Pages: 366 (not including a 5 page preview of Bloodfire Quest)
Reading Time: about 7 hours
Wards of Faerie is the first book in The Dark Legacy of Shannara series. After the debacle of The Legends of Shannara series, I vowed that unless things changed, I was done with Shannara. Inspired by Aidan’s review over at A Dribble of Ink, I decided to give Wards of Faerie a shot. The good news is that Wards of Faerie is an entertaining story, with a few minor flaws. Minor spoilers to follow.
First, let me say I was puzzled not to find a map at the front of the book, a staple of nearly all Shannara books. I was having trouble remembering where places were located and had to refer to a map in another book. About halfway through the book, I turned to the back to view the nice double-page color insert painted by Todd Lockwood, which reminded me of earlier days when Hildebrandt paintings where found in The Sword of Shannara. Only when I had unfolded the artwork did I observe the full color map on the backside of the insert. Oh well…
The story has thankfully moved back to the “current timeline”, set after the events of The High Druid of Shannara series. From that previous story, only one familiar face remains: Khyber Elessedil, the young girl in the previous entry who is now Ard Rhys of the Druids. Thanks to the Druid Sleep, she has outlived all of her contemporaries from the last series. However, while she is one of the main characters of the story, the focus this time around is on two related descendants of the Elessedil family tree, Aphenglow and Arlingfant. Aphenglow is also a Druid, but because Druids aren’t trusted by anyone, she is an outcast to her people. Her recovery of a diary detailing the missing elfstones (not the blue or black ones, but others) sets the story in motion. For a good synopsis of the story, check out this post by SFRevu.
Brooks is a polarizing figure in literature, and a study in contrasts. Either you love the consistency and familiarity of Elessedils, Ohmsfords, Leahs, the Ellcrys, the Forbidding, demons, magic quests, talismans, and Druids; or, you find it repetitious. Either you find Brooks’s prose accessible and fast-paced; or, you find it simplistic and shallow. I can understand both sides, but maybe the strangest aspect is I can see both sides at the same time, while I’m reading. There were times when I would find his phrasing clumsy, find plot devices forced, and the story predictable and all-too-familiar; yet I would also admit to being engaged in the story, and grateful for not being bogged down in the details, allowing for a past-paced read. This is Brooks’s gift and also his curse, which will keep long-time readers satisfied, but drive away potential new readers.
I was very intrigued about the plot centering around a mystery and a quest for adventure. However, by the end of the book we are back in save-the-world mode. This once again leads to one of my long-standing criticisms of Brooks’s work: what makes the world worth saving? We know that the heroes are good people, but what about the people of the land? They remain nameless, faceless, and utterly obscure. Those that we do get glimpses of in Arborlon, the Federation, and Varfleet, seem petty and self-serving. Brooks must rely on the strength of rooting for his heroes to carry the story; fortunately, he has proven adept in this over the years, and this story is no different. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing new in this story. Everything from the politicians of the Federation, the Elven Council, the attack on Paranor, the quest for magic, the Ellcrys, the Wishsong, and the heroes themselves – it’s all been done before. Brooks’s stories have shined when he has introduced new elements – The Word and The Void, Shadowen, the Isle Witch, the Wishsong and the Ildatch – these new ideas breathed life into those stories and felt fresh. There’s none of that here so far.
There are also many questions raised that are unanswered, and some plot devices feel forced. Brooks even asks some of those questions himself in the story. How does someone immediately know that Aphenglow has found something important? Why do they try to kill her? We can only hope that the next two books provide answers to these questions – otherwise it leaves gaping plot holes that you can drive a truck through. At one point in the story, Bombax is kidnapped. How did Stoon know that Bombax would travel to Varfleet, and then be able to react so quickly, when there is no way communication could travel to Stoon that fast? Since this plot thread only exists to explain how Paranor could fall from within, it feels wrong. The romance between Aphenglow and Bombax also feels unbelievable. While this first book is a setup book meant to develop the characters – and for the most part does a decent job – not enough time is spent on minor characters like Bombax to understand why Aphenglow is attracted to him, at times in an almost fanatical way (yet their separation is largely met with mild acceptance by Aphenglow). In fact, when it comes to character development, the entire Druid Council feels woefully underdeveloped. I do applaud the fact that an aged Khyber Elessedil is the character in charge, instead of simply being a mentor or villain, which Brooks is wont to do with his older characters. We do still have young protagonists in Aphenglow, Arlingfant, and the Ohmsford twins, which are essential to the Shannara formula.
The ending is a cliffhanger – just when it feels like the story is picking up steam, it’s over all too quickly. Due to the fact that much of the book was spent setting up the story and developing the main characters, I would expect the sequels to be of a faster pace and focused more on the plot, which will likely consist of two separate quests. At the end of the book is a 5 page preview of Bloodfire Quest, book 2 in the series. The good news is that releases are planned in six month intervals instead of a year, which means by summer of next year this series will be resolved. It makes me wonder if this series (or at least Wards of Faerie) wasn’t already near completion when he decided to write and release The Legends of Shannara instead.
Although it seems I’m rather critical of the book, I was still entertained, and didn’t want to put it down, and it is far superior to The Legends of Shannara. While enjoyment requires acceptance of repetition, unanswered questions, and forced plot devices, it’s rather easy to set all of that aside and just get lost in the story. If you’re a Brooks fan – and by that I mean you’ve enjoyed later entries such as The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara or The High Druid of Shannara series – I think you’ll enjoy this. If you stopped reading Brooks long ago and want to jump back in, I’d recommend The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara series first. If you are a new reader looking for a place to start, I would start at The Sword of Shannara and work your way forward to this point. I would only recommend the prequels (The Word and the Void, The Legends of Shannara) to hardcore fans.