>> Sunday, December 09, 2012
TITLES: King of Sword and Sky, The Queen of Song and Souls and Crown of the Crystal Flame.
AUTHOR: CL Wilson
I read the first two books in CL Wilson's Tairen Soul series when they first came out, in 2007, and enjoyed them very much (here are my A- reviews of Lord of the Fading Lands and Lady of Light and Shadow). The second book finishes at a sort of natural pause in the story, though, so I decided I was going to wait until all 4 books were out before I read any more (I hate being left hanging!). And then 4 books turned into 5, and the last one only came out in 2010, and by then, I felt I needed to reread books 1 and 2 if I wanted to properly appreciate the rest.
Well, after a while, I did. I reread those (giving them B+, rather than A- on reread -I've clearly become a more cynical reader in the last few years), and then carried on straight to the other 3. And enjoyed them thoroughly.
NOTE: I'm not going to give any background in my reviews of books 3-5, as there's just no point in reading them if you haven't read books 1 and 2.
Book 3, King of Sword and Sky, starts right after the traumatic events of book 2. We're in the Fading Lands now, and it's not a perfect, conflict-less place. Even with the Fey being all good people, and all determined to do the best for the Fey (no corrupt people here), this doesn't mean that they will all just trust and follow Rain. They trust he's doing what he thinks is best, but not that his judgment is right, especially when it comes to Ellie. This was actually quite refreshing, it made these characters more interesting.
This book book focuses on Ellysetta learning about her new home and the Tairen and about herself. That's the main thing here, rather than the romance. The souls of the Tairen kitlings are under threat, and Ellie is the only one who can figure out what is going on and save the Fey from the certain extinction that would follow the end of the Tairen. So although lots of mysteries remain, several things get figured out here.
Book 4 is The Queen of Song and Souls. It's a bit more of a placeholder book, but no less satisfying for that. Mainly, we see the threat from the Mages increasing as they use their underhanded ways to intensify their power and lay the ground from the upcoming war.
The romance between Ellie and Rain is not all that absorbing in these first two books. Yes, it's not all completely resolved, since they still need to finalise their bond, but there's not that much tension between them any more. Well, Rain does get really pissed off at how Ellie just needs to take risks with her life because she´s a sheidalin and can't help herself, but that's all.
We do, however, get a good dose of romance, though of the more tragic kind. We keep returning to Ellie's parents, Shan and Elfeya, still captive in the High Mage's dungeons. They give Rain and Ellie a run for their money in terms of total commitment and devotion, let me tell you! Those scenes are difficult to read, but there is hope there.
Wilson also explores what can happen when the truemate bond goes terribly wrong because the lack of understanding from humans, as one of the Fey finds his soul mate amongst the Celerians, already married to a powerful man. It's a sad story, but interesting to see Rain's struggle to reconcile his empathy as a man with the obligations of a statesman to do what's best for his people as a whole.
We also continue to follow Ellie as she finds out more about her role and her destiny, as well as about her past and why she is like she is. There's some truly gripping stuff here.
The series ends with Crown of the Crystal Flame, the final battle, and it really ends with a bang. The series had been building up slowly to a climax, and the this whole book is that climax.
There's a real sense of danger all the way through. We know from previous books that Wilson doesn't hesitate to kill even characters we like, so it's obvious that any victory is going to be difficult and hard-fought. We know it's going to be earned only at great sacrifice, both from Ellie and Rain and the Fey as a whole. We also know, however, that the High Mage is going to find achieving his purposes just as difficult, because Ellie is quite clearly the Fey's secret weapon.
I loved almost every bit of it. It was a straight A all the way through, right until the end. Now that was a bit disappointing. I'm going to put this in spoiler tags:
[[[So, there are several times during this book where the High Mage almost, almost manages to get his hands on Rain and Ellysetta, but they escape in the nick of time. And then, the last bit of the book comes. The war has been won, but Ellysetta is still mage-marked, and until Vadim Maur dies, she will be ever under mental threat, and in danger of becoming mage-claimed. She also needs to rescue her sisters, and they did decide earlier that as soon as they could, they would rescue her birth parents.
So, after all the difficulty and all the painstaking progress, they come up with the most half-baked, least thought-out plan they could possibly come up with. And sure enough, as soon as they set foot in Vadim Maur's lair, they're captured without a struggle. I almost threw the book down in disgust. It seemed like a case of Wilson running out of space and realising she needed to wrap things up.]]]
The other disappointment was about Melliandra, a young girl in the High Mage's fortress who has managed to find the strength in herself to fight the mind control she's under and save the day. She's a truly heroic character, and probably my favourite in the whole series. I craved closure for her, a glimpse of her happy. Unfortunately, the book closes without any information about her. We know she got out of the fortress, but nothing else. I kept looking for clues about her, but she wasn't even mentioned any more, even though she was the one who saved everyone, and Shan, Ellie's birth father, knew that perfectly. You would have thought he'd have at least mentioned it and wondered where she was! I guess there might be a few reasons for this, like that he did say it, but off camera, or that he might have thought she'd died. Also, I imagine she'll show up in future novels in the series, which I understand Wilson is planning to write. Still, it was very unsatisfying.
Anyway, on the whole, this was a really great series. I loved the epic feel of it, and that Wilson wasn't afraid to have bad things happen, and found the universe and overarching storyline complex and compelling. There are even good villains: truly evil, but in an understandable way.
The romance between Ellie and Rain is good and satisfying, but I liked that, while it's the heart of the story, Wilson doesn't attempt to keep it as the main focus all the time. It's there, but the worldbuilding and secondary characters and general conflict are really important as well, and given the proper space.
It's a romance between soul mates, too. That would normally be something that makes me run the other way, but I loved what Wilson does with the concept. It's not insta-love, which means it's not an excuse to skimp on the very difficult to write process of actually falling in love, and showing the reader why these two particular people are the right ones for each other. In Wilson's universe, the soul-mate connection doesn't work that way, and can even complicate things.
I also loved that we get a strong female main character, one who might not have much power at the beginning, but who really comes into her own and grows a great deal during the series. She's got some really unique powers, but rather than make her some sort of Mary Sue, the source of those powers makes them as much a boon as a problem, and a reason for the Fey to distrust her.
MY GRADE: All in all, this was a very satisfying series. I'd give each of the books a B+, with the last one being an A- almost all the way through, but the grade lowered due to a slightly disappointing ending. Whatever Wilson writes next (she seems to be taking her time), I'll be reading.