The Merchant Emperor: Revisiting a series I fell in love with long ago

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon fantasy book reviewsThe Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

The Merchant Emperor is the seventh book in the SYMPHONY OF AGES series by Elizabeth Haydon. This series happens to be one of the first epic fantasy series I ever read, but that was years ago. I was excited about this book, but also reluctant. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited this world, and my memory isn’t what it used to be due to numerous cancer treatments.

According to the publisher, The Merchant Emperor is a good entry point to the series for new readers. Knowing how fantastic my memory was, I decided to give The Merchant Emperor a shot without revisiting the previous books to refresh my memory first.

The good thing is that Haydon really infuses this book with plenty of backstory and character building. New readers will appreciate that. Readers like me will enjoy how it triggers memories. Readers who are more familiar with this series will probably find the history a bit redundant at times. That being said, I’m not certain that this book is a good entry point into the series. While Haydon does a great job filling in the gaps, I think a lot of the impact and attachment will be lost without previous books.

The Merchant Emperor is told through multiple perspectives, some that readers will already know and be familiar with, others that are new. The characters are all a unique blend of individual and memorable, mixed with some tropey traits. For example, at time Rhapsody can be a bit too saccharine and good. Occasionally Achmed is too gruff to be believable. Ashe seems a little too perfect. That’s not new to anyone who is familiar with the series. The new characters are the same interesting mixture. All of them have distinct voices, and a fantastic blend of flaws and strengths, but none of them stray into that gray zone I love for characters very often.

The Merchant Emperor starts after a bunch of complex political and personal things have happened, and is obviously setting the stage for more. The title suggests that this will be a fairly political novel, and it is. Rhapsody and company have changed the political landscape over the previous six books in the series, and this seventh book is really setting up the stage for repercussions to take place. Of course there will be a backlash against all this change. It makes sense, and I admire Haydon for dealing with it so logically.

However, The Merchant Emperor does feel very much like a set up for something more. A lot is said, the stage is set, the pieces are in position but nothing really happens. It is really nice to revisit these characters, and I’m anticipating some pretty incredible happenings in the future installments in this series, but The Merchant Emperor felt very much like the middle book. It was the bridge between what happened before, and what is going to happen next.

The writing itself is wonderful, and the world is rich and woven together almost flawlessly. I enjoyed the expanding political and physical landscape. Haydon has the knack of making her setting so lush and rich that it is easy to become really absorbed in it. The world itself almost makes up for any lag in the plot. In fact, it really was the world and the magic that made me fall in love with the series in the first place, and that love was renewed when reading The Merchant Emperor.

In fact, despite all of the flaws, I truly had a lovely time revisiting this world and the characters I fell in love with years ago. Regardless of where they all fall on the epic Scale of Realistic Characters, it’s easy to love them and their world. Haydon has this way with infusing her writing with passion that infects her readers.

The Merchant Emperor was a fantastic revisit to a series I fell in love with a long time ago. However, I didn’t find myself as enchanted as I thought I would be. The characters felt less dynamic than I expected. The plot felt more like a setup for something more than a plot that could stand on its own. However, it isn’t all bad. Haydon’s writing really shows her skill. Lyrical and lush, the world is vibrant and alive, and it is truly is hard for me to be anything but hungry to find out what happens next.

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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  1. Paul (@princejvstin) /

    I dropped off this series after the first book for reasons I couldn’t articulate then, but might more able to, now. I did like the worldbuilding, though, a lot.

  2. This was not really on my radar because I assumed it was a fluffy romance, but now I’m thinking of trying it, especially if you and Paul like the worldbuilding.

  3. There are a lot of criticisms out there for this series but having read (all but this last one which I haven’t gotten to yet) them way back when, I still love them. I think most of the criticism is the length – it is felt by many to have very long, unnecessary passages that are dead boring. I didn’t find them so but YMMV.

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