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.