Book Review: Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks

Format: Hardback, First Edition, 2010

Pages: 353

Reading Time: about 8 hours

It’s been 500 years since Hawk led humans and elves into the valley protected by the magic of the Gypsy Morph, a magic bestowed by The Word, as the rest of the world was pummeled by nuclear and chemical attacks. Now that magic is fading, and it’s time for the inhabitants of the valley to adapt to the new environment that has been formed, or perish.

Brooks remains an easy pleasure for me to read. His style is simplistic and provides just enough detail, and lately his stories have moved along at a fairly rapid clip. After reading an intense, dark read like Steven Erikson, reading Brooks is a nice change of pace. Having said that, I struggled with this story. It’s not that Bearers is a difficult read, but I really struggled with interest level. The story to me just wasn’t compelling. Once again we have recycled characters – Sider is the precursor to druids, Phryne is your typical elf, and Pan is like any Ohmsford. Deladion Inch is probably the most interesting character, but is not really fleshed out enough. Also Phryne’s storyline was incredibly predictable. I knew what her role was early on, because her storyline was so boring that I knew she had to be there for a reason. And I was right.

The “bad guys” I found lacking. A scheming human and a scheming elf, along with an army of trolls make up the villains, and they’re quite uninspired. The consistency of the trolls is laughable. There is a scene where one of the characters tries to free Prue from the troll camp. Before and during the rescue, the trolls allow the rescuer to live, which makes no sense, and then during the rescue attempt they are too incompetent to stop the rescuer. But later, as the rescuer flees, the trolls suddenly become able to track the rescuer for miles, through water no less, and then are presented as competent and deadly. This is in direct contrast to their actions in the troll camp.

To make matters worse, the whole “Prue is a hostage while Pan is released” makes no sense based on the troll actions I just described. If the trolls are such great trackers, why not let Prue and Pan go, track them through the pass while the army follows, and then the army marches in unopposed and destroys everyone? Of course, this wouldn’t make for a good story, so we’ve got to give the valley people a chance to build defenses. It’s the sort of logic that makes you think Brooks either didn’t think the story through, or didn’t care.

And here is where we get to the root problem of the story. Besides the shallow characterizations, I found it really hard to care about the plot. Because Brooks focuses on the main protagonists and the evil-doers, I never got a sense of why I should care about the valley being saved. We aren’t shown but a few minor characters, and so all the people in the valley remain nameless and faceless. It seems that most humans are ruled by the teachings of the cult known as the Children of the Hawk. The elves seem more noble, but have abandoned magic. So why exactly do I care about the people in the valley?

There is a deeper cause related to the ambivalence I feel about the characters, and that is Brooks dodges questions relating to characters and plot that he has created, instead focusing on what he needs to get the story out. What has happened to the Word and the Void? What has happened to the King of the Silver River? What has happened to the Ellcrys, and where are all the demons it will eventually imprison? Why was the protective magic of the valley only good for 500 years? Why was it so important for Hawk to save these people when the end result is they slip into the teachings of a cult? Maybe some of these questions will be answered in the sequel, but based on my experience with the previous series, I doubt Brooks will ever bother explaining these things – they just exist to move the plot along when he needs them to.

I did have to say I was a little surprised by the ending. Some good guys bite the dust, while not a single bad guy goes down. It’s an abrupt, cliff-hanger ending that is designed to set up the sequel. I’ll buy the sequel to finish the story, even though I have an idea about what’s going to happen. This book is also shorter, at 353 pages, than the Gypsy Morph was, at 402.

In conclusion I was disappointed with the story, mainly for the reasons I’ve described above. I really liked the Gypsy Morph, but Bearers of the Black Staff pales in comparison. There were elements of the story I liked, and I did like the backstory of Sider, which is presented in a series of flashbacks. But my overall feeling is less than satisfied – I know Brooks is capable of more.

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