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Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks

Format: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

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.

November 20, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks

Format: Hardback, First Edition, 2011

Pages: 388

Reading Time: about 8 hours

 

The Measure of the Magic is the sequel to Bearers of the Black Staff. You can find my review of that book here:

https://hippogriff.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/book-review-bearers-of-the-black-staff-by-terry-brooks/

I had a lot of problems with Bearers of the Black Staff, and those issues still persist in The Measure of the Magic. Let’s take a look at them one by one…

Interest Level: This did not improve for me. If anything, it worsened with the deaths of characters in the previous book that I was interested in. I must say I’m growing weary of Mr. Brooks focusing on young teenagers as his main protagonists. Older characters seem to exist only as villains or mentors.

Villains: My complaint about uninspired villains remains. The focus of this book shifts from scheming humans to – a demon. Demons have been used extensively by Brooks in many of his stories, and have become a bit repetitive. This one somehow survives Armageddon, and although he pursues the bearer of the black staff, he never appears in the previous series where there were more staffs being used, and used far more frequently. At one point of the story this demon shoots green flame from his fingertips in a scene that is reminiscent of Palpatine’s attack on Mace Windu and Yoda in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Plot: again, we’ve made no progress here. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I’m supposed to care about the people of the valley, but they remain nameless and faceless. Even worse, an entire village follows the demon blindly despite witnessing his blatant murder of a respected town elder, then they are marched out of the valley and slaughtered by Trolls. The King of the Silver River makes an appearance, and it is implied that he has some knowledge of the future, because he says that Pan must confront the demon. Yet the King of the Silver River is only interested in protecting Pan; the previous bearer of the staff, the villagers who are slaughtered, and another main character that dies are of no significance. So in essence, the actions of Hawk in The Gypsy Morph, in which he saves people from Armageddon, changes nothing, as the descendants of those saved are wiped out anyway. Now I realize that the valley is populated by more people than the village of Glensk Wood; however, none of those other people lift a finger to help defend against the invading trolls. This paints those other people as self-serving and naive, so I ask again: why should I care what happens to these people?

Continuity: I expressed some misgivings about plot points and characters missing that tie into the previous books. This has changed a little bit with the return of The King of the Silver River. Are the Word and the Void no longer “entities”? Why? I had wondered about the Ellcrys, but I believe it is holding back demons from the time of Fairie; demons walking the earth in this series and the last were created by the Void, from men who chose to become evil. I’m still curious to see how Brooks gets from here to the events in First King of Shannara.

The book isn’t awful, but it’s far from the best Brooks has to offer. Hopefully he turns that around in a forthcoming series, and for now I’ll give him the opportunity. Another book like these last two, however, and I’ll have to find other alternatives.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

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 villian, 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.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks

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.

Characterization

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.

Environment

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.

Opposition

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.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment