The past few months I have been rekindling my love for books and reading. It’s a love that I have neglected for years. I have finally made plans to move out of my parental house and find a place of my own this year. While doing inventory of my closet space and book shelves, it really, y’know, sparked that old flame again.
In my gusto to start reading more often again, I browse bol.com often, on the look out for some good e-books.
And there it was.
One of my old favourites: The Symphony of Ages. All seven books for like 20€.
Why the hell not? There’s nothing wrong with wallowing in nostalgia for a hot moment, I told myself.
Unfortunately, the series did not age gracefully.
BUT… I did have a lot of fun with it. It’s like when you look at pictures of you in the early 00’s and you’re wearing those damn elephant pant jeans with the vans that looked like didl feet.
There was something bugging me, though. Aside from the main gripes you have when you read books that were written in maybe a less inclusive time, I mean.
Honestly, this series have a pretty casual inclusivity concerning POC and such. It touches on some feminism, and I can appreciate that.
But as I read I started to notice something about the main character, Rhapsody. She started feeling… different the longer I read on.
A character I thought of as pretty well rounded as a teen felt completely flat now.
And I thought it strange. Because normally it’s the other way around, isn’t it? You look back on characters that you found totally boring when you were introduced to them and then, when you start to think about them with an adult brain you realize you just weren’t capable yet of understanding more complicated motivations than good = good and bad = bad.
So in the back of my mind, she felt off as a character. But she wasn’t exactly one-dimensional either.
But then, somewhere in the third book of the series, I got it.
I wish, I wish.
Rhapsody is a wishfulfillement, but it’s done coyly enough that it didn’t register with me before.
As a comparison, the Mary Sue character trope is a wish fulfillment, but part of the trope is that it’s not very subtle at all.
Rhapsodies characterization is grounded in realism enough that I wouldn’t call her an example of that trope.
Yes she is good with her sword, but we’re taken through her training process.
Yes, she speaks multiple languages, but along the way she makes linguistic mistakes because she’s not a native speaker.
Sure, Rhapsody also has the supernatural good looks, invokes boners from just her name being spoken and has OP reality influencing powers and fire powers, but that’s just fantasy MC stuff.
Good for her. She did her dues, she got the powers. I’m not here to put Rhapsody in the Mary Sue Shame Dungeon.
So… what the hell is up?
She is a wishfulfillment… in the most mundane way possible, but in the most perfect package. (Because beauty is only skin deep. Except if it comes to the main character. Than it’s an extension of how Extremely Good she is on the inside).
She is that one student in highschool you kept comparing yourself to. You know, the pretty and smart one that had it seemingly so easy and you’d kind of wish that were you because you were an exhausted ADD/anxiety riddled teenager.
Just me? Okay. I see how it is.
You know when Classic Moms describe the perfect child or the perfect man? And they have the perfect proportion of flaws to strengths? Just enough flaws to be a real human being, but perfectly good in any other way? And the things they’re better at than normal are because of happenings beyond their control?
It’s very that.
Rhapsody was already more beautiful than most, but when she travelled through the earth’s core, she was “stripped from all imperfections” and became physically perfect.
I’m sad because this could be such an interesting way to tackle a character.
If the author’s view of perfection wasn’t so damn bland, that is.
You see, as a young girl, you have this view of what the most perfect woman looks like, and it’s largely influenced by the media and images that you’ve seen throughout your young life (in movies, in tv shows, on covers of magazines, on billboards, etc.).
Most teens often doesn’t have the mental maturity yet to know those images are what everyone’s been conditionned to consider “perfect” and are, honest to god, bullshit.
It would’ve been so interesting if Rhapsody didn’t tick any boxes of the societal view on perfection.
When you’re fifteen and the image of perfection is described to you as:
Hair spillin like a golden waterfall down her back; her fair skin; her emerald green eyes; her slender/slim limbs; her flat stomach; etc. But just enough fantasy etnicity in her blood to make part of her story line that’s she’s been opressed (to give her a lil spice amiright)
You don’t even think twice about it. You just go “yes. This is what the movies have told me” and just accept it for what it is.
As an adult, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes whenever she was described (which is… a lot). Because you know look around you and you see people who don’t fulfill that beauty standard and that deserve everything but are often held back because of some insane standard society has put on them. It makes Rhapsody immediately less sympathetic. Of course there is a struggle that comes with being exceptionally beautiful and Rhapsody doesn’t have it easiest. The most notable instance of this hardship is when she involuntarily causes a riot because she had thrown off her hood in the middle of a market, but more on that later. These hardships, however, are slowly moved to the background as the books go on and she just waltzes around anyway without a care in the world by the end of the first book. Riots she caused are reduced to dropped jaws and blanc stares. She charms anyone she comes across. She becomes the fantasy of walking into a room and every conversation stops to look at you. (Also known as my biggest nightmare)
There is just something that leaves a very bad taste in my mouth when someone specific is considered the most perfect specimen of their entire species? It leaves especially a bad taste in my mouth when it basically enforces some bullshit beauty standard that is easily transferrable to reality.
Of course the only ones who are really affected by her looks are men. Something my fifteen year old self also didn’t pin point. Women are eiter in regular awe (not gay awe, regretfully) or hate her (because of course).
Anyway, like I said, “the perfect package.”
Sugar, spice and everything nice
Her character (let’s leave her looks out of it for a moment), is the perfect balance of everything.
She is motherly but doesn’t want children of her own, which leaves her detached enough to do all the things a heroin has to do but doting enough so she can dramatically sacrifice her own well being for demon spawn; or adopt a homeless teenage kid as a sister so the kid can tragically die later.
She is a fan of dresses and shopping when the opportunity arises but wears mostly practical clothing like pants and shirts.
This is of course not an unrealistic character point. Naturally, people like different dress styles for different times. What I’m knocking about this is that it’s the most perfect and reasonable stance on clothing for a woman to have by societies standard. (You know when your out and about with your mom and she comments on people passing like “Ugh who would wear that in this weather”? Rapsody would never be the person getting commented on. She’s a sensible lady, dammit.)
She is both a sex expert (due to her past in prostitution) but because her imperfections were stripped away, her hymen was restored as well
(I could talk at lenght about the gross focus these books have on virginity but I’m going to refrain);
and she herself says she has only ever wanted to sleep with her OTL (the one she met when she was 14. Yes, there was a sex scene; Yes, it was more descriptive than it needed to be; and yes, I skipped over it, because yikes)
Leaving her neither as neither the Madonna or Virgin, but the perfect balance of both.
Rhapsody never lies and always tries to do the most good, even if it means that if she fails, she would unleash a greater evil (for the conscience, you know).
Due to her past, she is mistrustful of other people. Except if some dude sends her to a gladiator ring in nearly no clothing to “retrieve a gladiator”, which leads to her getting raped. I’m not one to victim blame. I am one to call out inconsistent naivité for the excuse to write a spicy scene. (I feel bad of describing it as “spicy”, but she does have more chemistry with the dude than with her actual love interest, so… I’m a bad person, I guess?)
The Other Half
Now for such a woman, you need a Love Interest.
(A man obviously, hahahahh women can’t be attracted to women lmao. I know this because while Rhapsody causes riots of lusty men to follow her just from showing her hair, women just hate her. Except for the ones that don’t. Usually because they have something to offer her. Like sword lessons.)
It will please you then when I say that Ashe is just as incredibly perfect and bland.
Even the conflicts they have are incredibly stale and read like they’re written as a one off episode plot for a 90’s sitcom.
When she and Ashe have their bonding journey, the chemistry is so fabricated and ridiculous and usually in the form of petty fights. Not even like razzing each other because they have fun. It’s as fabricated as when parents see their toddler talking to another toddler of another gender and are like “ooooh, I can see them dating already.”
There’s a moment where Rhapsody is genuinely up in her feelings because Ashe drinks coffee and doesn’t like tea. Like, she’s actually angry about it.
I remember thinking “That’s the most Straight Woman thing I’ve ever read.”
It reads like the author took the “Healthy couples fight” way too much to heart and when she realized her main couple didn’t have any conflicting personality traits, she just hamfisted some petty fights in there.
If I wanted to hear about straight people having petty fights and dissagreements, I’d just go to family gatherings.
Ashe is the perfect love interest, in theory. He’s handsome, he’s in touch with his emotions, he has a hint of intrigue, he’s 1/16 dragon, he has an entire continent as inheritance… yet still manages to be the most boring motherfucker.
And together they are the most theoretically perfectly boring couple. And together they can start the most perfect family.
There is no real conflict in any of their characters or their relationship. Rhapsody just does the right thing without any regards of herself and without thinking twice because she’s That Person. But like, that’s not interesting enough to carry an entire series.
Ashe has like a hint of not wanting to take over the crown but immediately does anyway because it’s The Right Thing.
There’s no real build-up to their romance. Their just kind of the two most attractive people put in the same room.
The only hindrance that their relationship knows is that Rhapsody feels that to be a true monarch, he’d have to marry a woman of nobility and it’s so snore worthy and so obviously a non-event, that it could only belong to a straight couple.
Let me just tell you right now; Rhapsody’s adopted sister was raped by Ashe’s doppelganger. This posed no conflict or tension between them whatsoever. Think about it. She just immediately believes that he didn’t do it. Think about it long and hard. She knew him for like… a week (ok it was longer than that, but still.)
Ashe at one point takes away Rhapsody’s memories for plot reasons, including the one where she agreed to marry him. Afterwards, he keeps hinting that he already found a woman of royal qualities to marry, leaving Rhapsody feeling like absolute shit. This poses for far less conflict than it could’ve.
The strange part about this, is that the moment Rhapsody is in a scene with her best friends (through circumstance rather than choice, but her closest companions), she is a way more enjoyable character to read. She gets challenged in her believes and actions and throws it back at them; and, even though they all obviously care about the other, they don’t handle each other with velvet gloves.
It’ really hammers down what I don’t like about Ashe. From the slightest hint that Rhapsody is upset he just launches into pages long love confessions and it’s just… you can have your own opinions, my dude. You can have a little bit of a spine.
The strangest part about this (I lied before, this is actually the strangest part) is that it kind of gets called out in the book itself?
Achmed (Rhap’s closest friend, also kind of in love with her. I ship it.) righteously calls out that their relationship is bullshit and appearances only. He calls her out right then and there about why she loves Ashe and she… kind of doesn’t answer at all.
“Why do you hate him?”
Achmed didn’t look at her. “Why do you love him?”
She stared silently over the endless fields to the horizon, darkening now. The rosy glow of sunset was deserting the clouds, leaving only hazy gray where a moment before there had been glory. Finally she spoke, her voice soft.
“There’s no reason for love. It just is. And when it’s there, it endures, even when it shouldn’t. Even when you try to make it go away. It’s hard to make it die. I’ve learned it’s also unnecessary – and unwise. It only lessens you for it. So you accept it. YOu lock it away. You let it stay. You don’t deliberately kill love. You just don’t act on it.Book 3, chapter 10
Okay, babes, whatever you say.
Things I like aboutthe books
- interesting dragon lore
- Grunthor is the best character, change my mind
- Achmed is an absolute asshole, but here’s the thing, I love him
- Bard as a protagonist
- Actual fire sword, holla
- Water+Earth+Fire+Air= Time???