Sometimes books come to you from unexpected sources. In the case of “Lord of the Fading Lands – Book 1 of the Tairen Soul Series by C.L. Wilson – the unexpected source was the Salvation Army store near the Sutherland train station outside of Sydney, Australia. I ended up picking up this book after finishing Stephen Fry’s “Making History” (see my review here) and going on a misdirected search of the religious bookstore (imagine my surprise) next door to the Sally Anne. Despite feeling more than a little overwhelmed and out-of-place in the “Word” book store, I am pleased as punch that my search led my to C.L. Wilson’s series opener and to my subsequent 5 day journey through the world of the Tairen Souls.
Okay, okay, I know what you are thinking: “she’s lost her mind! Feeding us garbage about sappy ‘sword and sorcery’ romance novels!”. Though I may indeed have lost my mind, I maintain that these books are worthy of reviewing and definitely worthy of your consideration. Why? Because they are entertaining, well paced, and – for the most part – well written (more on that in a moment).
All that being said, I am far too lazy to write a separate review for each of the books so I am going to tackle the entire series in one master review that covers the following points of potential interest: (1) character development (very important for a series not to have static characters that cease to interest you after the first novel), (2) plot division (if you lumped the forming of the fellowship, the battle for helm’s deep, and the battle for Gondor into the first book… well… let’s just say Peter Jackson wouldn’t be rolling in quite as much money), (3) mushy gushy romance (too much and you have this, too little and you have this – do not ask me why cockroach is the antithesis of Fabio… I don’t make the rules, I just play by them), and (4) general thoughts (also: colonel, captain, and lieutenant thoughts).
(1) Character Development
The book basically revolves around two individuals (note: I will do my best not to include ‘big‘ spoilers in this review) – Ellysetta Baristani and Rain Tairen Soul. Ellysetta (or Ellie) is a fairly dynamic character and shows a good amount of personal growth through the first and second book but seems to stall a bit in the third, fourth, and fifth. Rain is a bit more static in the first two but picks up where Ellie leaves off in the third novel. There are also numerous secondary characters, some of whom are essential to maintaining plot pacing and to holding the reader’s interest when Ellie and Rain occasionally drop that ball. This all seems a bit critical and I should say that I was definitely interested in the main characters – so much so that I tore through the remaining 4 books on my Kindle immediately after returning from Australia. While Wilson’s approach to her protagonists kept me reading, I did not appreciate waiting for the last chapter of the final book for certain plot points to arise (these are technically filed as romance novels so I would have liked the series that much more if the most predictable parts of Rain and Ellie’s story had been taken off the table early on (say, the 2nd book).
(2) Plot Division
Above-stated complaints about the protagonists aside, I the books were fairly well paced up until the final 3 chapters of book 5 in which Wilson seemingly tried to cram an extra novel’s worth of story into 100 pages. Personally, I would have welcomed another novel at this point! I just kept thinking that there was no way she could wrap up everyone’s story in so little time and the final book did fall a bit flat as a result. On the other hand – each of the novels is an exciting read (though you do need to start with Book 1 and progress chronologically) and I appreciate that Wilson wraps up the story tidily (if a bit hastily) before reaching Terry Goodkind-esque longevity (after a while it just seems silly!).
SIDEBAR: the love story between Rain and Ellysetta does remind me a bit of the one between Goodkind’s Richard Rahl and Kahlen Amnell, only without the seemingly unending stream of “reasons they can’t get together in THIS book but hey… 13th time’s the charm, right?”
(4) Mushy-Gushy Romance
I’m a sucker for a happy ending (see: https://academicsgoclunk.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/congratulations/) and that pretty much means I am a sucker for a bit of romance (at least when it comes to my reading habits… most of my exes would probably tell you I’m a hard sell when it comes to real life romance). C.L. Wilson delivers the tears, sappy grins, and warm fuzzies throughout the series but more than anything I appreciate how adeptly she spins romance into a world of extreme violence and war. Naturally this book is more sappy than most of the epic fantasy that I read… but it is not OVERLY sappy and while the theme does seem to be “love conquers all”, I would happily recommend this read to the more closeted romantics among us (that means you, Dad).
(4) General Thoughts
This is a fun series. Sure, it isn’t a treatise on the meaning of life or a journal article on Gender and Violence in Russia (he.he. oops!) but it is a thoroughly entertaining fantasy/romance set in a well designed world. Aside from delaying the inevitable between Rain and Ellie, my only real complaint is about Wilson’s occasional use of “Deus Ex Machina” to hurry along the story and get characters out of an otherwise impossible bind (rock, meet hard place… rock, meet the Dead Men of Dunharrow, Hermione’s Time Turner, and this guy… goodbye hard place). On the whole I would recommend The Tairen Soul Series to the following groups: people who like a bit of romance with their daily dose of “I have every intention of decapitating you with my sword and crushing your army to a pulp with my magic wand”, cat lovers, folks who read and enjoyed the Obsidian Trilogy, vacationers (beach book!), suckers for a happy ending, and fans of Joanne Bertin’s “The Last Dragonlord”.