"Prophecy," Elizabeth Haydon (Symphony of Ages 2)

Pros: Detailed, interesting world; fascinating characters; grand machinations; plenty of romance
Cons: Odd choices; too much re-re-explaining; author too much in love with main character
Rating: 3 out of 5

     

First posted 3/22/2003

“Prophecy: Child of Earth,” by Elizabeth Haydon, is the second book in a series, following Rhapsody: Child of Blood. The series is high fantasy; in “Rhapsody,” a Singer named Rhapsody teamed up with a half-Firbolg assassin (Achmed) and his giant helper (Grunthor) when they were all forced to flee their respective problems by leaving their homeland. Rhapsody was fleeing a depraved man who wanted to possess her; Achmed was fleeing a demon who owned his soul. When they met, Rhapsody accidentally re-Named Achmed, setting him free of the F’dor.

The group fled down into the root system of the great tree Sagia, following those roots through the center of the earth and emerging on the other side of the world. Unfortunately, when they emerged, they found out that it was centuries later, and their homeland had been destroyed. They were left to create a new life for themselves in their new home.

“Prophecy” takes up where “Rhapsody” left off, with Rhapsody setting off to meet the dragon Elynsynos, guided by her new friend Ashe. She ends up on a much longer journey, however, learning new skills and interesting tidbits of information from all sorts of sources. Her new relationship with Ashe see-saws wildly back and forth from friendship and attraction to anger and insult, sometimes almost leading to outright battle.

But meanwhile, strange things are happening in the Firbolg mountains. Achmed and Grunthor have discovered the remnants of a lost colony of Dhracians and the Sleeping Child they protect. A time of prophecy draws near, but Rhapsody is still off running around the countryside with Ashe–something that doesn’t sit well with her old friends.

If this sounds like a scant amount of plot, that’s because there isn’t a whole lot, plot-wise, that happens in this book–at least not given the 700+ pages. “Prophecy” concentrates primarily on the relationship between Rhapsody and Ashe.

The World

One great thing that continues from the first book is Haydon’s ability to weave a complex, detailed, interesting world, complete with its own mythologies, histories, prophecies, races, enmities, alliances, and all that goes with these things. It could hardly be more complex and detailed if she were using the real world. We also get to see some wonderful things this time around–Rhapsody has time to wander the country and meet some interesting creatures and people, and Haydon takes full advantage of that.

However, there is one problem here. “Prophecy” is a sequel, with all the issues that implies. It’s difficult to find the right balance of explanation in a sequel. After all, you want people to be able to make sense of the book even if they haven’t read the last one in some time. But on the other hand, you don’t want people who read the first book to feel like they’re reading it all over again. While I do appreciate a certain amount of re-familiarization with the issues from the first book, I feel that Haydon went overboard here. At times I felt like I was reading the first book over again. And there were things that were talked about in this book that were then explained all over again within this book. (I think where I hit my limit was the point at which someone asked Rhapsody if she knew about subject X, and she said, “yes, but explain it to me again,” or words to that effect–and off we went all over again.)

Oddly, this is one sequel where you might actually benefit from waiting a while between books.

Rhapsody

It’s obvious that the author truly loves the main character; I imagine that perhaps Haydon based Rhapsody on some special person in her life. However, her strong love for Rhapsody does have some unintended and unfortunate side effects on the story. For instance, if you don’t happen to adore Rhapsody as much as the author does, then you’re liable to feel hit over the head–repeatedly–with the author’s feelings for her; you aren’t left to make your own judgments. Also, Rhapsody’s personality isn’t allowed to stand on its own two feet; instead everyone always has to explain, ruminate on, and obsess over it. I would have enjoyed simply watching the characters develop, rather than having to listen to everyone swoon over the main character.

Choices

Haydon also makes some very odd choices, in my opinion, about what she shows and doesn’t show within the story. This one is hard to explain, so I’ll give you an example. At one point in the story Rhapsody spends quite a while agonizing over whether Ashe and the Rakshas (evil minion of the F’dor) are the same person or not. This becomes incredibly frustrating, for several reasons.

First, enough information has been given by this point that the answer to her dilemma seemed (to me, at least) painfully obvious. Perhaps if we’d been given a different set of clues, I would have been able to agonize along with Rhapsody instead of getting frustrated with her inability to see what seemed obvious.

Second, after spending so much time in frustrating confusion, she comes to her ultimate conclusions about the matter entirely off-screen. We only hear about it when she tells someone else what she thinks. In other words, Haydon chooses to show us the frustrating scenes without the satisfying moment of revelation to at least balance it out and give closure to the issue. And unfortunately, this is a pattern that I found repeated throughout much of the book. I was constantly confused as to why we’d been given information that the characters were agonizing over; why we were shown frustrating or annoying scenes but denied moments of revelation and satisfaction; and so on.

And, Finally: Romance, Insults, and Lack of Plot Conflict

Okay, I’m going to admit something here: I’m a sucker for romance plots. I went into this book hoping against hope that Ashe and Rhapsody would buy a clue, realize how much they loved each other, and end up happy together. Sure, I know that every romance plot has to have its obstacles. There have to be misunderstandings and stuff like that–otherwise where’s the challenge? But Haydon went just a wee bit overboard here. Rhapsody and Ashe spent most of the book reading every single little thing the other did as a dire insult worthy of drawing a sword and killing over. It got to be really ridiculous.

In fact, this is a problem that plagued the entire book. Everyone in this book is so touchy that it’s a wonder any of them survived to the age they have. Really, if they all have such hair-trigger tempers then they should have all killed each other a long time ago.

I think this is a symptom, though, of a different problem: the lack of plot-oriented conflict in the book. Because the book focuses on the romance instead of plot for the most part, it has to artificially inflate the conflict by having everyone take insult at the least provocation. If there had been more plot conflict, this might not have been necessary.

I’m having a hard time passing final judgment on this book. If the third book in the series turns out to be as good as the first, then it’ll be worth reading this one just so that you can complete the series. If the third book is like this one, or slips further downhill, then I’ll probably end up recommending that you stop with the first book. Either way, I intend to come back after I read books three and four to let you know whether it’s worth continuing!

Quick note: There’s a good handful of sex scenes in the book, so it isn’t for children.

Epilogue: Having now read the third book in the series, Destiny, I can say that I believe it was worth having read “Prophecy.” While book three has its own flaws, the sweeping climax was worth the bumpy ride. Even better, book four–Requiem for the Sun–is a stunning continuation of the series in which Haydon truly comes into her own!

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