Why I read it: I picked this one up on special at Dymocks recently ($5!) and I'd heard a lot about it. I actually started listening to this on audio but, as interesting as the story was and as good as the narrator was, the production values were so bad (strange editing cuts, abrupt scene changes and background noises like shuffling paper and coughing!) that I gave up on the audio and picked up the book instead.
What it's about: (from Goodreads) Once he had scorched the world.Once he had driven back overwhelming darkness.
Once he had loved with such passion, his name was legend...
Now a thousand years later, a new threat calls him from the Fading Lands, back into the world that had cost him so dearly. Now an ancient, familiar evil is regaining its strength, and a new voice beckons him--more compelling, more seductive, more maddening than any before.
As the power of his most bitter enemy grows and ancient alliances crumble, the wildness in his blood will not be denied. The tairen must claim his truemate and embrace the destiny woven for him in the mists of time.
What worked for me (and what didn't): Ellysetta Baristani is the adopted daughter of Celierian woodcarver. He and his wife found her abandoned in the woods as a baby and her origins are therefore mysterious and unknown. She has been afflicted with violent seizures since childhood and has terrible nightmares. Rain Tairen Soul is shown her face in the mystical Eye of the World when he begs for a way to save the dying Fey and Tairen races. He travels to Celieria to find her and when he realises that she's his Truemate, he's stunned, to say the least. No other Tairen Soul has ever been truemated.
Rain is the King of the Fey and also the oldest (and now only) Tairen Soul. Tairen are giant cat like creatures with wings that breathe fire - I imagined them like a cross between a panther/lion (depending on the Tairen's colouring) and a dragon. As a Tairen Soul, Rain has a dual nature and can shapeshift. By tradition (and history), Tairen Souls cannot truemate. They can mate and have deeply loving relationships but they are considered relationships of the heart, whereas a truemating is a relationship also of the soul. A Fey can survive the death of a heartmate but not the death of a truemate.
Rain's heartmate Sariel was killed by evil Eld Mages in the Mage Wars a thousand years earlier and the Tairen "Wilding Rage" overtook him in his grief and he "scorched the world" killing countless thousands of Eld enemies but also other Fey and allied races (Celierians, Elves and Danae). He has been in the Fay Fading Lands ever since and for many hundreds of years afterwards, struggled to regain and then maintain his sanity.
The Tairens are dying out - something is killing the kitlings in the egg and they Fey are dying also - he is the last Tairen Soul and it is his responsibility to find a way to save his people. He casts himself on the Eye of the World and shown a woman who will be the salvation of both races.
Ellysetta has dreamed of Rain Tairen Soul her whole life, and has longed for the kind of epic love that is told of in Fey poetry. When she meets Rain, he is the embodiment of all her childhood dreams but she is not free to be with him, having been tricked into a betrothal with sleazy Den Brodson. It is Ellysetta's distress when being pawed by Den which causes her soul to call to Rain's and when he is called to answer, he realises she's his Sheitan (truemate).
Their story is told over the course of 5 books. While there is a hopeful ending at the end of this book, the tale is by no means done. There is great threat to the world from the Eld Mages rising again and of course the Tairens and Fey still need to be saved. This book charts the course of Rain and Ellysetta's early courtship and the very first fragile soul bonds she forges with him. As a woodcarver's daughter, she is not welcomed by the Celierian nobility and there is the little matter of her betrothal to Brodson to overcome. Ellysetta's mother does not like magic and the Eld Mages are trying to get their hands on Ellysetta. Also, the Eld Mages are trying to open trade borders with the Celierians and Rain and his nobles want to make sure that doesn't happen - Celieria stands between Eld and the Fading Lands.
There is always a significant risk to Ellysetta both internally and from whatever dark secret hides in her soul. Rain's fierce protection of her is the kind of stuff I love to read but Ellysetta is no pushover. She has spine and she stands up for herself. Also of course, she is far more than a woodcarver's daughter and this book sees her start to come into her own power. There is a darkness in her which she fears and which saves her from being too "Snow White-ish". Rain's history of scorching the earth and the weight of all the souls that action took, bears heavily on him. So we have two not quite perfect people in an epic love story and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I loved it.
The world building is excellent and the large cast of characters is strong and not confusing. I found myself caught up very early on and the book didn't really ever let me go.
What else? Truemates are a version of the fated mates trope but there is something of a twist here - not every Fey will ever meet their Truemate and the bond is only complete when the female of the pair bonds with with the male - a process which may take a very long time and may not happen at all. I gather that the bond is instant for the male but not so with the female. If the female cannot or does not bond with the male, he will die but she will not. So, while there is an element of predestination, the couple do have to court and build a relationship and the male has to win the soul bonds of the female. I found it more of a kickstart to the relationship than anything else - sure, there was the threat that if Ellysetta didn't bond with Rain that he would die - but I never really worried that would happen - this is a romance after all. :)
I'm writing this after having read Lady of Light and Shadows (book #2) and just starting to become immersed in King of Sword and Sky (book #3). Only because I found book 2 a bit more engrossing than book 1, I'm grading this one an A- but I have now bought all 5 in the series and I expect I will be reading them back to back (no waiting! yay!). I'm loving the mythology and the "epicness" of the love and romance between Ellysetta and Rain and I'm enjoying the various secondary characters too.
I hear that the author plans to return to this world in the future and is planning to write Bel's book so I'm looking forward to that too.
There is something about fantasy romance, where the fate of the world hangs on the success of the romantic relationship, that I found very satisfying. In many other subgenres, this sort of thing just comes across as over the top, but fantasy romance is supposed to be over the top and I can sigh to my heart's content.
Rain turned back to Sol [Ellysetta's father]. "You were chastising me. You may continue."