Elder Races – Thea Harrison
The Elder Races series by Thea Harrison is a Paranormal Romance series that started in 2011 and made quite the impact – book 1, Dragon Bound, won the RITA (the RWA’s highest honor) for Best Paranormal Romance in 2012. With nine primary works (and countless novellas in the universe), Elder Races follows the politics and relationships of the seven Elder Races that share the world with humans: the Wyr, Light and Dark Fae, the Elves, Demonkind, Nightkind, and Human Witches. There is an aspect of portal fantasy here as well in that there are pockets of Other land that can be accessed through passageways throughout the mortal world, and the characters often enter these lands as part of the stories.
I read the first three books , because I find that with these longer-running PNR series, you don’t really get an accurate impression until you are a few books in. In addition, I was intrigued by the fact that the first three MMCs were non-traditional shapeshifts in that they were mythical creatures – first a dragon, then a thunderbird, and finally a gryphon. So, this review tackles both the book I read for the square as well as the series.
This review was originally written as part of a personal project to complete an all Fantasy Romance card for r/fantasy’s 2022 Book Bingo. You can read an introduction to my project here. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/05/2011
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 01/08/2011
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 04/10/2011
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
The world-building stage is set in the first book, but it really isn’t until the second and third books that we see just how expansive the world is and get a sense of the politics and machinations of the various races. It isn’t often you get to read a book where you have a gryphon, vampyre, medusa, and djinn all in one scene! The world-building is rich enough to provide the backbone for a series with staying power.
In terms of the romance, it has a heat level on par with a series like Psy-Changeling by Nalini Singh – it is steamy and explicit, but not to the point where it detracts from the plot. The MMCs are alphas, straight up, so if you don’t like that trope, these books are not for you. In fact, the MMC’s of the first two books are some of the most brutish, out-of-touch-with-my-feelings alphas I’ve read in a while. However! The character transformations are profound and definitely come across on the page.
In terms of FMCs, one of the things I really appreciated about this series is how genuinely nice the FMCs are. I absoluletly love a “strong” heroine, but sometimes the stereotyping of what a “strong” heroine means can become grating – they are often set up as assertive to the point of aggressive, in constant conflict with the MMC. It was refreshing to read “strong” heroines that instead were simply kind. For example, toward the beginning of the first book, prior to even starting a relationship, Pia literally cuddles Dragos and falls asleep on top of him. When they are captured by the goblins and thrown in a dungeon, she saves a struggling beetle in her cell from falling down a crack. In the second book, Niniane is often found simply listening to her subjects, connecting with them to make them feel heard. She wants to use her resources to set up a school for her people so that they can integrate into the human world. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted to read FMCs like these, but apparently I did – it was a nice change of pace.
The writing was a little rough for me, but I think that’s a personal taste thing. I sometimes struggle with an author that flips between “elevated” language and colloquialisms; it gives me whiplash to read a beautiful sentence followed by a character using the word “freaking.” It did improve as the series progressed, but it is the reason Serpent’s Kiss (which was my favorite of the three books I read) was not a five-star rating for me. I wanted to give it five stars SO badly, but unfortunately, I do have a hang-up about prose. That, combined with repetitive words and phrasing, and sometimes odd construction, kept the book at a four for me.
Interestingly, the dual POV is not split up into sections like most modern Romances – hello head hopping! You bounce between the two POVs throughout the chapters, but it was done in such a way that, although I noticed it, it didn’t pull me out of the story.
The focus of the third book – my favorite of the three, and the book I used for r/fantasy Book Bingo – is Carling. She is an old vampyre who is bored with life, essentially waiting for death, and her ennui is palpable. She undergoes a “rebirth,” if you will, finally attempting to pursue a second chance at life, in part due to the MMC. I highlighted this passage, because as Carling’s character evolves, and she begins to be pulled out of her complacency, it beautifully captures the impact of his love and support: “Or maybe that was just Rune, reawakening her soul.” Make no mistake – this book is about the FMC and her journey, and the MMC simply plays a supporting role.
I enjoyed the maturity of the characters – Rune and Carling are much older than the characters of the first two books – and the somber tone. Serpent’s Kiss is mature and poignant, and its themes resonated with me. Although Rune is an alpha, he is much more of a cinnamon roll than the previous two heroes. He’s a laid back, ripped jeans and Jerry Garcia t-shirt wearing, easy-going guy. But make no mistake, he can flip on a dime when his friends or mate are in trouble. It does lend a different dynamic to this couple and this book, because he is far more sweet – there is a scene where he does Carling’s makeup, for example, because she hasn’t worn any in hundreds of years and doesn’t know what to do. And Carling being as old and powerful as she is does not stand for any high-handedness at all. I thoroughly enjoyed their dynamic.
I’m usually not a huge fan of books that mess with time. I often find them confusing. But I think this book did a good job of addressing paradoxes and laying out the impacts of their forays into the past. I never felt like the time-travel was contrived. The plot was well-constructed around it and the characters abilities naturally shaped in support of it. The explanations were not confusing and all the typical time travel pitfalls were addressed. It was well-done.
Serpent’s Kiss was by far my favorite of the three books. If you’re interested, you can read it standalone although you’d miss some of the context and world-building that preceded it. I don’t think I will read on in this series. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really grip me in a way that propels me to keep reading. I think that’s in part due to the prose. This is a solid PNR series however, and I think many fans will find it enjoyable.