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Book Review: Rhapsodic by Laura Thalassa

Book Review: Rhapsodic by Laura Thalassa

If you like your fantasy novels dark, dangerous and simmering with all kinds of supernatural magic then Rhapsodic, the first book in Laura Thalassas Bargainer series, has everything you’re looking for. Telling the story of a sinister mystery unfolding in the Otherworld, a Siren with a dangerous debt to pay, and a notorious magical creature back after seven years to collect what he’s owed, Rhapsodic follows in the footsteps of A Court of Thorns and Roses and From Blood and Ash to deliver a tense and thrilling fantasy romance that promises much more to come.

Seven years after first calling on the Bargainer, siren Callypso has a string of over 300 magical IOUs for favours received. It’s been years since Callie last saw the Bargainer, but when she walks in to her bedroom one day to find the Bargainer lounging in her bed with a wicked grin on his lips, she knows the time has finally come for him to collect what he’s owed. Meanwhile, the Bargainer’s reappearance in Callie’s life comes as something strange is happening in the Otherworld; fae warriors are going missing and only the female fae are returned, each in a glass casket, in an unnatural suspended state, with a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers of an evil that’s been awoken too, something that puts all of the Otherworld at risk.

To save his people from this unknown threat, the Bargainer needs the help of the siren he spurned long ago. As Callie and the Bargainer find themselves sharing the same space again for the first time in years, it’s not long before old feelings rise to the surface and Callie is forced to navigate the strong connection that still exists between them and confront all the unresolved questions about how they left things. But their rekindled romance may be cut short before it’s really had a chance to spark as the Bargainer’s mysterious new enemy has a taste for exotic things, and Callie just happens to have caught his attention.

I’ve never been free of him. When the sun hits my face, it’s his shadow I see on the pavement. When the night closes in on me, it’s his darkness that blankets my room. When I fall asleep, it’s his face that haunts my dreams.”

By the end of the prologue alone, which sees our main character left covered in blood with a body at her feet and on the verge of making a dangerous deal with a mysterious figure, the tone has clearly been set for the dark fantasy story to follow, promising mystery, secrets and a compelling connection between two characters who are about to be tied together in more ways than one. There are lots of intriguing elements at play here, from the supernatural society of shifters, sirens and more, to the dark underworld of dangerous deals and deadly consequences that the Bargainer navigates. It offers a unique twist on the kinds of faerie stories that fantasy readers have read time and time again.

Despite their promise, however, these are elements that are largely left unexplored for the time being as Rhapsodicquickly proves itself to be a love story first and foremost, with Callie and the Bargainers admittedly gripping romance plot taking centre stage. This is by no means a bad thing; this is a novel that thrives on compelling character dynamics, focusing on the complicated, layered history and undeniable connection between the two characters at its heart to tell a slow burn fantasy romance story that crackles with chemistry on every page. The tension between Callie and Des is palpable, and the then and now narratives do a brilliant job of showing their relationship unfolding both in the sweeter, supportive early days when their connection was first forged and in the more intense present day reunion that pushes this story forward.

With such a strong focus on the romance plot, however, other elements of this novel do end up getting a little less attention. Callie and Desstory quickly consumes the narrative, but I would have liked to have seen more from Callie’s career as a personal investigator, for example, or more of her siren after the opening chapters provided a glimpse of those powers in action. It doesn’t help either that the story is told entirely from Callie’s POV. As she’s such a solitary figure, this means that our exposure to her supernatural world is limited, and that’s reduced even further after Des’ arrival and the shift towards the events in the Otherworld instead.

Rhapsodic is dark, violent and a tough read at times, and readers should definitely take note of the content warnings before picking this up – with child abuse and sexual violence in particular playing a significant role in the plot. But it’s also an engaging fantasy story, held down by a likeable lead and, of course, an addictive romance.

There are a few pacing issues, the world-building felt thin and the ending felt rushed, especially in the face of the slow build up that the novel used to establish all of that strong tension in the first place, but Rhapsodic also feels like it’s a promising start to the Bargainer series as a whole. Thankfully, with the entire series (including a prequel companion novel from the perspective of the Bargainer himself) now available in the UK, readers don’t have to wait at all before diving in to see what the rest of the series has in store.


Rhapsodic was published by Hodder on 10 January 2023

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