I grew up reading Harry Potter. I was eleven. Harry was eleven. Harry Potter was such a huge part of my childhood and my early adulthood. Some of my best friendships started because we bonded over Harry Potter. I don’t even date guys unless they’ve read Harry Potter. So you can imagine my surprise at twenty-eight years old when I read a book that rivaled my love for Harry Potter for the first time ever.
First, I freaked out. HOW COULD ANY BOOK RIVAL HARRY POTTER? And furthermore… WHO AM I IF HARRY POTTER IS NOT MY FAVORITE BOOK? It was actually pretty distressing. And in the end, I had to decide that Harry Potter was the favorite book of my childhood, but perhaps I could have another favorite book of my adulthood. And that book (or series rather) is the Tairen Soul Series by C.L. Wilson.
Someone recommended it to me on Twitter when I put out a call for great fantasy romance (which is my favorite thing to read). I bought the first book, but sat on it for a couple months because to be completely honest the cover didn’t really inspire confidence. Then when I finally got around to reading it, I hated myself for waiting so long. Because it was everything I wanted.
The Tairen Soul series is inspired by fae folklore, but it wasn’t predictable or like anything I had ever read. And the plot is epic and exciting. But the thing that took me from like to love was the characterization of the heroine—Ellysetta. At the beginning of the book, she’s sort of thrust into the story when a famous and powerful fae named Rain Tairen Soul who hasn’t been seen in a thousand years suddenly appears and claims she’s his mate. The only problem: the last time he had a mate, she died in battle, and Rain nearly destroyed the entire world in his grief. That’s a lot of pressure for a seemingly normal young woman.
Wilson doesn’t fall prey to the typical pitfalls of the fated mates trope—the pacing of the relationship is taken slowly and realistically, and we begin to love each character separately before we love them together. We discover that Ellysetta isn’t completely normal after all, and in fact may be part-fae. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
My favorite scene in the entire book is when she’s lured away from her home by what’s called a Dahl’reisen—which is a fae that’s taken too much life and his soul has gone dark. Every fae male knows such a life is probable for him someday. Each life they take in battle is a dark spot on their soul. When you live thousands of years and fight thousands of battles, those lives begin to add up. And once a fae turns dark, they’re exiled from Faerie forever. So when the most famous Dahl’reisen to ever live captures Ellysetta, things look bleak. He thinks she’s a spy from their mage enemies, and is determined to kill her.
Female fey have the gift of empathy and healing, and they’re so sensitive that it’s painful for them to even be near a Dahl’reisen. In a truly beautiful moment, Ellysetta not only endures the pain of being near the world’s darkest Dahl’reisen—she touches him and through excruciating pain, she actually heals his soul enough to bring him back from the dark side, to make him fae again instead of Dahl’reisen. The man who had just attempted to kill her then drops to his knee and pledges his life to her protection in gratitude.
I can remember reading this scene on my couch and openly weeping, not because the scene was sad, but because it was so vivid and moving, and I never wanted it to end. It creates incredible sympathy for Ellysetta and is such a beautiful way for her to hold her own as a character when surrounded by incredibly gifted, magical fae. And it introduces an incredible new character who has gone to the darkest point, and back again.
Everyone around Ellysetta is furious that she put herself through harm for someone as unworthy as a Dahl’reisen, but when she’s taken to meet the rest of the fey army, she meets a large group of soldiers who keep themselves separate from the rest. They’re all very close to turning Dahl’reisen. Just a few more deaths on their soul in the coming battle could turn the tide. Everyone tells her to stay away from them, but instead she slips out in the night and heals every single one of them. One by one, hundreds of soldiers feel their souls made new, and they in turn pledge their life to protecting Ellysetta. So many pledge their blades that there’s just this huge pile of weapons at her feet.
I cannot explain how epic this moment is in the book. You MUST read it. But I think perhaps the best part of it all is that the most badass moment in the entire book doesn’t come in battle. It’s not crazy complicated magic, or a dangerous fight scene. It’s a woman showing empathy to people who aren’t supposed to deserve it, and enduring incredible pain to help strangers. THAT… was definitely awesome, and it sealed her spot on my list of all time favorite heroines.
So, if you haven’t read the Tairen Soul series by C.L. Wilson yet…
DO IT. Seriously. Do it now.
Cora Carmack has done a multitude of things in her life—boring jobs (like working retail), fun jobs (like working in a theatre), stressful jobs (like teaching), and dream jobs (like writing). Raised in a small Texas town, she now lives in New York City and Texas, and spends her time writing, traveling, and marathoning various television shows on Netflix. Her first book, Losing It, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Her latest novel, Roar, is available from Tor Teen. Visit her online at her website, on Twitter @CoraCarmack, and on Facebook at CoraCarmackBooks.