Elizabeth Haydon,
Rhapsody: Child of Blood
(Tor, 2000)

While the premise of the story in Rhapsody: Child of Blood is interesting, there are too many problems that weigh it down. It is a romance novel thinly disguised as fantasy so, if you do not like romance novels beware -- it is unlikely you will like this book whatever its virtues.

Characterization was main thing that just kept interfering with my ability to enjoy the story. For example, Rhapsody, we are told at the beginning, is a woman of astounding beauty. She's of a mixed species, as are most of the other women in the book. Yet the author never explains why the heroine is so much more beautiful than any other female. And after her walk through the fire her beauty ascends to the level of a goddess. Scene after scene shows men becoming slack-jawed idiots and burning with lust at the mere sight of her. Women and children mob her like she's a movie star.

The author tries to introduce some counterbalance by giving Rhapsody two flaws -- she was briefly a prostitute in her past and she's not aware of her goddess-like beauty. Extreme beauty, if handled well, need not be a barrier to the reader believing the story. After all, Tolkien did something very similar when he wrote the tale of Beren and Luthien. Luthien was also of mixed blood but the weight of the past stories and culture made it totally believable when Tolkien wrote that Luthien was the most beautiful creature that has ever walked the earth. Not so with Rhapsody.

Had it been handled differently, those flaws might have been enough to humanize an increasingly saccharine and hard-to-believe character. Unfortunately, the prostitution explanation was very brief and the only backflash of those days shows her sleeping with a man she hated in order to prevent him from doing so with a child (the child being used as blackmail). So the very thing the author uses to try to humanize Rhapsody is undercut by showing her sacrificing herself to save a child from a horrible crime. This does not show a flaw, it's yet another aspect to the heroine we are to secretly admire.

There are similar problems with the character of Achmed. In short, he just doesn't act like an assassin. For someone who is used to bloodshed and manipulating people he just doesn't come across as the cold-hearted killer the author wants him to be. Maybe if there had been scenes where he actually was a cold-hearted assassin (instead of just telling us he is), it would be more believable.

There were many more problems with this book. That is not to say there weren't good things about it, either -- but not enough to keep me from being disappointed.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 3 May 2003

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