Friday, May 08, 2009

"Lord of the Fading Lands," by C.L. Wilson

Alternate Title: All You Need Is One Good Reisen. Er, Feyreisen.

The Chick:
Ellysetta "Ellie" Baristani. A strange, carrot-topped foundling adopted by a kindly woodcarver and his wife, Ellie considers herself too weird and plain-looking to attract a good husband - until she inexplicably calls Rain Tairen Soul, King of the Fey, down from the sky to declare her his truemate.
The Rub: Rain represents magic, mystery, and madness - all the things she is trying to flee from or suppress in herself. Also, regardless of the inevitability of truemating, the human aristocracy is less than pleased that the King of the Fey wants to elevate a mere peasant to be his Queen.
Dream Casting: Kirsten Dunst.

The Dude: Rainier vel'En Daris Feyreisen - a.k.a. Rain Tairen Soul. As a "tairen soul," Rain can control all five magics (the four elements and Spirit), and can shapeshift into a tairen (giant flying cat). Tairen Souls are not meant to have truemates, but when he bonds with a young girl from Celieria, all rules change.
The Rub: While a truemate gives Rain a chance at true love, it also puts himself and the Fey in extreme danger. The last time Rain lost a woman he cared about, he nearly destroyed the world in his madness - and the Fey have many enemies who would love to get to Rain through Ellie.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:

Rain: How am I ever going to save my people?

Eye of Truth Magical Whatchamacallit: *Here! Have this plot device!*

Rain: Ellysetta Baristani! You are my truemate!

Ellie: You gotta be kidding me.

Rain: No, really!

Celieran Aristocracy: Ellysetta? She's an ugly peasant! *snub*


Ellie: Chill, Rain.


Ellie: Uh...sure.

Rain: Gah! I swore to your father we wouldn't make whoopie until we were wed!

Ellie: Waaaah!

Rain: But - I can still make magical whoopie!

Ellie: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Red-headed Heroine with Body Issues

1 UberAlpha Male

1 DESTINY WILLS IT love match

1 Bitchy McBitchface

1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival

2 Precocious Children

2 Cups of Caffeinated Aphrodisiac

2 Counts of Magic-Induced Horniness

The Word: This book, I fear, is yet another novel to give me the dreaded Reviewer's Angst. So many people loved this book! It's critically acclaimed! Seen as a classic! Oh, it's so wonderful!

And I was so looking forward to it, too. I love me some high fantasies (try Robin Hobb and Kate Elliot's stuff sometime, hoo boy), and I love me some romance. I was honestly expecting Lord of the Fading Lands to be the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of novels - just the right mixture of fantasy and romance. Sadly, no. Now, Lord of the Fading Lands isn't a terrible novel, but let's just say that the peanut butter is yummy enough but the chocolate is sadly tasteless and bland. What do I mean? Read on.

Rain Tairen Soul is in a rather doozy of a fix. His people, the Fey, are dying out. So are the Fey's companion race, the Tairen - enormous, fire-breathing, venomous, flying cats (no, I'm not kidding). Rain himself is the last Tairen Soul - a special, more powerful type of Fey who possesses superior magic as well as the ability to change into a tairen at will. He's also several thousand years old and rather legendary - mostly for the time he nearly destroyed the world when his wife Sariel was murdered. But, hey, a thousand years heals all wounds, right? When he asks the Eye of Truth for a way to save both races, the sparkling plot device shows him a blurry image of red hair and green eyes and a brief glimpse of a human city, Celieria. Unsure of what he'll find there, he nevertheless gathers some warriors and goes for a visit.

Meanwhile, in Celieria, our heroine Ellie Baristani is being courted by a brute her parents wish her to marry. When the pig assaults her, Rain hears her mental screams for help and realizes the woman he's looking for is his shei'tani, or truemate. This comes as a bit of a shock, as Tairen Souls aren't supposed to have truemates, but he figures the fates believe in "desperate times call for desperate measures." The next day, during a parade, he recognizes Ellie and quickly claims her as his truemate, setting a horde of plotlines big and small into motion.

Let me say right off that the magical and political elements of this novel were quite interesting. Rain's choice of Ellie complicates the Fey's shaky alliance with Celieria and its nobles. Thanks to some shady doings in the North perpetrated by dahl'reisen, or banished Fey, public opinion on Fey in general isn't very high and Rain's meddling only stirs things up further. The aristocracy resent being forced to kowtow to a peasant-girl-turned-Queen, and the general public resent Rain's meddling in Celierian laws (such as when he gets the king to release Ellie from her former engagement).

As well, news that the leader of the Fey has chosen a truemate brings all sorts of evil crawling out of the woodwork, including the Fey's bitterest enemies, the Mages of Eld. Mages use magic to brainwash and control people and incited the wars that destroyed many of Rain's dearest friends and relations a thousand years ago. The Eld have a very ritualistic sort of magic which the novel details quite intriguingly - a mage can't simply up and mind-control anyone he pleases, but instead must maintain contact with a certain person to obtain increasing levels of control over them before the bond is complete, and reading about how the villains manage this was quite exciting. The magic and the world-building are both clever and consistent.

This was all yummy peanut butter, but what prevented me from wholly liking this novel was the fact that the other half of this combination - the chocolate, the romance - is incredibly flimsy. At first I feared this might just be a matter of my personal taste but as I continued to read I also found the hero and heroine to be the worst-drawn characters in the novel.

I'm going to come right out and say it - I do not like the idea of Soul Mate romances. Not the kind where people meet and have a great connection and believe that life somehow arranged for them to meet their perfect half. I like those. I don't mind stories where fate intervenes subtly for the hero and heroine to get together (like Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me). What I don't like are stories where Fate reaches out and plonks the hero and heroine together in a magically ham-handed fashion and says "You're romantically stuck together thanks to *Magical MacGuffin Bond*, deal with it" from the very beginning of the novel.

The main reason I don't like it is because I believe the best romances are where the hero and heroine develop romantically on their own - they gain feelings for the other by getting to know them, growing more intimate with them, discovering how well they fit. The Soul Mate romance decrees that the hero and heroine are in love immediately because DESTINY/THE AUTHOR WILLS IT, not thanks to the consequences of the characters' interactions or how they deal with each other - like, uh, in real life. I get really itchy over the idea that the hero and heroine immediately lust for each other because of magic - how does their love have meaning if they're not responsible for it?

Anyway, that's how I reacted at first to the development of Rain and Ellie's romance, and I tried very hard to see beyond my personal taste to the storytelling itself, but in my opinion, the novel fails there, too. I liked neither character and pretty soon didn't much care how their romance developed.

What the author told me about Rain never really matched up with what his actions and thoughts showed me. The story tells us that Rain is more than a thousand years old, a king and a legend, but his inability to see the bigger picture, his black-and-white worldview, and his overaggressive reactions to the slightest of insults indicate a much younger character. I find it hard to believe that a man with more than a millenium under his belt wouldn't have learned about shades of grey, that there are no easy solutions, and that yelling and throwing temper tantrums because people don't immediately agree with you doesn't inspire the confidence and respect you feel you deserve.

That being said, Ellie's no prize either - she's a martyr, a doormat, and a Mary Sue all in one. Irritatingly passive, yet superhumanly patient and kind, she eases the pain of Rain (heh) and other Fey simply by existing. How - convenient. She spends most of the novel either fawning over Rain's macho manliness or whimpering in terror either at Rain's overmacho manliness (he walks a fine line, believe me) or at her own secret magic. But of course, she's just so good and pure, she's the perfect balm for macho macho Rain. Oh! And let's not forget how convinced she is that she's completely ugly and undesirable. Gag me.

I've said this before and I'll say this again - the best romances occur between protagonists who are equally matched, and this is not the case here. Rain essentially takes over Ellie's life and controls everything about her because because DESTINY WILLS IT. He treats her like a possession - he orders her about ("for her own good," natch), dictates who she can be friends with, and forbids any male not related to her to touch her (because, and I'm not kidding here - it would just make Rain too crazy). And Ellie of course allows all this, even though the increased public scrutiny and threats upon her life put a severe strain on her.

And as for romantic development - what development? Rain feels OVERPOWERINGLY HYPERBOLIC EXPLOSIONS OF LUST AND UNCONTROLLABLE EMOTION right from the start, before he even knows who she is, so it's never really explained what he sees in her later. And - readers, let's be honest - who here loves the Hero Defense Scene? You know what I'm talking about. It's the scene in a novel where the heroine is snubbed or insulted by someone - a cold family member, a rival, an ex - and the hero just swoops in and PUTS THE SMACKDOWN on whomever was stupid enough to mess with his lady. Don't you love those types of scenes?

You won't after reading Lord of the Fading Lands. Why? Because they occur every two pages. Ellie has a remarkably large cast of people who wish her ill - from snobby aristocrats to arrogant craftsmen to pushy tutors to the neighbourhood's Bitchy McBitchface Kelissande - and Rain makes it his personal goal to personally and violently threaten each and every one of them every time they speak to Ellie without breathless awe in their voices. It soon becomes something of an unintentional joke, and then eventually an annoyance that Rain can't get a grip and teach his truemate to take care of herself. But no, if she wasn't a doormat who let everyone walk all over her, she wouldn't be the kind and gentle and patient and shining perfect angel who was a balm to Rain's tortured soul, now would she?

It's because the romance is given equal importance in the novel with the fantasy that this novel fails. If the romance was a minor plotline I would have been able to tolerate it, but since Lord of the Fading Lands is a romance-fantasy, the novel has to give equal time to the intriguing fantasy-political plot and to the repetitive-annoying romance plot. What's even worse, is that even though the truemate bond does everything except state outright "RAIN + ELLIE = 4EVAH," the romance isn't even concluded by the end of the novel.

I guess I kinda had the idea that the series would have a continuing high fantasy story arc, but that each novel would be a different romance (I was kinda hoping Rain's BFF Bel would get a story). Apparently not. It doesn't bode well then that there are two more novels in the series (and another forthcoming). Am I to believe that Rain and Ellie really need three more books to establish their love? Really?
When writing a crossgenre romance, both aspects of the novel have to be consistent and well-written. That means if the romance is intended to be a significant part of the plot and one of the main factors in how the characters develop and change - then it has to hold up its end and provide just as much material as the fantasy aspect. The romance failed in this - there just wasn't enough development to justify its place at the forefront of the plot, and as a result it became repetitive and ludicrously exaggerated. The fact that most of the main characters' development depended on the romantic plot (rather than the fantasy one), hampered the novel still more, since by novel's end I still felt they were inconsistent and underdeveloped. I'm still going to read Lady of Light and Shadows and King of Sword and Sky because they are both still on my TBR pile, but my expectations have been considerably lowered.


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  2. AnimeJune, you are acting as if the books in your TBR pile are fated to be your truemates:

    I'm still going to read Lady of Light and Shadows and King of Sword and Sky because they are both still on my TBR pile.

    AnimeJune, think of your TBR pile as a hero and think of yourself as a heroine, and then re-read your own words:

    What I don't like are stories where Fate reaches out and plonks the hero and heroine together in a magically ham-handed fashion and says "You're romantically stuck together thanks to *Magical MacGuffin Bond*, deal with it" from the very beginning of the novel.

    AnimeJune, this Lord of the Fading Lands was a waste of your time. Go grab those two sequels from your TBR pile and throw them away immediately! You are not fated to read them!! This series of novels is not your truemate!!!

  3. NOOOOOO Don't listen to Mike! READ Them: yes, they need 4 books because Ellie MUST grow a backbone and become equal to Rain. There is much growth to their relationship as there is to what's happening around them.

    Yes, I am one of THEM: I absolutely adore this series. : D - but then again, I do love soul mates stories.

    (Your review is close to how Thea felt about the books as well. She didn't read past book 2. )

  4. When these books first came out, I had a fear that they would turn out... kind of like your review indicated they did. Thanks for reading this book so I don't have to. Hopefully, eventually, someone will come out with a truly awesome epic fantasy romance that blends both genres perfectly. I would read and fangirl that sort of thing endlessly. But this book... Not so much.

  5. Mike --> Um, I read everything on my TBR pile because I need stuff to review. I never know if a series might get better, but if the books are already on my TBR pile anyway, why not read them? It certainly won't be right away.

    Ana --> I'll still give the next two books another chance, but I really don't see why they need three books. Rain is a jerk. Ellie is too perfect, even I wanted to smack her around, and I couldn't believe what they felt for each other. How can love develop if it's WHAM! Love! from the beginning. I'm asking this as a serious, curious question to someone who's read further into this series than me.

    Shannon C --> I'm still looking too. However, if you like sci-fi romances, I'd suggest Linnea Sinclair. That's absolutely one of the best authors to mix an epic story with an intimate romance I think Ana and I can both agree on that, *lol*

  6. "How can love develop if it's WHAM! Love! from the beginning. "

    Let’s see if I can reply to that question.

    I think the difference is that I don’t see the LOVE story in Lord of Fading Lands (or say, the Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changelling or Patricia Brigg’s Alpha and Omega books) as LOVE from the beginning. They merely recognise each other as MATES from the beginning. There is a difference here.

    The way I see it, there are different ways of writing Mated Love stories. There is for example the Christine Feehan’s way
    -I read Dark Prince, her first book in the Carpathians series and I thought NO MORE. The hero recognises the heroine was his mate and then proceeds to annihilate any independence from her. She has NO CHOICE in the matter.

    In the series I listed above, there is CHOICE. In Lord of Fading Lands Ellie can still not want Rain, not want their bond. In the next two books in the series , the first thread of their bond is destroyed when something happens (not spoiling so you need to read *wink*) which to my mind signifies that they are mated but they still need to fall in love. Rain falls in love before Ellie does but they still need to work on trusting issues for example. Another point I really liked was that in Lord of the Fading Lands, Rain may have found his mate but he struggled at first to let his first love go. Plus Ellie turns out not to be so perfect (or so weak) and totally calls on Rain’s jerkiness – there IS development.

    Similarly the Psy/Changelling series, there is no LOVE to start it, in any of the relationships. Yes, they understand they are mated, but there is still the need to get to know each other as in any relationship. Same thing with Alpha and Omega. Also, in all of these books, the author take great care to explain what to be a mate means in their world-building. That plays a great role to convincing me.

    So yes, as a rule I agree with you that Mated Love can be complicated but I think it depends on how it is written. Plus, even if there was love from the beginning that doesn’t necessarily precludes development of love. People still need to get know each other, to get to know how to live together and how to solve conflict – in many ways, having Wham!Love! (<<< I love this) from beginning can be even more heartbreaking to a love story. Have you read One Night for Love by Mary Balogh? (I tease you because this is your favourite writer yes? So you MUST read this book, it is my favourite of hers. )
    In any case: The love is there from the start but oh boy do they have to work for it.

    Can I ask YOU a question as well? Does that mean you don’t like to read Love at First Sight stories? Because that can also mean that there is “WHAM! Love! from the beginning.” I think it is a similar storyline no?

  7. Anonymous5:19 AM

    I had a slightly different reaction than you to this.

    The fantasy elements were totally derivative. The magic is Robert Jordan (five-fold weaves? Really?) with flying cats and Azrahn added in just to make it look different.

    The romance... the thing about the truemate bond, is that I think C.L. Wilson is doing a slightly different riff on it than I've seen before. Especially once you start getting info about a certain pair in captivity, you start seeing that the romance--and I accept that they're together from the end of book 1, basically--is actually a negative catalyst for the external plot, precisely because they don't have any choice about the truemate bond. In other words, you have two very powerful people who have instant vulnerability, and that gives the bad guys a lotta control.

    But I basically wanted to give up on this half way through Book 3, because Ely turns from So Perfect into mondo-Mary Sue. She winks, and the bad guys shrivel up and die.

    The end of Book 3 was good enough that I'll read Book 4 but right now I have my doubts about it.

    It's definitely not one of the better speculative romances.

    Have you read Linnea Sinclair? She writes sci fi romance, and really good stuff.

  8. "Ely turns from So Perfect into mondo-Mary Sue. She winks, and the bad guys shrivel up and die."

    Yes. It reminds me of the X-Men's Phoenix. I like it.

    I am so clearly in the minority here.Oh well. *g*

  9. Ana --> Okay, I did get that Ellie had sort of a choice (Rain clearly didn't), but what kind of a choice was it? I thought the same with the mating thing in "Slave to Sensation".

    Rain tells Ellie she can refuse the bond but he also makes it REALLY clear that if she does so she's spelling the doom of an entire race and possibly that of the world (i.e., "I'll die if you refuse the bond and if I die, the fey die"). It's the "love me or I'll die" decision - sure, she doesn't have to love him, but what's the alternative?

    However, in "Slave to Sensation" I tolerated the mating thing a lot better, even though they make it clear at the end that they have even less choice than Rain and Ellie have and that there's no fighting it anyway and that there are actually procedures in place to make sure "independently minded women" don't reject the bond out of hand (nice). Maybe it was because the development of the romance didn't mention the true mated thing every single page, or maybe because one of the partners was unaware of it.

    There are fantasies where hero and heroine are fated to be together that I do enjoy - mostly because the fated bond is revealed at the end. One example would be one of David Edding's series where the hero and heroine bicker over several books but really like each other - at the end it's revealed they were destined to be king and queen and the heroine has a bit of a "WTF?" rebel moment but realized "Hey, I've just spent about seven books liking this guy. Why am I fighting this?" Again - this was why I didn't mind it in "Slave to Sensation" - Lucas knew, but he didn't tell his mate and she came to develop feelings for him before someone revealed the bond to her.

    From the "mated is not in love" thing, I can sort of see if from that perspective. It's sort of the same as a captivity romance, or the romance where the hero and heroine are marooned in a single place for a long period of time. Unforeseen forces keep the hero and heroine confined together and through this they develop love. I guess I can get that - but throughout the novel Ellie and Rain experience feelings for each other that didn't seem to me to be based on their characters but on uncontrollable forces. Rain immediately feels protective and tender and lustful towards a woman he doesn't even know.

    That being said, Rain is a huge-ass bigot against the Eld, so if something comes out of Rain discovering Ellie is not only Eld, but the daughter of the grand high poobah of evil, well, so much the better for drama.

    Again, it wasn't just the true mated thing that bothered me about the romance. It was the fact that they highlighted TRUE MATED FOR LIFE every other page, and the fact that I really didn't enjoy or get Rain or Ellie as individual characters. If Rain had been a bit more subtle and Ellie had had a bit more gumption and they'd had some nice exchanges of banter I wouldn't have minded. I find I can tolerate any number of stories if the characters and dialogue or interesting. But the whole novel had Rain steamrolling over Ellie and while this may change over future books, first books and impressions are important.

    And as this pertains to love at first sight romances? Hmmm, I am conflicted on those as well, but to a lesser extent. It does depend on how it's written, but I can be a bit skeptical about what one can see in another person at a glance that pertains to love. Other than beauty, of course. I really hate romances where the hero sees the heroine and thinks, "She's gorgeous and exquisite! I'm in love!" Bullshit. Love at first conversation? Sure. Seeing someone's appearance and being compelled to talk to them and then love at first conversation? Definitely.

    However, I have read some well-written love at first sight romances that don't bother me at all, and I think the reason I'm more okay with Love at First Sight romances is because, ultimately, even though it's at first sight, the love that the hero and heroine feel for each other comes from THEMSELVES. They are responsible for it, their characters, their personalities, how they were raised, their preferences.

    With the True Mate thing, it doesn't come from themselves - it comes from a Plot Device. It's ultimately a contrivance and while contrivance is all well and good when used in certain parts of a novel when it comes to the central romance I have trouble tolerating it.

    Honestly, my distaste for true mated romances comes from my understanding of the concept, because honestly I haven't read that many in romance. I made a point in the review in mentioning I had an intellectual prejudice against the idea, but what it all boils down to is I just plain didn't like the characters! I want Ellie to have flaws! I wanted Ellie to be a bitch to Kellissande! Pull her hair, claw her eyes out! I wanted her to get angry or annoyed for something other than a self-righteous reason ("I want my sisters to marry for love," she says with anachronistic and inexplicably modern expectations to a crowd full of politically scheming nobles). The only time I thought she acted like a pissed-off human being was when she was under a pressure spell.

    Eh, like I said, I'll keep reading, but Ellie better start throwing some temper tantrums or getting a little drunk on power.

    Sorry if I rambled all over the place, *lol*

  10. "the love that the hero and heroine feel for each other comes from THEMSELVES"

    Yes, that is a pretty good distinction.

    Do you think if you had liked Rain and Ellie, it would have been more palatable then?

  11. Ana --> Yes, I think so. I mean, the magical and social repercussions of their bonding was interesting and relevant to the story, but as characters, how did they develop?

    I am a character-based reader, and the hero and heroine and their motivations are what I have the highest wordcount on in my reviews. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be a plot (and the plot in Lord of the Fading Lands is quite good), but when the book is a romance - the characters ARE the plot, or at least a decent chunk of it. If I had enjoyed Rain and Ellie more, this book could very well have been a perfect A because already the fantasy and political plot was aces and it just needed an equally-developed romance to fill in the other half.

  12. Ok, I got it, I agree about the world building and politics (obviously). But I really really liked Ellie and Rain. Although, in all honesty I can see why you didn't and I do wonder, after thinking about it the whole day, had I read it today after almost one year and a 100 reviews later, would i like it as much?

    I guess now it is toolate, I am so in love with the series....

  13. Vorkosigrrl12:21 PM

    Hey, AnimeJune,

    If you're looking for a fantasy/romance, I think you'd like Robin D. Owens' Guardian of Honor. Found her on Linnea Sinclair's listserve.

    Grins to all those who gave Linnea a thumbs-up. She's da best!

  14. OK, folk. Its not a question of wether or not its been done before. EVERYTHING has been done before. Romeo and Juliet faced some of these same problems (minus the magic). they had a lackluster rival and some of the other stuff tho. Does that mean Shakespeare messed up? NO. Its how WELL its done. I am not not not comparing this to Shakespeare. Im just saying that counting off the tropes is a silly way to judge a book. Tropes(or literary devices) are neither good nor bad.
    Lets see how well this book does the stuff, not wether the stuffs been done. I agree that the character of Rain is one big fat failure. It just is.He makes no sense. He committed genocide, felt bad about it....until his girl soothed his guilt. Now if Ellie was a good person, no matter how much she loved rain, she would have been like"you killed EVERY one of the ELD Mages??? The kids???? The babies????? The pregnant women???? You did a VERY BAD THING." Even if you love say...Hitler, he is still Hitler. And even if the Eld are bad, its still not cool to wipe out a civilization down to the last babe in its mothers arms. Rain did just that. So Ellies own mental health is questionable just by the fact that she loves him. Lets forget that for now.
    The other very weird point is that the fey protect elllie(indeed all their women ) with equal ferocity from the smallest annoyance to the worst danger. They attack assasins bearing deadly weapons, and neighbors who say things that aren't nice with equal abandon. Its downright weird. What would you do if your boyfriend while courting you threw a woman who said a snarky remark about your outfit in the river? I would tell him to mind his own goddam beeswax and let me deal with things in a normal way. Well Rain and all of Ellies Fey Warrior Guard do just that to a cute blond girl who doesn't much like Ellie. The blond isn't even particularly mean. Just stuck up. If I was Ellie I would be embarassed of Rains behavior. But our heroine is such a delicate kindly thing(when not killing baddies) she needs protection even from unkind words. If Ellie was ever on a show like "What Not To Wear" fey warriors would probably slay poor Clinton. Whatever. Thats about the worst of it.
    Other then that the book is good. The plot is tight. The characters predictable, but delivered with passion. Its a fun little book. With some big flaws.

  15. Oh by the way to whoever said that it would have been great if they discovered that Ellie was Eld....I agree. i might have actually liked these books if that was the case. But she turns out to be a Fey girl thru and thru. The daughter of two Fey people, whom the eeeeevvil Mage just did something to. But she has no Eld blood in her. Too bad. It might have made the book tolerable.