Tuesday, November 4, 2008

King of Sword and Sky, by CL Wilson: Review

Just because a paranormal author calls her fictional race fairies (or Fae, or Faeries, or Fey, etc) does not mean that the book in your hands is a fairy tale. She’s No Faerie Princess, by Christine Warren, for example, is a perfectly good paranormal romance-- one I *loved*-- featuring a character with magical powers, but it’s not what I would call a fairy tale. Of course, it could be argued that most all romances are fairy tales in some sense, but for this particular discussion, I’m interested in more literal interpretations of the fairy tale genre.

Enter CL Wilson’s Tairen Soul series: fairy tale romance on a breathtaking scale. We have a beautiful Cinderella princess (betrothed to the butcher’s son), a valorous yet tortured king, evil sorcerers, an underdog army, a fleet of magically empathic healing women, and a realm of mythological beauty and magic, fading from the plane of human reality.

“Sweeping epic” is one of those back-cover blurbs that I approach with suspicion. It smacks of marketing hyperbole, of promises that cannot be kept. And even when it’s accurate to what the author is attempting, I’ve frequently been burned with “epic” fantasy that builds up a looming doomsday scenario and then fails to deliver.

But, like the little girl with the little curl, when it’s good? It’s fucking fantastic. And this series, my reader friends, is that one in a million sweeping epic.

Now, it’s possible that I will be disappointed in the Final Conflict. The series is planned as a quartet of books, the third of which was released Sept. 30, and the final book isn’t out until June 2, 2009 (write down that date). But judging from the first three, I have utter confidence in Wilson’s ability to resolve what she has set up.

The reason that I have such faith is because the structure of the first three books is executed so well. Each book represents a very distinct phase in the courtship and relationship between Rain and Ellysetta. Externally, there are progressively more difficult quests, just like in my favorite fairy tales, and new information about the world and the races in it. By making Elly a Fey who was raised as human, the author is able to reveal bits of information as Elly learns about, so it feels natural to the reader. Each book builds the stakes for the Final Conflict, yet each book has its own satisfying resolution. Yes, I can’t wait to read the next book, but it’s not that irritating manipulative "stay tuned!" cliff-hangerish anxiety of unfinished business; it’s more like when you get back from a fabulous vacation and you are on the phone making reservations for your return trip before the dirty laundry you just unpacked hits the spin cycle. It’s that good.

One thing that Wilson does exceptionally well is creating secondary characters that are vital, interesting, three-dimensional, yet still secondary. I do not expect to see a spin off of this series involving any of these characters (though a pre-quel might work....) By relieving the characters of this responsibility-- setting them up to be able to carry a book on their own-- the subplots thrive and draw you in as inescapably and intangibly as any Fey spell.

And the world-building is fascinating. It borrows heavily from Western European fairy tales, but it is set somewhere Not-Earth, which allows Wilson to mix in some wholly new elements, notably the Tairen race. The Tairen are a race unlike anything I’ve come across in fairly extensive fantasy and paranormal reading – the closest I can think of would be Falcor from the NeverEnding Story, but the adult version: fiercer, less cuddly, and sexy. Wilson’s imagination is a dazzling place of high drama, articulately rendered with heartbreaking emotion, evocative description, darkest evil, brightest hope.

Quite a few years ago, I was raving about my favorite series of that moment, and the thought that rang like a bell with me was I love this world, I want to go LIVE there. As for Wilson’s Fading Lands? I love these characters and the place they live, but I don’t want to live there – the Eld are way too scary.

Maybe after the world is made safe in book four.



Betsy O'Donovan said...

Totally buying this book, stat. Thanks, Nic.

Nicola O. said...

Buy the other two first!!


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