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Rhapsody
Elizabeth Haydon
Tor Books, 479 pages

Rhapsody
Elizabeth Haydon
Elizabeth Haydon is an editor who works in educational publishing. Rhapsody (first in a planned trilogy) is her first novel.

Elizabeth Haydon Website
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Excerpt: Rhapsody

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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Rhapsody is a former prostitute turned Singer, practitioner of a musical magic that manipulates reality by use of the true names of things. Fleeing from an irate former client, Rhapsody begs protection from a pair of strangers she encounters in an alley. In the process, accidentally, she calls upon her Naming ability, and re-Names one of them.

The re-Named man -- once known as the Brother, now called Achmed -- is a professional assassin on the run from the demon who enslaved him. Rhapsody's inadvertent use of her craft, it turns out, has done more than just change his name: it has altered his essential nature, thereby breaking the demon's hold. Knowing the demon will never rest until it has found its former slave, Achmed and his companion -- a giant, green-skinned ex-Sergeant named Grunthor -- decide to seek refuge in a place of power greater than the demon's: within the root system of Sagia, the sacred white oak that stands in the forest where time began, and is tied to all things that grow. Because of Rhapsody's magical strength, and also because they aren't certain they won't need her to change Achmed's name back again, Achmed and Grunthor kidnap her, and take her with them underground.

Travelling Sagia's enormous root system, which extends to every part of the earth, the three reluctant companions gradually become fast friends. Their journey takes them through the fire at the heart of the world, which transforms all of them in some way; they also encounter the Primal Wyrm, asleep within the earth. When at last they emerge, in a strange land on the other side of the world, they discover, to their shock, that more than fourteen centuries have passed while they were underground. As they explore the unfamiliar country, colonized by the descendants of their own ancestors, they begin to recognize the workings of a frighteningly familiar evil. They aren't the only ones, it seems, who successfully crossed time and space. Achmed may not have escaped his nemesis after all.

In true epic fantasy fashion, Rhapsody is a big book (the page count, relatively restrained for Big Fantasy, is achieved by means of cramped print and small margins). Yet there's never a sense of padding. The plot developments flow logically one from the next, without gratuitous subplots and points of view. The many detailed, atmospheric descriptions enhance the depth of the story without slowing it or tipping over the line into excess (the sex scenes are an exception, but fortunately there aren't many of them).

Rhapsody, Grunthor, and Achmed are likable, multi-dimensional protagonists with believable motivations. The trust and affection that grows between them during their journey underground is nicely rendered -- one of the best things in the book, in fact. Haydon's world building is also solid, drawing on a variety of cultural and mythic traditions to craft convincing societies with plausible timelines and interesting histories. She's especially good at avoiding info-dumping, weaving explanations and information easily into the action -- quite a feat, given the amount of complex background there is in this book.

The novel does lose tension when Rhapsody and the others emerge from underground; and its second half, which relies on some fairly standard fantasy tropes and allows character development to fall into the background, lacks the gripping originality of the beginning. Overall, though, Rhapsody is a strong debut, sure to please fans of fantasymeisters such as Eddings and Jordan. It's also obviously the first in a series, with many mysteries unresolved and story threads left hanging at book's end. To Haydon's credit, there's no cliffhanger: the main plot points are carefully wrapped up. Readers will be left satisfied for the moment, while still eagerly anticipating the further adventures of Rhapsody and her friends.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.


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