Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks
Review by Brian Herstig
35 years after launching the high fantasy genre into the mainstream (before his 1977 The Sword of Shannara no fantasy book had made it onto the NYT mass paperback best seller list – it stayed on it for 5 months and a host of others followed) Brooks releases his 20th Shannara book. There is something new and something old to be had.
The new: Brooks got ahead of schedule in his writing of this trilogy – so far ahead that all 3 books will be released within a 12 month period. This is not just impressive, but great news for Brooks fans who often wait 1 year between books in a duology, trilogy, or 4 book set.
The old: It’s a quest! With Ohmsford’s! And Druids! And Leah’s! And magic!
The new: The sense of purpose and energy. Ever since Brooks merged his Word and Void series and Shannara there has been an excitement, verve, and sense of direction that had been missing for some years. This isn’t to imply that his books weren’t engaging or a good read. They always are. One thing about Brooks (as opposed to my Feist complaint) is that his stories have a purpose, stand out on their own, and are easily readable. But this book was the first in a bit that felt fresh and with a different level of purpose.
Since Brooks merged his two primary worlds there has been an overarching question/theme which is voiced clearly and repeatedly here – that of science versus magic. We now know that the world of Shannara is our own but thousands of years in the future, after science and technology have both destroyed and mutated our lands. Magic, nascent and known to only a few in our time, has become the dominant force. And that pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way. Magic, like science before it, has created as many problems as it has solved in the new wold order (see the previous 19 Shannara novels…) and is controlled, mainly through heredity, to a chosen few.
This new book takes us back to virtually the beginning of Brooks’s stories with a story about one of the most frequent questions he has gotten over the years – “What happened to the other Elfstones?” Readers know that the Blue Elfstones are the only ones to have survived – the seeking stones. There were others, but they had been lost to history. Until now.
Aphenglow Elessedil is both elf – a granddaughter of the current elf king – and Druid. Which makes her an outcast to her people, barely tolerated and endured only because of her royal heritage. In fact, most peoples of the Four Lands are suspicious and mistrustful of the Druids – a multinational group of magic wielding individuals who seek to gather up magic to ensure it is available to everyone equally in the Four Lands and not used to harm or enslave anyone. They are protectors and often misunderstood. And in the basements of the Elven histories Apgenglow finds a clue as to what might have happened to the 4 missing sets of Elfstones. It is what she has spent a year looking for and a decisive and important possibility as the power of the Druids wanes and science continues to increase its hold.
So a quest is formed and the leader of the Druid order, Khybar Elessedil, who is also an elf and a relative of Aphenglow, sets out to meet with the Druid shade Allanon who informs her of the urgency of her quest, the need to rely on others outside the order, especially a pair of Ohmsford twins, and the ominous warning that virtually all will not make it back from the quest.
As with virtually all of the Shannara novels, the world depends on a few young individuals whose character and mettle will be tested. Brooks binds the hundreds of years of his stories together by relying on a few families of average people to view the action through – the Leah’s and Ohmsford’s. There are Druids, who help shape and lead the quest, but always have a deeper set of motivations which they do not make known. There is Paranor – the Druid home, which plays a crucial role in this novel. And finally there is a more recent focus of the Shannara novels – the Ellcry’s, a magically imbued tree which is tended to by the Elves and keeps in place a shield holding back the evil from the birth of this world in an inhospitable place known as The Forbidding.
This book had a slower pacing and buildup, which helped allow me to focus on the characters and their motivations. While the action – the quest – is key, spending time on the company helped flesh them out a bit more and made the choice and results have more weight. Brooks is building a longer story here and wants us to be invested in not just the end result, but the people. I, for one, found this to be a welcome change. And I also have a sense we may see some other old friends again.
Overall, the book was a good first installment of what looks to be a defining change in the Shannara world.
What did you think about Wards of Faerie?
Submit your own reader review and award the book the rating you think it deserves.