April 01, 2003

Rhapsody, by Elizabeth Haydon

My brother recommended this book to me, along with its two sequels, just before I left for Australia; he said that he and my sister-in-law had rather enjoyed it. I was out buying a new suitcase, and on a whim stopped at a bookstore to see if they were available. They were, and I bought them. I packed the second and third books (Prophecy and Destiny) in my checked luggage, and brought this first book along to read on the plane.

As with Everything's Eventual, this was a mistake. Not because it's a bad book--it isn't. It's the story of a young woman who calls herself Rhapsody. She's a Singer, on the verge of becoming a Namer; which is to say that she's a bard, in a world in which bardic songs have real power. She's brave, brash, and clever; she's also good looking, and is much sought after by a admirer, a military commander who call himself Michael the Wind of Death. Michael is a confirmed sadist, and Rhapsody sees no reason to have anything to do with him. And then Michael sends his troops after her, and she's forced to flee.

As it happens (this is an epic fantasy, after all), she runs into the arms of the only people who can help her--a mismatched pair of killers on the run from their demon master. The three of them flee from Michael's forces (leaving quite a few of them dead) in search of a secret and magical passage to the other side of the world.

And therein lies the problem. After a number of scenes to get the ball rolling, the first part of the book consists primarily of a long, torturous slog through the center of the earth. A lot of character development occurs, along with a few pertinent adventures, but most of that part is simply a painful endless ordeal of trudging, trudging, trudging through cramped, confined tunnels while fighting off nasty vermin. And whenever I looked up from the book during this phase, I found myself in my seat at the back of the plane--a plane in which the shades were drawn, the main lights were off, and most of the reading lights were off as well. I was cramped and confined, and while I was sitting instead of trudging the flight still seemed endless. And the cabin of a dark plane does look rather like a tunnel

Needless to say, this did not help my mood, which was not good to begin with.

But none of that is really the fault of the book or its author. It's a competently written epic fantasy, and considered dispassionately I enjoyed it. Especially the parts I read after I got off the plane. I'm looking forward to the subsequent volumes.

However, I do have a few complaints. First, this is a Big Story with a vengeance--the fate of the world depends on Rhapsody and her two friends. Second, the story depends greatly on ancient history, and on creatures and people who have survived from ancient times. J.R.R. Tolkien managed to pull that off, but he spent years on the historical background, purely for his own enjoyment, before he wrote the books that made his reputation. In the hands of other authors the result usually seems rather comic book.

But mainly, the book is too darned long. I'd estimate that the book could be trimmed quite a bit without affecting the plot or the character development in the slightest.

It's hard to know what to say about this book. It's not perfect; parts of it are too long, for one thing. A little more editing could have taken care of that. And it's a bit comic book, too; like so many fantasy writers these days, she's forgotten that in fantasy some things must remain mysterious and evocative. She's a systematizer, and it shows, and that's not entirely a good thing.

But anyway. It's a competently written epic fantasy, and is certainly worthy of your time if you like that sort of thing. I'm looking forward to the later books.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 1, 2003 04:34 PM