it is understood will only happen when it happens and no sooner. And she can choose to deny it if she wishes - although I'm sure she won't do that or it would all be a bit of a waste of story.
The worldbuilding is well done and the history of the world thought out and important to the plot. Wilson uses the device of having both a long-lived race and a short-lived one (and a couple of others that were mentioned in passing and may or may not turn up in later books) which allows for the conflict that grows between the Fey who cannot forget the war that raged 1000 years ago and the mortals who consider it ancient history and essentially irrelevant to today. Of course, it's going to be the Fey who are right as evil is rising again.
Which brings me to the villians, the main place where the book failed a bit for me. Really, the main villians of the piece, the Eld mages, are bog-standard fantasy fare. They seem to be evil for no real reason other than the fact that they're evil. They use forbidden, black, blood magic and are fudamentally nasty. Not only that but Rain and the other Fey are pretty much essentially unable to see there is any chance to them being any other way, a prejudice that we have been given hints is going to be tested. I didn't find the Eld to be particularly original or convincing villians and I didn't find myself greatly fearing the consequences of their actions.
On the other hand, Wilson includes a couple of minor villians who really creeped me out. Both are mortal and the reasons behind their actions are small, human and decidedly petty. They scared me a whole lot more than the mages and as they planned out their next steps I found myself really worrying about Elly (the focus of their plans in each case) and what might happen. While the mages failed for me, these two characters succeeded in a brilliant way because their evil was small and nasty and very real. They really worried me.
Be aware that Lord of the Fading Lands is not really a complete book on its own. The story pauses at a suitable place, but it is only a pause and the next book is required to finish the story of Rain and Elly's courtship. I suspect the bigger issue of the return of the mages will take even more books as I know another pair are being released (again in consecutive months) at the end of next year. But I liked that. I liked the slow development of their relationship, which felt so much more real than many romance books where everything thing happens so fast. It took me a couple of years to be sure enough of my feeling for and relationship with my now-husband to say yes, so I find the quick, quick pace of many books a little unrealistic. This was a lovely change for me.
All in all, this was a very satisfying novel, with two main downsides. One, as said above, was the mages. The other is that this is really only half a book. Part of what made it a satisfactory read was knowing that I'll be able to read Lady of Light and Shadows before too much time goes by. So I recommend this book to anyone who likes a nice, even balance of fantasy and romance, but make sure you'll have access to the next book to finish the story.
Wilson has said that there will be another two books late next year (again with lovely titles, King of Sword and Sky and Queen of Song and Souls) which I'm guessing may start dealing with the Eld mages once Rain and Elly are joined together. I have no idea if there will be more books after that or not. In a way, I hope not. I like the focus and slow pace of the relationship building and I don't want this to become a series where every character and his (or her) dog ends up getting a book of their own. I want this to be a concise and bordered tale with a clear beginning and end rather than something that goes on and on and on. Of course, what Wilson chooses to do has absolutely nothing to do with me.
Lord of the Fading Lands
Tairen Soul, Book 1
C. L. Wilson
Lady of Light and Shadows (Nov '07)
King of Sword and Sky (Oct '08)
Queen of Song and Souls (Nov '08)