Crown of Crystal Flame
by C. L. Wilson
(Avon, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-201896-0
The final installment in a stunning series by emerging author C. L. Wilson, Crown of Crystal Flame, takes us to the darkest days of Celieria and the land of the Fae and pushes each character and each reader to his or her limits.

The third and fourth books of the series had many a reader wondering why Wilson couldn't have stuck with the originally-planned trilogy instead of a quintet, Crown of Crystal Flame followed the same pattern - the first thirty or forty pages were so s-l-o-w. Torturous, even. After that, though, it was edge-of-your-seat, wear-down-your-nails tension, action, gore, and glory.

Eld, the enemy country run by dark Mages who worship the goddess Seledorn, has finally managed to invade Celieria by taking one its strongest border cities, Teleos. Mages, working with Feraz Witches, have managed to turn brother against brother and comrade against comrade with a spell that makes them think everyone is an enemy. Elysetta, our heroine (actually, a not yet crowned and currently banished queen of the Faering Lands), is likely the strongest healer the Fae have had in a hundred thousand years. Even her mate, the Feireisen, Rain Tairen Soul, is effected by the poison before she can develop a cure.

Of course, Rain's got problems well outside of that realm; he suffers from the bond madness. Bond madness, in the Fey, develops when a man has found his soulmate but has been unable to complete the final bond with her. Elysetta, who until a few months previous had lived has a sheltered, plain mortal, does not trust her newfound powers - which are legion. This prevents the completion of their bond, despite their marriage in book two. Rain's powers, when he is in the throws of his malady, are dangerous not just to himself, Elysetta, or the Eld - but to the world.

Elysetta's powers, unfortunately, are no less dangerous. A woman created by the greatest Dark Mage ever, Elysetta is an uber-powerful combination of tairen, fey, mortal, and elf. She has been Marked by said Mage, Vadim Maur, four of the six times needed to make her his slave - which would, in essence, make him all-powerful. Naturally, Elysetta wants to keep this from happening. As a young girl, all she dreamed of was a faery-tale ending to her painfully boring life. Well, now life's got exciting, and she doesn't have the option to back out. The only healer (or, in Fey, sheidalin) who can handle the pain of being on the battlefield, Elysetta quickly finds herself immersed in all the ugliness that is war. She also finds herself killing on a few occasions, which does nothing to help her morale and everything to support the arguments of those who oppose her and Rain's rule.

Absolutely everything is on the line: the fate of the world, for one, but also the lives of Elysetta's family, her until-recently-unknown birth parents, and her husband. Elysetta watches friends die and faces the fact that her new-found immortality doesn't mean she can't be killed herself. Crown of Crystal Flame, even more than the previous four novels, is, yes, an epic. It is also a tale of taking on the status quo and battering at it until a compromise can be found. It's a story about a woman who started off life feeling she was no one and rose to the highest of possible heights, then who comes to the realization that she's someone in between - while learning to be comfortable with both ends of the spectrum.

Crown of Crystal Flame has its tedious parts, to be sure, though die-hard fantasy fans will likely appreciate the numerous and lengthy battle scenes. However, anyone who has read one or all four of the others will definitely want to see what Rain and Ellie make of themselves and how they manage to bring together four very different factions of the world in which they live. Don't let the first several chapters put you off - Crown of Crystal Flame is well worth the time and the effort, and a glorious end to a tale that has kept readers on-edge for several years.

--Sarrah Knight

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