The Premise: This story is set in Celiera, where Ellysetta Baristani (an orphan picked up by a woodcarver and his wife) lives. Ellysetta is a good girl, who is considered plain and with low marriage prospects who is unfortunately being courted by the creepy butcher’s son, Den. Thankfully for Ellysetta, when the Fey visit Celiera from the Fading Lands, Rainier vel’En Daris Feyreisen, the Tairen Soul, King of the Fading Lands, declares that Ellysetta is his shei’tani (truemate). Obviously Ellysetta is more than she seems and so begins their courtship. Meanwhile, the Mages of Eld, who caused the death of Rain Tairen Soul’s first wife over a thousand years ago, have been waiting to come back into power. They will do all they can to destroy all that is good and are interested in who Ellysetta is.
My Thoughts: I wasn’t sure I’d like this book when I started it. It was only because I’d seen so many good reviews that I thought I really needed to keep an open mind and try it before I made a decision. One of my fears was the idea of the “truemate” or soulmate in the book. Usually I am not a fan of this and I find that it shortcuts a lot of the romance, making it more about the immediately physical than a slow mental buildup. I was pleasantly surprised that this book doesn’t actually do that. While there’s the idea of the shei’tani and the shei’tan, the shei’tani has to accept the bond first, so there was a courtship. I was glad that the soulmate concept was done a little differently. Although you know these two will eventually be together, at least the concept wasn’t used as an excuse to completely skip the process of falling in love.
Unfortunately, although I liked the handling of the soulmate concept, the romance/courtship didn’t do it for me. I think it was a combination of reasons. First the age difference. Rain is centuries older than Ellysetta. Of course,he didn’t act older at all, so it should have worked, but I kept hearing his age repeatedly, and it kept throwing me because it wasn’t just 20-30 years. It was over a thousand years. Then I just couldn’t get into the courtship, like how Ellysetta is at first both scared and yet attracted to him. This is an example of how the courtship never got past the superficial for me, that just Rain’s presence or looks can cause such a response, but there’s no real meeting of the minds. The biggest problem I had was with the two main characters. Rain and Ellysetta never felt fully developed, so I couldn’t connect to them and thus couldn’t connect to the romance. This is how I saw them:
- Rain - he’s over one thousand years old and he has anger management issues. I understand that this is explained by the heartbreak he had over watching is wife die, something that was so painful he scorched the world, killing many many people, an event forever remembered in poetry and art. And then he has to contend with the “bond madness” because of finding his “truemate”. However, this struck me as dramatic rather than romantic. His emotions are always extremes, and his considerable powers means no one really puts him in his place for it. I had a hard time with his being King yet having no diplomatic skills whatsoever from his 1000+ years of experience.
- Ellysetta – she’s the ingénue with a lot of Mary Sue traits. OK I can see some readers liking her, but I can’t seem to get past how overly idealistic she is. She’s pretty, but doesn’t think so: “Her mouth was too wide, she acknowledged critically, her lips too full and too red”, her height “too tall to be considered feminine” and so on and so forth. On top of this, other females are often jealous of the attention she gets as the new Feyreisa, and try to tear her down, but are always thwarted. The Fey can see her purity and kindness, and they would be honored to die for her. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but I yearned for more depth in her character. The biggest flaw I could see was a fear of her own power, but even this was made idealistic. Although she denies that her powerful magic abilities exist, she manages to heal the soul of one of her bodyguards, Bel, so that his “heart weeps again”, which earns her his undying devotion.
Unfortunately there were other things I didn’t like. I think the problem is I grew up reading fantasy. When I look at the fantasy aspects in this book, and even though the world building is OK and the writing flows very well (although I found the dialogue overwrought), I saw a lot of things that I had seen before. There were a lot of fantasy clichés, like the epic battle between Good and Evil, the orphan raised by a poor family who is more than they seem, and a magical animal with a bond with a main character. I’m not saying I won’t like a fantasy if it has one or more clichés, it’s in the way a book handles them. In this case I wasn’t wowed.
Overall: This is one of those books where I’m a little surprised: I didn’t like it. It was very close to being a DNF. I found it very hard to connect to but I was encouraged to keep going and so I did. After a certain point I figured I may as well read it all so I can say I honestly gave the whole book a try. Many people loved this book, obviously things that bothered me were seen differently by others. I see so many good reviews (a few from people I usually agree with!) that I question my sanity. I recommend looking at the other reviews I’m linking below today and make up your own mind.