One thing to note at the outset: Elizabeth Hayden is just a good writer. Tight phrasing, concise character development, she is a writer from the old school. many modern writers allow so much vernacular or poor phrasing into their stories, thinking of it as a stylistic. All it does is point to the simplicity of their writing. Hayden's story telling is masterful.
|No great fanfic of what Rhapsody looks like, this is my guess, Taylor Swift|
|Achmed, by MeetmebytheSea, Deviant Art|
In fact this can be said of all of her main characters and some of the lesser. Achmed the Snake, her assassin friend is a great example of that, a man who is a cold-blooded killer, who despite our desire to like him, remains a merciless bastard well into the third book in the series where he threatens to murder children. On the other hand he develops a real and abiding affection for Rhapsody and becomes her protector. He also wields a truly neat weapon, an unusual device that is a crossbow/sling that fires off steel discs about the size of your hand at great speed. Unusual or magical weaponry is part of what makes fantasy great! The last character note on Achmed is that a turning point in his character occurs well before the entire story begins, through flashbacks and story telling you learn how he was broken. Not broken to become the bad ass assassin that he is, broken from being that bad ass and starting to flee for his life. Which, is how we first meet him. Hayden accomplishes this very simply in iust a few lines, and it seems utterly horrific. Like I said, tight writing.
There are many great characters, however it deserves mention that at least one of the three main characters is very simplistically drawn, the half ogre Grunthor, who speaks in a cockney accent and "sure loves tha lil' miss". Still he is a character intended to draw your affection, and to anchor you in the story, and he accomplishes both adroitly.
Cliche: In doing research for this section (yes, I do research, I ran across a truly excellent website, www.tvtropes.org. They have an interesting quote on their front page, that I thought I'd reproduce for you: "Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations." They differentiate them from cliches, which is fine. For my purposes I will continue to call them cliches simply to keep my posting and listing of them, paralleled. In Rhapsody, I will simply list them to start, as usual, where I haven't mentioned them before I will give them names. The Power of Names, the Broken Homeland, star crossed lovers, Welsh, Dungeons and Dragons, the BFG (or the Shrek), the Fallen Woman, the Bard, A Time to Remember, the Great Tree, The Druids, the sleeping child, the purification, the wise old man, the Greedy dragon. Phew: there are more, but I can't go on forever.
The Power of Names: this cliche is one of the most basic in fantasy, and in its cousin angel/demon/ghost/vampire lit. The concept that to know the name of a thing is to have power over it. This sort of cliche harkens to the Islamic belief of not being pictured or the Indian belief in totems, the Christian belief of not naming the devil, or the Jewish belief of not naming, or writing the name of God. In this case, Rhapsody is a Namer, an invention of Hayden's and it basically means she has the power to rename a thing, thus breaking the yoke of someone else knowing your true name, or healing or protecting someone through the power of knowing their true name. It's a neat concept and it was well done. A concept Patrick Rothfuss, knowingly, or unknowingly aped in developing his Name of the Wind series.
|The Fall of Atlantis, by Gaius31duke at Deviant Art|
|Romeon and Juliet, outside the Papp Theatre in NYC|
Welsh: While this is more of a theme then a cliche, as fantasy has its roots In western folklore, it's only natural when words, phrasings, names and character types hail from one of those old world tribes. In this case, the folklore of Wales, names like Gwydion abound, double ffs and silent Ls. Lloyd Alexander's chronicles of Prydain used this cliche, and certainly T. H. White's Once and Future King, (though King Arthur was supposedly Welsh to begin with, so perhaps calling it a cliche is unfair.)
Dungeons and Dragons: anyone who has read my reviews know what I'm talking about. Elves, dwarves, ogres, dragons, races and character classes. Hayden has given them new names, but it really wasn't necessary, most of the corollaries are pretty obvious: Lirin are elves, a spiritual race that adores nature, nain are dwarves, the firbolg are ogres. One cliche breaker that Hayden uses here to great effect is that the races are seldom pure, half breeds and mixed bloods abound. And in fact, much like real life evolution, old races die out or evolve to newer or different forms, it isn't until you go back hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of years that you see the first five progenitor races, which include the dragons, and the devils, the F'dor.
BFG: the Big Friendly Giant reference might be a little dated, and I have no idea if kids still read Roald Dahl in school. The BFG concept is simple: a big scary monster, is actually the sweetest character in the book, supposedly shedding light on how poorly behaved we humans can be. A good example from the Belgarion, was Barack, but even his character has more depth than Grunthor. Who just seems like a really sweet guy.
|Lena Headley as Queen Cersei from HBO's #GOT|
|There were a great many to choose from, but I just liked this image|
A Time to Remember: Time travel is not fantasy specific, in fact, very few fantasy novels use this device at all. When they describe the past, it's through flashbacks or reminiscing. In this story the central plot point, is caused by the removal of a modern man to several thousand years prior to fall in love with a woman and leave her, after promptly deflowering her. Also, as nearly all the characters in this book are long-lived, some are simply immortal and choose suicide after thousands of years of grief. There are a few other notables from the overall genre that use the cliche, including the DragonLance historian Astinus. The man stands outside of time, and writes the history of the world, but at the same time he maintains a temporal residence on Krynn and people can visit him. Feist's Magician series has the dragonriders whose dragons can see their own deaths and are themselves long lived to the thousands of years.
The Great Tree and Druids: this is a neat concept, and a very green one. The elvish cliche holds that elves live in the forest, but frequently within those forests live other creatures of the woods, unicorns and dryads and ents, and massive trees the size of mountains. I like this cliche for two reasons, one it's primeval fantasy at work, this mythos reaches back to antiquity, and perhaps because of that, it finds its way into other types of literature. Some examples include Martin's heart trees in the North, Weis and Hickman's brothers Majere lived in Solace, a town built on such massive trees. Several iterations of the Robinhood myth have the Prince of Thieves residing in the trees, and of course Tolkien's forests are primeval to the extreme, featuring giant spiders, massive trees, ents, you name it. In Rhapsody's world, there are two or three such trees and their root system is so massive that they span the entire crust of the planet, reaching almost to the planet's fiery core. There is, on the surface, a group of mixed race Druids who live in the shadows of the great trees and serve its needs.
|Because why not add Jean Grey?|
The Sleeping Child: The sleeping child is a very common religious theme, here's how it goes, the Earth is actually a dragon, who settled down for a nap millions of years ago, and hasn't woken up. One day he shall wake up, and the destruction of the world is assured. I had difficulty tracing the origins of this particular myth. I had thought it was Norse because of a review I read last year, but since then I have been unable to dig it up. That said, it's existence in popular culture is very obvious. For one, Steven Erikson's Malazan epic, is based on the idea of Burn's Sleep. Burn is the being at the center of the earth, and it is she that the Crippled God has poisoned, because he wishes to destroy the world. Another good example would be the Hellfire Club of X-men renown. The Hellfire Club worship the Phoenix, who they believe has been dormant in the center of the Earth, and will wake up one day, inhabit a young hot red head and "reform" the planet. In Hayden's world, the F'dor, the demons locked in a gravity well at the center of the Earth, want to wake up the Sleeping Child, in this case an enormous dragon. The dragon will wake up, shed the earth around it, and raize the rest. What's kind of cool about Rhapsody, is that you actually get to see part of the dragon and get a sense of its immensity. Sidebar: Googling the "sleeping child/dragon at the center of the earth' was an education on just how crazy the internet is, and the Tennessee Valley Authority should never have been brought into existence if it meant these people got electricity, and fifty years later, the internet. I'm also disappointed to note that I couldn't find a single appropriate image for this motif, which leads me to believe it is not as common as I thought. Or the internet failed.
The Purification: This is a common fictional motif, where the hero undergoes some sort of test, some sort of a cleansing, and comes out stronger, more peaceful of mind, and frequently with other powers. This occurs all over the Malazan epic, when the Bridgeburners gain ascendancy, the Bonehunters survive the conflagration at Y'ghitan, Tattersail dying in the warren of Tellann only to be reborn a soletaken. Gandalf the Grey, of course, becomes Gandalf the White after falling through the center of the earth and displacing Saruman. In this case, Rhapsody does just that, passing through the center of the earth. I like Purification cliches because the transformation from dark to light seems innately pleasing to me. They also supply ample reasons for what in Malazan terms is ascendancy, the concept of gaining godhood or improved powers. We videogamers live for such moments.
|One of my favorite images, the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, before they plummet through the earth|
I'm not going to bother with The Wise Old Man, or the Greedy Dragon Cliche. This post is too long already, and they seem fairly obvious as cliches.
Scope: Hayden's world certainly lives and breathes, so from that perspective it is a very successful fantasy novel. The world does not seemed hurried or vague, and if it borrows perhaps a wee bit much from the most common cliches, having them all together in one world creates a very unique sense of the faerie. One thing the plot suffers from is that the story is almost entirely told from the perspective of Rhapsody and her companions. While that isn't necessarily a problem, it sometimes can feel like naught occurs in the world without our single-camera focus. While there are other events that occur over time, in the next book, and the one thereafter, the details of what occur elsewhere are fairly general and do not provide the greatest depth.
Magic: Magic in Rhapsody takes many different forms. Rhapsody herself, through her art of Naming, is the practitioner of one type, the F'dor, shapeshifters also wield fire. The various races have magic innate to their own races, and of course, dragons and druids have their own forces. All in all, it's a hodgepodge. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it adds to the sense of a bazaar of magic. And at anyrate, it's hardly alone in classic fantasy. That said, it does seem to fall victim to Sanderson's rule. Meaning, it can become a plot device to extricate the author from a sticky situation. Having rules regarding magic is important, and when done well can lead to very creative fixes.
|Korlat and Whiskeyjack, I wish I knew whose art...|
Theme: The last category, always hardest to describe is also where I'll stick some general notes about the book. As stated in the first paragraph, this book is often described as a romance. And that is probably the best indicator of theme, the notes of high romance, long-lost love, unbelievably good sex, is omnipresent. It's also irritating. Fantasy isn't fantasy to me without a little romance. I like the guy to get the girl, or vice versa, or whatever, whenever possible. That said, even George R. R. Martin is a bit shy about the actual act of describing coitus. The sex is often implied, sometimes spelled out, but it is always brief. Rhapsody has several love making scenes throughout the series, and they go on just a page too long. And sex's handmaiden, love is their in spades. When love is mature, filled with anxiety, and tinged with bitterness, I'm on board, but sometimes the lovemaking can get a little saccharine. It certainly did in Jim Butcher's Furies series, and it does here as well. I don't know why it bothers me so. Is it a failing on my part? I'd like to believe that it is not. Afterall, there are times when love in fantasy really does break my heart, as in Whiskeyjack's doomed romance with Korlat. One last aspect of the theme, which is quite appealing is that the story is often times like a murder mystery. The story is framed around a love affair that is 2,000 years dead. And began a war that lasted 500 years. The details of which take three novels to flesh out. It's an excellent plot device.
If you haven't read Hayden's Rhapsody series. You should read the first book at least. It's a book of many tropes, it's true. But it is also a very well written book. That cannot be understated. And if you've a mind for romance, then this book may be exactly your speed.