"Rhapsody," Elizabeth Haydon (Symphony of Ages 1)

Pros: Creative, clever, unpredictable; interesting characters; a VERY rich world
Cons: Mild confusions; slow historical spots; one annoying character aspect
Rating: 4 out of 5

     

First published 3/19/2003

I don’t read many fantasy series any more. I got tired of finishing a book, only to have to wait a couple of years to find out what happened to the characters in the next book–by which time I’d forgotten what had happened in the first book. I heard about “Rhapsody: Child of Blood” by Elizabeth Haydon, however, after the next two books had come out, so I could buy all three at once. (What I didn’t count on was the fact that there’d be a fourth book, of course, but it’s out in hardback now and due out in paperback in May.) I’m finding that the premise of “Rhapsody” is a difficult one to do justice to, particularly without giving away some of the interesting surprises the story has in store, but I’ll do my best.

The Time Editor

The setting is high fantasy, with odd races (the monstrous Firbolg; the beautiful Lirin), kings, wars, swords, and magic wielded by Singers and Namers. In an odd framing device that isn’t yet explained in this book (the next one seems to shed a bit more light on it), a man named Meridion uses a device called the Time Editor to move a boy named Gwydion back in time. The boy meets a girl named Emily; he falls in love with her, and she with him. He realizes that the continent he is on is destined to be destroyed in the near future (his history), and tries to warn Emily before he is ripped back to his own time.

Cut to 7 years later. A Singer called Rhapsody is in trouble; some terrible people are after her, and she has nowhere to run. She asks for help from two mysterious strangers–one thin and veiled, one huge and frightening–and they give her far more than she bargained for, taking her away from her home and on a journey she may never recover from. First her abductors, later her companions, they are the instruments of change for her, and she for them. And together, the three of them may be destined to fulfill a prophecy they’ve never even heard of, in a place they could never have imagined.

The story is marked by unusual and interesting settings (the group spends a while traveling along the root system of a giant tree!), fun main characters (the sarcastic and grumpy assassin, for instance), and an interesting and unpredictable supporting cast.

A Rich Symphony

I couldn’t explain the ins and outs of this world even if I wanted to write a ten-page review. Much of the novel is an exploration of this world, including its mysteries and history, and there is simply no way to sum up that much information. It is an incredibly imaginative, creative, and beautiful world in which to set a series of novels. Bits and pieces are reminiscent of other worlds and novels, but they weave together to create something wholly unique and wonderful.

The story and plots are similarly creative and clever. When I got to within five pages of the end, I realized that I had no idea how it was going to end with respect to some of the outstanding issues–and I loved this! One of the last books I read was so predictable that it was simply frustrating to wade through it and see things coming out as it was obvious they had to. I truly enjoyed not knowing how everything would turn out in this one. The characters do unusual and interesting things, not always following in the well-worn footsteps of every fantasy predecessor.

Haydon executes perspective shifts with surprising skill and subtlety, moving from one character’s perspective to another in ways that shed more light on events and characters, rather than jerking you out of the story.

A Few Flat Notes

This isn’t to say that every single detail is perfect. This is a debut novel, and I’d be stunned and amazed if there weren’t at least a few nits to pick. For instance, I found Rhapsody to be a bit too stereotypically mothering, protective, and anti-violent toward the end of the book. This was redeemed somewhat by the fact that this is occasionally seen as a character flaw rather than strength, and by the fact that her way of doing things doesn’t always work, but it is a bit harder to identify with the main character when you find yourself rolling your eyes at her actions.

Toward the beginning of the book I found that descriptions sometimes puzzled and confused me, and caused me to have trouble envisioning what was going on. I think this was due to a minor case of over-explanation. Oddly, when authors become too concerned with getting the details just right and making sure you can picture things exactly as they happen, they tend to detail things too much and as a result the reader has more trouble seeing things, rather than less. Essentially, the author forgets to trust in the reader’s ability to interpret and envision what’s going on. This gets much better as the novel progresses, however, and it’s a perfectly understandable and minor mistake to make at the beginning of a debut novel.

There are some slow spots in the book (toward the latter half, oddly) when various historical things get explained, but this isn’t too bad. Just grab a nice cup of tea and wade through them; they aren’t nearly as slow as most authors’ historical dumps, and they don’t last.

Additional Notes

There’s a reasonable amount of sex and violence in here, sometimes combined. I didn’t find them offensive (there was no glorification of rape, for instance), but this is definitely fantasy for adults. The framing device (Meridion and his Time Editor) is a bit confusing, but it looks like it will be developed more in later books, so I’m willing to wait and see. The framing device also lends an odd sort of “magical science fiction” feel to the beginning and end of the book, which is a bit weird.

The prophecies relevant to the story are printed at the beginning of the book as well as introduced through the story. Don’t read them before you read the book. It isn’t that they give something away–it’s that because you’ve had a while to digest them by the time they show up in the book, and because of course you know who the main characters are, it’s just so obvious that they apply to the main characters that it then becomes a little frustrating when the characters don’t immediately figure it out too. I don’t mean that the characters are being dumb–I mean that you will have had so much longer to make connections than they have that it’ll feel like they’re being dumb. Better to discover the prophecies when the characters do.

Oh, and by the way, you might consider going back and re-reading the introduction (“Overture”) after you finish the book, unless you have a much better memory than I do and remember everything from it while you’re finishing the book. It will help you to make one or two very interesting and valuable connections!

The book does not end in a cliff-hanger, which I, for one, greatly appreciate! If you want to read the whole series, it includes:

  • “Rhapsody: Child of Blood:” rating 4 out of 5
  • “Prophecy: Child of Earth:” 3 of 5
  • “Destiny: Child of the Sky:” 3 of 5
  • “Requiem for the Sun:” 5 of 5

All in all this is a wild and rich fantasy ride, with only a few mild flaws to mar your enjoyment. Do pick up a copy and enjoy Haydon’s talent for yourself!

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