Book Review: Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks

witch wraith

Format:  hard cover, first edition, 2013

Pages:  415

Reading Time:  about 10 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: As Aphenglow and Arlingfant struggle to complete the Bloodfire quest, Railing returns from his own quest to seek Grianne, in order to help rescue his brother Redden from the Straken Lord’s captivity.


By now you know the story of how my struggles with reviewing Bloodfire Quest got the better of me and I left the book blogging world for a few years. After my return to this blog, in my review of Bloodfire Quest I talked about the opinion that Aiden of A Dribble of Ink had regarding Witch Wraith and the several preceding volumes:

“It’s better to consider the ‘trilogy’ to be the story told across all nine of the books, beginning with Ilse Witch and ending with Witch Wraith. Let’s call this the Ilse Witch Trilogy, for lack of an official name…Just by existing, Witch Wraith and The Dark Legacy of Shannara change the nature of the first two volumes of The Ilse Witch trilogy and take them from being footnotes in Brooks’ career to a cornerstone.”

So after completing Witch Wraith do I agree with that assessment? Read on to find out, but I’m warning you ahead of time that there are massive spoilers throughout this review about the events and ending of Witch Wraith, as well as the entire Dark Legacy of Shannara series.


What else did Aiden have to say? “That all said, it’s with no small amount of surprise that I have nothing but praise to heap upon Witch Wraith, as a conclusion to The Dark Legacy of Shannara and the Ilse Witch Trilogy, is as satisfying and grandiose as anything Brooks has written. Does it recycle the ending to The Elfstones of Shannara? Absolutely. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same (uhh… spoiler warning?), but it’s not any less emotionally affecting…Witch Wraith makes the books before it stronger by giving weight to the decisions, sacrifices and conflicts that at first seemed pointless. Hollow. What did Grianne change by making the decision she did at the end of Straken? What did the voyage in The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara mean for the world at large? We get our answers in Witch Wraith and the pieces have been falling into place since the final pages of The Elfstones of Shannara…The ending of Witch Wraith is bitter-sweet, but Brooks’ none-too-kind treatment of Grianne is a refreshing and somewhat shocking turn for the Shannara series. Her decisions, her struggles, conflicts, flaws and strengths are the beating heart of Brooks’ work. There’s genuine sadness in her story and she’s well deserving of this nine-volume arc.

Drew at Raging Biblioholism states: “Mostly, I just can’t understand why Terry has been unable to shake almost literally the same plot lines for the last… really the last three trilogies…And this third book in the “Dark Legacy” trilogy ends up feeling like a mashup of everything from really every Shannara series/novel so far. You want to try to find other Elfstones? Done. Time in the Forbidding? Done. Invasion from the Forbidding? Check. Ohmsfords at the center of things? Yep. Even the idea of going back to the tanequil and attempting to retrieve Grianne… it is simply a different version of the same plot as the last series. And not in the way that “there are only six plots in the whole world” or whatever but in that “we’re going to do the exact same mission but more compressed and with a few details changed around” way. It’s just lazy, to be honest…Indeed, much of this book felt… simultaneously rushed and lazy. As though the compressed writing schedule (all three books within one 12-month!) both forced him to write with more pace but to also then rely on old plots to keep up said pace.

Lighthearted Librarian explains: “As much as I love Terry Brooks, I have to admit, I was disappointed this time…Brooks hinted at the whole “is any race wholly good or evil?” question again as Redden considered Tesla and what life had been like for the Jarka Ruus, but again it was just a blip. And by the way, how did other creatures like the Grimpond get to remain in the Four Lands? If the elves were intent on locking away all evil creatures of Faerie, they certainly missed a few. How does the magic of the Ellcrys snatch away Tesla but leave the Grimpond…I hated the resolution of the Redden/Railing/Mirai storyline — it was too easy. I suppose it doesn’t help that I wasn’t all that fond of either Redden or Railing. I also hated the Grianne storyline but in a good way. It did take things up a notch. It made sense in that even heroes make mistakes, sometimes tragic ones…Despite my disappointment with this installment, I do love the world of Shannara and I’m already looking forward to the next journey. At 25+ titles, however, I’d like to see a few new twists introduced to the series. I’m okay with the fact that we can always look forward to a quest involving the Ohmsfords, the Leahs, and the Ellesedils. I’d just like to see new quests, or new complications.


Two of the three reviews above express disappointment, and while I think I too was disappointed in places, I was also entertained. There are definitely things to like about Witch Wraith – the siege of Arishaig was well-done, the final attempt to acquire the elfstones was fun, and any scene with Grianne in it was intriguing. In fact, I got a few chills from some of the scenes with Grianne, especially during the showdown with Tael Riverine, although this ended much too quickly for me. Some other things that I think Brooks did well here addressed my criticisms from the first two books. The first is that often the heroes are only the focus and regular people are nothing more than angry crowds or invisible, not seen or heard…what makes them worth saving? Brooks has several examples of the average, everyday person – soldiers fighting for their lives on the walls of Arishaig, elven soldiers befriending and sparring with dwarves, a human woman in the first book who I believed was self-serving but ultimately turned out to be innocent – it feels like Brooks got the message and I thought these moments were compelling. I found myself actually caring about what would happen to the Federation soldiers, which I never thought would happen. Also, I had many questions from the first books that I thought would go unanswered, but Brooks addresses them all (save for one or two) in this third volume, almost like he made a checklist from my questions and checked them off one by one. So a big hand to Brooks for taking the time to plug these holes.

The reviews above address specific criticisms with regard to recycled material…and let’s face it, that’s a long-standing criticism…as well as how the elfstones and Tesla Dart are resolved. And Railing’s character – yuck! Probably the most whiny, self-centered, entitled emo character that Brooks has ever created…I was outright rooting against him and hoped he would fail. But where I really have a problem (and you might want to skip ahead now to the last paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers), is with the pacing and plot. Usually I complain when the pacing slows to a crawl, but I have the opposite complaint here – the story feels rushed, as if the six month publishing date between books caused some issues. To tell his tale, Brooks needs the three main story lines to converge, but the likelihood of them doing so at the same time is improbable. Yet it all comes together near the end in a neatly tied up package. The ending is wrapped up far too quickly, and focuses only on what happens to the Ohmsford twins. What about the other characters? Some just disappear after a sentence or two, some have a couple paragraphs devoted to them, but the biggest travesty is the Aphenglow/Arlingfant relationship, which ends in characters discussing it but I would have like to have seen more physical moments leading to emotional responses.

However, the biggest criticism I have involves the plot. In addition to the character convergence I mentioned above, there are two gaping holes. One is that the biggest threat to the Straken army isn’t Arishaig – elves and Federation people could care less about each other, so there was no way Tael Riverine had anything to fear from Arishaig – the biggest threat to his army is the Ellcrys. So why didn’t the Straken army march to Arborlon and attempt to destroy the Ellcrys? Yes, that didn’t work in the past but does Tael Riverine really care about what happened hundreds of years ago? I mean, he could have flown his dragon right to the tree and torched it, and the elves would have been unlikely to stop him even with their airships. Tael Riverine attacking Arishaig is simply a forced plot device to buy time for the characters to converge.

Going a step further, then, is the fact that as long as Aphen and Arling succeeded, it didn’t really matter what anyone else did, the other characters simply had to buy time. Of course, those people fighting the battles didn’t know this – no wait, they actually did – so this has the effect of robbing the story of tension, other than who lives or dies, and thus the actions of other characters don’t matter too much, because Aphen and Arling are the deus ex machina that can render everything else moot.

And following that to its logical conclusion, Grianne wasn’t necessary to the plot at all. She was acquired in order to battle Tael Riverine and get Redden back. But in the end, she simply takes over the Straken Army and gets stuck back in the Forbidding. Aiden’s premise that the return of Grianne makes this series a cornerstone and that it serves to “give strength to some of Brooks’ earlier works just by virtue of existing“…in my opinion this falls flat. She made no difference in the outcome of the book. If Grianne’s return had made the difference in delaying the Straken army long enough for the Bloodfire quest to succeed – else all would have been lost – that would have made her appearance key to the plot. The plot, however, didn’t turn out that way. The Straken army hadn’t taken the eastern pass of the Valley of the Rhenn, let alone the western pass which was even more formidable. They weren’t at the gates of Arborlon with the fall of the city imminent. Tael Riverine was riding a crippled dragon and was not making much progress. Probably the only difference Grianne’s return made was that some elven soldiers’ lives were saved in the 30 minutes (if that) it took for Arling to reach the Ellcrys when Grianne stepped out to face Tael Raverine. That’s hardly what I would define as a cornerstone to the previous two series. I loved Grianne’s character in this book…I just don’t think it was handled appropriately in order to have the impact that Aiden suggests.

So in the end I leave Shannara with mixed feelings. Questions were answered, I cared about the ancillary characters, and I loved (almost) every moment of the re-appearance of Grianne. At the same time, the book felt rushed, the plot shows holes big enough to drive a truck through, Grianne didn’t have the impact I had hoped for, and the ending felt incomplete. I guess I won’t say I’ll never read the stand-alone sequels to Witch Wraith, but with so many books in the queue and several works from promising new authors, it certainly feels like this is goodbye for Shannara and I.

Book Review: Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks

bloodfire questFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  339 (not including a 10.5 page preview of Witch Wraith)

Reading Time:  about 8.5 hours


I must say that I approached this review with some trepidation. This was the story and review that became the final nail in the coffin that kept me locked away from reading fantasy for four and a half long years. Like an eel in a flooded soap factory, reading time slipped away me for those four and a half years. Suffering burnout from a lifetime of reading fantasy (30 years) and blogging (2.5 years straight), and in desperate need of a break, it is unfair to assign any blame to this book – that is all on me. For some reason, I could not offer a review that said something different than what was already said elsewhere, which I found extremely frustrating. After all this time, I am ready to navigate this review and move on to other books and reviews. Continue reading to find out more of my thoughts, but fair warning given: spoilers of Wards of Faerie and Bloodfire Quest are present.

Here are some other reviews of Bloodfire Quest:

A Dribble of Ink

Fantasy Book Critic

M.A. Kropp

Aidan’s review at A Dribble of Ink talks about how war seems imminent (though it is not present in this book) and also about how strong the female characters are. Ryan Lawler at Fantasy Book Critic offers a bleak review – the darkness and death, as well as the recycled plots in this book, made him unhappy, turning Bloodfire Quest into an unsuitable sequel to Wards of Faerie. M. A. Kropp also talks about the book’s darkness as not being fun to read, but claims it is necessary to show that Brooks is willing to step outside his comfort zone, achieving growth after years of stagnate writing, and offers a reminder that Bloodfire Quest is only part of the story.

So how do my thoughts differ from those above? They don’t, exactly. I agree with everything said above. And yet, at the same time, I feel like that may be an oversimplification of what Bloodfire quest both offers and represents. Hopefully I can explain that contradiction.

Brooks has always been at the top of his game on “quest” stories. While the plot lines may seem recycled, and in a way they are – elves trying to save the Ellcrys, the Ard Rys confronting the Straken Lord, the Federation trying to snuff out magic – there are subtle shifts in perspective. In the Elfstones of Shannara, we didn’t understand the sacrifice required to save the Ellcrys until the end. But what if the character knew what the sacrifice was going to be ahead of time? What would that struggle be like, how much harder would it be? And now the Federation is being controlled by a witch who desires magic, particularly the elfstones, for herself. How might that change what the Federation has always represented?

The character of Grianne Ohmsford, probably the most unique and compelling character Brooks has created, along with her interaction the Straken Lord, seemed to have a disappointing story arc by the time the High Druid of Shannara ended. It was as if all the efforts and loss in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara and the High Druid of Shannara meant nothing, and only the journey mattered. Oft times it is the journey, and not the destination, that matters, but when the destination undermines the journey, it leaves one less than satisfied. However, Aidan’s review of the final book, Witch Wraith, gives me great hope that The Dark Legacy of Shannara series will conclude Grianne’s story satisfactorily. Here is what Aidan said that gives me that hope:

It’s better to consider the ‘trilogy’ to be the story told across all nine of the books, beginning with Ilse Witch and ending with Witch Wraith. Let’s call this the Ilse Witch Trilogy, for lack of an official name…Just by existing, Witch Wraith and The Dark Legacy of Shannara change the nature of the first two volumes of The Ilse Witch trilogy and take them from being footnotes in Brooks’ career to a cornerstone.”

Aidan offers the most intriguing take on the 9 book arc that I have seen anywhere. The main difference between a book like The Elfstones of Shannara, and the books of the “Ilse Witch trilogy” as Aidan calls it, is that that each series should have only been one book, consisting of all three books in that series. Brooks has become a rich man by spreading each story into three separate books, but that has also lead to much criticism at the fluff and filler it takes to accomplish this. Compiled as 1 volume, with the filler cut out, there is no doubt that Antrax, Morgawr, and Ilse Witch as one book, called the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, would have been epic, and the same goes for the High Druid of Shannara trilogy. You can indeed buy all 3 books of each series in one volume now, although since they are not re-edited, the fluff makes them longer than they should be.

So what did I think about Bloodfire Quest? I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is full of action, airships flying all over the place, battles and combat (including ship to ship combat) and lots of dead characters. The stakes are high (and grave) as the end of the Shannara stories draws near. I particularly enjoyed the Bloodfire quest portion as Arling struggles to accept the sacrifice she must make, and I also liked the happenings in the Forbidding and the return of the Straken Lord, and the forthcoming quest to see what has become of Grianne. It was a faster read than Wards of Faerie and at times I didn’t want to put it down. This time Todd Lockwood’s art, and the map, have been moved to the front of the book, which I appreciated. And the the last ten and half pages offer a preview of Witch Wraith, the sequel to Bloodfire Quest and the third and final book in the series.

Criticisms are numerous…the main criticism I had was of Edinja the Federation witch – her power seems limitless and its source is not explained to my satisfaction, so when she creates a few animal-like creatures out of men, why doesn’t she create more? What is stopping her? And why does she have so much information, yet remains clueless about the Ellcrys dying, the Forbidding failing, and the Straken Lord coming, which might make her think twice about killing off those who could defend against this? It feels once more like a forced plot device. Many questions from the first book remain unanswered. The heroes continue to only react to events around them…rarely do they ever drive the action. And once again we see only the heroes, with no “regular” people, except at the very last few pages of the book, where a couple of “regular” people appear, only to be depicted as greedy and self-serving, and not worth saving.

Despite the shortcomings, I really didn’t let them influence my enjoyment of the story. Action-packed, fast-moving, and heroic, Bloodfire Quest is much better than Wards of Faerie, in my opinion, and one of the best Brooks novels in quite some time. Since I have no plans to read the subsequent Defenders of Shannara and Fall of Shannara series, the final book in this series, Witch Wraith, is very likely the last Shannara book I will ever read. And with Aidan’s words (that I have quoted above) in mind, I’m very much looking forward to, well, “The End.”

Book Review: Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks

7121713Format: 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.

Book Review: The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks

001d2239_mediumFormat: 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:

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.

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.

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.


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.