Pros: Beautiful story; wonderful prose; fascinating world and plot; gripping climax
Cons: Gross wish-fulfillment fantasy lacking in satisfaction; pacing completely off
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 3/27/2003
Rhapsody, a book of high fantasy by Elizabeth Haydon, introduces us to Emily–a simple farm girl who falls in love with a man who has been temporarily displaced from her world’s not-so-distant future. By meeting him her future is altered; by trying to follow him when he disappears she changes not only her future, but that of the entire world.
Although she gives up on ever finding him again, she meets up instead with Achmed and Grunthor, an assassin and a warrior. The three comrades (though they start out as unwilling companions) travel through the center of the earth itself, along the root system of the great tree Sagia, and find themselves in a distant land, in the future–after the destruction of their own homeland. There they must make a new life for themselves. Achmed is determined to take charge of the scattered Firbolg and make a kingdom for himself in the ruined place called Canrif.
Prophecy, the second book in the series, is primarily a romance between Rhapsody (Emily) and a character from the first book named Ashe, although the general plot line does advance a bit in the nooks and crannies. The last remaining Dhracian from a formerly thriving colony beneath the bowels of Canrif calls upon the prophesied Three (Achmed, Grunthor and Rhapsody) to guard the last remaining Child of Earth. For if this mysterious child were to waken from her sleep, it would herald the end of the world.
Meanwhile, the demon F’dor has created an unholy child for itself, the Rakshas, that seeks to spread its taint throughout the world. Rhapsody intends to destroy the Rakshas, and save the half-demonic children it has sired.
Finally, the story continues in “Destiny.”
The F’dor, the demon-in-human-host who seeks to find the sleeping Child and destroy the world, moves toward the attainment of its goals. The Three stand against it, but there’s so much for them to do! Rhapsody plans to find and save the offspring of the Rakshas, to remove their demon blood from them and collect it–thereby saving their souls while giving Achmed the means with which to locate the F’dor. Then they must track down the F’dor and kill it, not an easy task by any means. Somewhere in there Rhapsody also plans to reunite all the warring kingdoms and races across the continent, one of which is the kingdom that Achmed is trying to run with Grunthor’s help in his spare time. And that still leaves one or two prophecies to fulfill…
If you know anything about this series already, then I probably don’t have to tell you that this is a rich, wonderful fantasy world filled with detail and personality. The world includes some fascinating religions, a wealth of vastly different regions (all with their own flavor and personality), and a diverse panoply of creatures–including not only dragons, but more interestingly, a handful of people descended of both humans and dragons.
The story is epic in nature, and often goes in unexpected and interesting directions. (I certainly wasn’t expecting the main characters to go off and found their own kingdom in the first book!) Some of the characters are quite unusual, with a wealth of complex motivations. The prose flows well, and with a couple of notable exceptions is a joy to read (those notable exceptions usually occurring when the author gets completely wrapped up in telling us–not showing us–what a wonderful person the main character is).
In addition, unlike “Prophecy” (which repeated so much information from the first book that I felt like I’d read “Rhapsody” twice), “Destiny” strikes a good balance between reminding us of information we might have forgotten, and yet moving on to new things without dwelling too much on the old.
All of that said, however, this book has some notable flaws.
Pacing is a tricky thing. It’s a matter of the time the author decides to spend on each element of her plot, and it affects all sorts of reactions in the reader. For instance, pacing decides whether the climactic events in the novel feel climactic or not. Pacing affects whether or not we feel bored when we aren’t in the middle of those climactic events. Pacing also helps to determine whether events feel like full-fledged parts of the plot, or just hasty plot devices baldly tossed in by the writer to make the plot work out as intended.
And pacing is one of the ways in which this novel falls down on its face.
Rhapsody is one of those people who feels uncomfortable being complimented, celebrated, or given honors and acclaim. Very uncomfortable. People like that often try to rush through those compliments, honors, and acclaim. And in a way it feels like that’s what the author was doing, too–rushing through all the honors that get heaped at Rhapsody’s feet. Very mild warning–the events I’m about to relate have been (in my opinion) obviously coming since one of the previous books in the series, but if you really don’t want to know anything “major” in advance, skip to “end spoilers,” below.
–BEGIN SPOILERS– Now, I think I’m actually not giving anything away here when I say that at some point in this book, Rhapsody runs off to try to reunite all the various different Lyrin factions under one ruler. I also think I’m not giving anything away when I say that she ends up being crowned as their ruling queen–after all, I (and several of the supporting characters) saw this coming from a mile away in one of the previous novels in the series. Now, the entire process, from sitting down to talk with the supposedly argumentative and fractious Lyrin ambassadors, to choosing her as queen, through her coronation (and even including several interludes following various people as they travel to her coronation) takes just 30 pages (out of 846).
Wow, talk about rushed!
It only takes seven of those short pages for all of the ambassadors to work through their differences and agree to unite, and for Rhapsody to be chosen as queen. (And the only reason it takes that long is that Rhapsody spends a page or two freaking out when things start going well for her.) –END SPOILERS–
As a result, all of Rhapsody’s great honors feel… hollow. They feel like plot devices rather than plots. They feel as though they’ve been handed to her by the author rather than earned by the character.
Now, I like a good wish-fulfillment fantasy now and then. It’s fun to follow the underdog and watch her overcome her “betters” and end up on top. But unfortunately, this feels like the kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy a six-year-old would have–the kind where everything is simply handed to the character, she’s crowned Ruler of All She Surveys, and everyone loves her just because the child having the fantasy wants it to be so. There’s no feeling of having overcome great odds to make it so. There’s no satisfaction to this.
A Few Additional Notes
Rhapsody and Ashe are still carrying on their messed-up dance of a relationship. Only the most tenuous threads of justification are used to continually keep them apart and unhappy–it’s really hard not to see it all as just another plot device. Once again, these books aren’t for kids–there are sex scenes. In Destiny there’s an attempted rape; don’t read it if this would really bother you. Also, we do (finally!) find out what the deal is with the odd framing story of Meridion and his Time Editor.
If you’ve read and enjoyed the first book (“Rhapsody”) and find that you want to know what comes next for these characters, by all means go ahead and read “Prophecy” and “Destiny.” They aren’t great books, but they are decent ones. Certainly there were moments when I couldn’t put them down because I really wanted to know what happened next, and they do tell an interesting story about largely fascinating people. Just be aware that they’re a bizarre mix of great talent and very poor choices. At times they soar; at other times they frustrate. And they tend to hold satisfaction just out of reach.
Until, that is, the end. The last (roughly) 100 pages of “Destiny” bring the series to a soaring climax. Prophecies come to fulfillment; huge battles are fought; great powers are unleashed. For once, Haydon does not withhold satisfaction. The final act of “Destiny” is gripping, moving–a worthy climax to the essential story started in “Rhapsody” and continued in “Prophecy.”
And for that reason, I’m glad I read these books.
Epilogue: Another good reason to read the entire series is that the fourth book, Requiem for the Sun, is the best of the lot!