Today’s Fantasy Romance: Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile
A few weeks ago, I started reading Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L Wilson. It was sold to me as a epic fantasy meets romance tale. I was skeptical. I hadn’t ever read an epic fantasy + romance and frankly, I didn’t know that it could be done. Epic fantasy, at its core, relies upon complex world building, the quest, and a whole raft of characters, many of whom are in jeopardy and die (known as the Boromir effect). Romance really is ill suited to main characters dying off. The best example I have read of epic fantasy + romance was the “Chronicles of the Warland” by Elizabeth Vaughan and even that lacked the sweeping epic nature of say Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series or George RR Martin’s Fire and Ice series.
This is not to say that I think CL Wilson is George RR Martin, but I do think her Tairen series could give Haydon’s books a run for their money.
The first story in Wilson’s Tairen series, Lord of the Fading Lands, tells the story of Rain, the last of the Tairen Soul, a Fey who can shapeshift into a winged beast called the Tairen. The Tairen and the Fey are inexplicably intertwined and the Tairen are dying because of something that is attacking the eggs which means that the Fey will die as well.
Rain does the forbidden and touches the great Eye of Tairen, desperate for a solution. At great cost, Rain is give a glimpse of salvation in Celeria. Celeria is a city of non magical people and it represents the greatest loss Rain ever experienced. He was bonded to a woman thousands of years ago and lost her on the battlefield when the Celerian humans and the Fey were fighting the Elden Mages. He went mad and scorched the land.
The Fey retreated to the Fading Lands, nursing each other and bring Rain back to sanity. His absence, though, from the human world has allowed the Elden Mages to grow in power and they are once again poised to wreak havoc.
When Rain travels to Celeria, he finds salvation the form of a truemate. Ellysetta Baristani is the adopted daughter of a woodcarver, a commoner. She apparently has magic, great magic within her, that has been hidden all her life. In fact, she fears what is inside of her that has manifested itself through nightmares and terrors.
She is terrified of Rain but also in awe. She’s read Fay tale after Fay tale and Rain is the embodiment of those Fay tales. In order to accept him, though, she must learn to trust him, her magic, and maybe even forsake all she knows to be with him while fighting the evil Mages who are trying to take over the world. There are political battles being fought and the insidious evil of the Mages can be found in every corner.
I read Silver Master by Jayne Ann Krentz last night, a “first time in print” Harmony book. It was as good as her others in the series but something left me a little dissatisfied. I realized that my expectations of a good fantasy novel has changed. I’ve been exposed to tales with more ambitious and creative world building where the setting doesn’t rely in the change of a few words and the insertion of a few alien artifacts. The world building of today’s sub genre authors seems more sophisticated, rich in detail and characterizations which fit the fantasy setting. Today’s fantasy books, from high fantasy to urban fantasy, are offering readers something we didn’t have 20 years ago. Romance is growing and evolving and that’s a good thing.
I asked CL Wilson about fantasy and romance and why that was a good fit. Wilson said “Fantasy – in particular epic fantasy – brings high stakes and a sense of drama that can be hard to recreate in a contemporary novel. And it also brings the wonder and excitement of pure, limitless imagination to life. And romance drives those stakes even higher on a very intimate and emotionally intense level, all while making the story very personal and accessible to the readers.”
I asked her whether there are things that an author can do with characters within the fantasy construct that she can’t do in the romance construct? Or asked differently, if one genre was more limiting? Wilson replied “That’s the beauty of paranormal romance – imagination is king. There truly are no limits. What the fantasy (in particular the epic fantasy) gives me, as a writer, is greater scope. Because the books are longer – you have more time to develop main and secondary characters, deal with subplots that keep the story exciting, and generally enjoy submersing yourself in your fantasy world. . . . It’s unlikely your hero and heroine can raise and army and go to war to fight the minions of Darkness without rousing suspicion from local law enforcement, for instance. . . . For a good fantasy romance novel (or paranormal romance novel of any type), however, the one thing you cannot do is just take a romance story, sprinkle some magic on it, and call it done. The fantasy element has to be so integral to the plot and to the romance, that the story can’t possibly work without it. And the more tightly you can weave the fantasy world, the quest, and the romance together, the stronger and richer your story will be.”
I handed Lord of the Fading Lands over to a trusted friend of mine (Jan) and my husband and asked for feedback because Lord of the Fading Lands kept me up at 2 in the morning. Was my positive response a fluke? The result of too many late night readings? I admit to having struggled to get into the book in the first place, but in the end I was captivated and slavering for more. Friend Jan was enthusiastic about the world building and less enthusiastic in the portrayal of the romance – too romancey I think.
Ned, on the other hand, is just as engaged as I was. I asked him last night if I was turning him into a romance reader. He replied that all of his books had romance in them. It was just sometimes the romance didn’t end up happily. “Don’t tell me what happens in this book, though,” he warned me. I guess he hasn’t ever heard of the guaranteed HEA. But I asked him, if this is what romance was, would he continue to read them. His reply? “Sure.” With these covers? “You can buy them for me.”
I am interested in what the readers think of any book and in this book in particular because I wonder if readers are feeling that same growth of expectations. Is this book truly different or am I just not widely read enough in the genre?
Erin Galloway and Dorchester are putting their book to the test and have offered up 15 arcs to the first readers
to send an email to this address firstname.lastname@example.org with this subject “C. L. Wilson ARC Contest” and their snail mail address. Sadly, all the ARCs are gone, but we’ll have more ARC contests in the future (Sherry Thomas’ Arrangement being one of them). The catch is, if you enter the contest, you must post your thoughts on the book – good or bad – somewhere. It can be here, at a message board, on your own blog but somewhere. (This contest is valid after 7 am EST – had to put this proviso in since I accidentally hit publish last night and it was floating out in the blogosphere before the official post time).
I’d be interested in the commenters’ thoughts on whether you feel there has been a shift, a growth in the fantasy/paranormal/futuristic novels since when you first started reading? Is it a good/bad shift? What do you want to see from your speculative romance fiction?
Update: I’ve added the entirety of the Wilson interview on a “next page” feature because I thought you all might enjoy reading them.