Science fiction and fantasy



by Elizabeth Haydon

A young man by the name of Gwydion finds himself thrust back in time by over a thousand years. It's the work of one Meridion, a mysterious figure of whom we learn very little in the course of this book. The boy meets a young half-Lirin girl, Emily, who is avoiding the local dance and the custom of the marriage lottery which she is expected to take part in. She's in no hurry to get hitched and become a farmer's wife, having itchy feet and a taste for adventure.

Gwydion wastes no time in falling for her, all the while realising that she and her family will be doomed to die if they stay where they are.

There's a certain sweetness to the beginning of this novel that makes it seem rather feminine. Don't be fooled. About 40 pages in the tone changes abruptly when we meet Grunthor, a huge Firbolg warrior, and his assassin friend known as The Brother. They're as deadly as they are ugly, and they are apt to kill in the blink of an eye as they flee the clutches of a demon.

Rhapsody, an attractive half-Lirin Singer who bears a passing resemblance to Emily, is also being hunted. Her pursuer is a sadistic and powerful man who has the town guard in his pay. They come together when Rhapsody by chance renames The Brother "Achmed", thereby breaking the spell that binds him to the demon.

"I didn't mean to be rude," she said, ..."It's just that, well, in my limited experience, Firbolg are thought of as monsters."

"And in my not-so-limited experience, Lirin are thought of as appetizers," Grunthor replied.

The three of them escape together into the bowels of the earth, via the roots of the World Tree. Rhapsody's paralyzing claustrophobia whilst she is underground is vivid and terrifying. The description is so personal and realistic, you feel as though you are right there with her as she crawls through the dank, dark crevices below the earth.

In the tradition of Tolkien, Haydon has borrowed from a number of sources to build her world. The story melds elements of Irish and Norse mythology, such as the Firbolg, dragons, the world serpent and the tree of life. However this is more than a retelling of any of those legends. Instead it's an intriguing new creation full of varied characters, imaginative monsters and dense mysteries.

I have nothing but praise for Rhapsody: it grabs you by the guts, pulling you into a world of magic and adventure that you won't want to leave. Achmed's dry humour soon grows on you, and there are subtle undercurrents of the Beauty and the Beast story that hook you in. The epic plot is a complex one, leaving you guessing what will happen next at every turn. But it is the characters who really draw your attention, with their vulnerabilities and secrets, and most of all their sheer spirit. It's impossible not to empathise with them.

This is a truly scrumptious fantasy.

5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

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