This book seems to have a lot of hype! Some of the pre-release marketing information is hugely complimentary - Christine Feehan calling it "The best book I've read in years," comparisons to J.R.R. Tolkien and Harry Potter along with wild claims about the quality of this debut novel by C.L. Wilson.
Though I was rather skeptical about all the publicity, I approached the book with an open mind;
still, the suspicion remained that I might be rather disappointed after such a fuss had been made.
However, within a few pages, I was gripped by the world of the Tairen Soul, a man who is also a Tairen, a kind of flying cat, whose love was killed a thousand years ago and whose devastation at her loss caused him to 'scorch the world'
- and thousands died. Rain Tairen Soul has entered the folklore of humans as the Fey king and, although he hasn't been seen for a thousand years following his destructive grief, people still read poems, sing songs and dream about him.
One of the dreamers is Ellysetta Baristani, adopted daughter of a woodcutter and his wife in the country of Celieria. Ellie loves reading about Rain Tairen Soul
and his love for his mate, and she wants that level of love for herself when she marries.
Unfortunately, she is being set up with the butcher's son, Den, who isn't the stuff of her dreams at all. At twenty-four, Ellie is very nearly on the shelf, and her parents know that they are unlikely to get many offers for her.
She isn't beautiful and has had some strange episodes in her life, rather like fits, so they very much encourage Den to be betrothed to her.
The day after a rather unfortunate run-in with Den (who kisses Ellie when her parents leave the room briefly), she takes her two younger sisters out to see the special event of the century - Rain Tairen Soul is apparently visiting the King of Celieria, along with a few other of the Fey. Crowds are lining the streets for the first look at the King of the Fey in a thousand years. He is a mixture of danger, seduction and power and Ellie, like everyone else, is fascinated by him.
Completely unexpectedly to Ellie, it seems that Rain is fascinated with her, too. He swoops out of the sky to rescue her from being trampled and declares her as his truemate, a once-in-a-lifetime bond between male and female. But Ellie is a simple woodcutter's daughter, has no training to be a queen, and in fact is partly afraid of Rain with his predator-cat nature barely reined in, his lack of understanding of Celierian society and behavior, and his obsession with protecting Ellie from the Eld, the Mages he believes are plotting evil (although no-one in Celiera believes that). Ellie is put under guard by Fey warriors and her life, and that of her family, is turned upside down. But for the matebond to truly work, Ellie has to agree to it - Rain has to work to woo Ellie so that she will bond back with him.
He is frightening to her; she knows his history of love with his former mate and feels herself unworthy, plus there are some secrets in Ellie's history. How can they survive the political machinations of the Queen of Celieria, the evil Mage trying to attack Rain through Ellie, and all those who would seek to harm her
- including Den.
Wilson writes brilliantly the clash of cultures between the immortal fey and the mortal Celierians. What is ancient history to the Celierian nobles has happened in Rain's lifetime, and he sees with a much longer view. Ellie knows much about him from her history books, but the real man is rather more dangerous than she had thought, and she has to learn to soothe him and understand him. Her own magical skills begin to be awakened, or at least recognized, yet Ellie is terrified of them.
The book is strongest when Ellie and Rain are dealing with the unexpected
cropping up during their courtship, mainly cultural differences. Ellie's interactions with her Fey guards are also great, with many moments of lightness and humor despite the difficulties of their situations. I wasn't always convinced that Den's continued machinations against Rain were realistic (after all, what mortal would go up against such a powerful being just because of some nebulous idea about Ellie's magic?), but it was good to have the contrast of the plot against Ellie to leaven her
Ellie is an interestingly strong character, one who has her own views, her own morality, and definitely her own intelligence. Rain sometimes feels like a lonely boy coming out of his shell as well as a powerful and honorable king whose history has been blasted by tragedy. They are two strong central characters upon
whom to hang the book and, having been thrown together, they have to make something of their relationship.
So, how good is the book? It is indeed very good, although I think the marketing information
is a little overblown. It was always an enjoyable read, the world the author has created is interesting, and the main characters are all well-described and varied. However, this first book is the first half of a duology and consequently doesn't end in a particularly comfortable place.
Nor does it work as a standalone novel - the reader will instantly want to get hold of the next book (fortunately to be released just a month after this book) - and I often feel that this cheats the reader who likes a complete story in one volume.
Despite this small negative comment, I think this is an excellent novel that will be enjoyed by a wide range of readers from the fantasy, romance and even paranormal genres.
The second book, Lady of Light and Shadows, worthily completes the story.