I’ve decided to abandon the structured review for a more free-flowing style, which I feel suits me better. I’ve found that in describing a writer’s style, it changes very little from book to book and can become repetitive, so I’m going to focus more on my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve read rather than a pre-defined layout.
Wrath of the Bloodeye is fifth book in the Last Apprentice series (see my earlier review for the fourth book, Attack of the Fiend). This one comes in at 511 pages, so it’s a slightly smaller than the previous book, and with large fonts and a smaller-sized hardback, it makes for a quick 2-3 day read.
The last book saw the release of the Fiend (the Devil), who has it in for Tom. As a result, the Spook decides Tom needs more intense training and sends him to one of the Spook’s former apprentices, Bill Arkwright. Bill is farther north in lake country, which allows for all kinds of trouble with water witches, the worst being Morwena, also known as the Bloodeye.
This is probably the darkest book of the series. Tom suffers some abuse at the hands of Bill, who is not only a stern taskmaster but also an alcoholic prone to fits of rage. I found this uncomfortable, as it hits a little close to home for me. What it also does is make the supporting characters seem far more real than they have in past entries. Bill is a flawed, wounded individual, and wonderfully written.
We also get lots more time with Grimalkin, who I have mentioned is the most intriguing character to me. We learn much about her motivations and backstory, and some things begin to make sense regarding her character.
Alice’s love for Tom is now very clear at this point, as they exchange a kiss in the book. It is a bittersweet moment, however, as she continues to use whatever means she can to keep Tom safe, means which infuriate the Spook and lead to serious consequences and revelations at the end of the book.
It seems as if the Spook will not have a prominent role in this story, since Tom is sent off to train with Bill. But he shows up in about the last third of the book, for reasons I’ll explain below. The Spook is still a curious character. He seems to care about Tom, but he is becoming more and more resistant to having Alice around. He believes Tom is too careless and ignorant at times, and sending Tom to Bill is an attempt to toughen Tom up for a confrontation with the Fiend.
As I stated above, this is the darkest book so far, which made for some emotional connections to the story. As Tom is suffering abuse at the hands of Bill, I sympathized with Tom and wanted him to strike back. Unfortunately, whenever he does this it just makes things worse. At the same time, it’s hard to feel sorry for Tom, because in this story it becomes clearly apparent what his greatest flaw is – he is disobedient to both Bill and the Spook, and disobedience has consequences. I’m not condoning Bill’s abuse, but Tom could make it easier on himself by just doing what he’s told. Here’s an example of how bad Tom has it after he enters a room in Bill’s house that he was told to stay out of:
“Arkwright came bounding down the stairs and ran right at me. For a moment I thought he was going to hit me with the bottle, but he used his right hand to clout me across my left ear. Trying to dodge the blow, I over-balanced, lost my footing, and crashed onto the hall floor. I looked up, my head ringing, gasping for breath. I felt stunned and nauseous: The fall had driven all the breath from my body. Arkwright lifted his boot and I thought he was going to kick me, but instead he crouched close to my head, his furious eyes glaring into mine.”
Later, there is a part of the story where Bill is taken by water witches. Whether he is dead or alive at this point of the book is irrelevant. Tom was now thoroughly and totally, alone. Up against a whole pile of water witches, alone. Against the Bloodeye, alone. With the Fiend out there looking for him. This part of the story I found riveting. How would Tom handle being on his own, with no assistance? I began to not just read what it would be like to be the Spook, fighting all sorts of evil, by yourself, but instead I began to feel what it would be like.
Just when things seem to have taken a turn for the worse, the Spook re-enters the story. It’s not in a good way, however, as a trap has been set for him. Again we are treated to an intense and compelling portion of the story:
“The next moment there was no doubt. The Spook was walking down the quay toward me carrying his staff and bag, his footsteps echoing. I suppose we noticed each other at exactly the same moment because no sooner had I set eyes on him than he came to a halt. He stared at me for a long time before continuing more slowly. I knew he would have worked out that it was a trap. Why else would I be tied up like that in full view? So he could either retreat and make his escape or come forward and hope that he could deal with whatever had been prepared. I knew he wouldn’t leave me – so it was no choice at all.”
From there we move to the final climactic battle, in which Grimalkin makes her appearance. There is less Deus Ex Machina in this book, as Tom relies on his skills and assistance from others, although he does seem to use his ability again in the final conflict. However, now that this ability has been established, it is less disconcerting than its use in the previous story. After the battle we move on to the bittersweet ending, and a tension is established between Tom and the Spook. Will it eventually drive them apart? Add in the appearance of the Fiend and a major bombshell about someone close to Tom, and you probably have the gloomiest ending to a book in the series to date. But it’s also the best book of the series. It is a darker, thrilling read, and Delaney keeps getting better. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the next story…
The Gypsy Morph is the third book in the Genesis of Shannara cycle, a prequel to the Sword of Shannara and a bridge between that world and Brooks’s The Word and the Void series. It is about equal in size to many of his other works at 402 pages.
Brooks is a polarizing figure in fantasy. Some people refuse to read his books because the Sword of Shannara was derivative of the Lord of the Rings. While that certainly is true, all of the material Brooks has written since then has been his own creation. As far as I’m concerned, his books have been entertaining, though some occasionally bog down with characters spinning their wheels for pages and pages. You’ll find none of that here, as The Gypsy Morph is an action-packed conclusion to the series.
Pacing & Structure
As stated above, there is a lot of action in this story. Brooks keeps the pace moving at a good clip, and I wasn’t bored at any point of the book. There is less detail on characters and environment due to a focus on the action. The chapter placements are excellent, usually if I needed a stopping point, I could find one in 10 pages or less. There are multiple viewpoints, as the story moves between Angel Perez (Knight of the Word), Kirisin (elf), Logan Tom (another Knight of the Word) and Hawk (the Gypsy Morph). Much of the story focuses on Kirisin’s attempt to get the Elves into the Loden and move them to the Promised Land. Transitions between viewpoints in the story generally work well, although Hawk has the least amount devoted to him because, let’s face it, he’s just leading people somewhere and not actually doing anything. Still, most characters have the entire chapter (or several succeeding chapters) devoted to their viewpoint, which I really like as opposed to, say, Steven Erikson, who jumps around from person to person within the same chapter.
Brooks makes it easy to care for his characters, because they are likable and have traits we admire. On the downside, they don’t seem realistic because they don’t have any flaws. Even worse, Brooks continues to recycle characters, with Kirisin being just like any other elf, Logan Tom being like druids, Hawk being like any Ohmsford (take your pick). Characters that don’t fit into the recycled theme, like Cat, Panther, and Angel, get very little time devoted to them. Hawk and Kirisin are portrayed as underdogs, yet nothing can really stand against their magic. The characters’ motivations do seem to justify their actions…they are doing everything they can to keep from being destroyed by demons, though I really didn’t find Cat and Panther going off on their own to be believeable. And is Findo Gask the worst name ever made for a villian? I want to say yes, but the Klee is just as bad.
The descriptions of the environment are adequate for the story. Since I live in the Columbia Gorge area of Washington, I’m quite familiar with the area presented in the story – nothing seems contradictory to what I know. The history/backstory is severely lacking in the book. Questions I had after the Elves of Cintra are still unresolved. Never does Brooks bother to explain where the elves came from, where the Ellcrys came from, or for that matter where the Elfstones, the Loden, and the King of the Silver River originated. It almost reeks of plans for another prequel to be written to answer these questions that should already be explained.
The threat to the characters is not exactly credible, with holes in logic you could drive a truck through. Why send only the Klee to destroy Hawk if he’s such a threat, why not use several demons and overwhelm him? Why did the Klee snap the neck of a harmless old man easily, but then suddenly turn away and allow Angel, a serious threat as a Knight of the Word, to live, when it could have destroyed her easily? Findo Gask seems to have limitless power, but constantly sends minions to do his work, even after they’ve shown a consistent propensity to fail. Why not come after Kirisin and take the Loden himself?
Plot and Overall Impressions
This is not a typical Shannara book, which usually involves retrieving a talisman to defeat an evil magic. In this case, the talismans are already obtained, and now it’s just a matter of escaping to the promised land in a mass exodus. As with all his previous Shannara novels, Brooks uses magic as a Deus Ex Machina to allow his characters to overcome the opposition. The Knights of the Void seem to have limits, but the power of the Elfstones seems limitless. Also, the series implies throughout that only Kirisin can use the Elfstones, but then his sister suddenly can? Due to this use of magic, the ending was predictable, although I had suspected it would be more akin to the bittersweet ending found in the Elfstones of Shannara, and it turned out to be different.
Usually I have a problem with Brooks’s style as the story bogs down and the characters spin their wheels – this was a huge problem for me in the Scions of Shannara cycle, but I didn’t notice it here as much, probably due to the fast pace.
In conclusion, it seems like this book should be a terrible read. Yet somehow I am still entertained by Brooks…I still get sucked into the story and want to ready more. Maybe it’s that I have so much time invested in the Shannara world, it feels familiar and comfortable. Maybe it’s the fast pace and lots of action, which I love in a fantasy novel. But most likely it is the fact that I know going in what I’m going to get. I’m not reading a bloated Wheel of Time book full of braid pulling and spankings, or a preachy Goodkind novel…I’m reading pulp fantasy that delivers in exactly the same way it has for 20+ years. Good or bad, love him or hate him, Brooks’s voice is consistent, and sometimes that’s good enough for me.