Monday, January 23, 2012

I Believe the Children Are the Future: The Genesis of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

Armageddon's Children, Terry Brooks
The Elves of Cintra, Terry Brooks
The Gypsy Morph, Terry Brooks
Stars: 2.5
Recommended for:  longtime Terry Brooks readers, survival nuts, people who think ‘Lord of the Rings’ is real, and disaffected college students

I’m beginning to believe that book marketing people are one of the most evil forces on Earth.

You see, I had a plan when I started this Cannonball. That plan lasted exactly one book. The second book on my list wasn’t in our local library, but no big deal. I put in an inter-library loan request and moved on down the list.

Third book on my list - Don Quixote. Have you ever seen an unabridged copy of Don Quixote? It’s massive. It’s roughly the same size as the Oxford English Dictionary. Clearly, this wasn’t a book that I was going to cruise through in a week.

So what’s a Cannonballer who’s faced with an unexpected challenge to do? Well, if he’s at the library, he picks a book off the shelf at random - at least that’s what I did. Keeping my rules for book selection in mind, I tried to find a stand-alone book. I arrived at “Armageddon’s Children” by Terry Brooks. I looked carefully at the jacket - it seemed like everything pointed to this being a good choice. Take it home and let the reading begin.

It wasn’t until I got to page 170 - just shy of halfway through the book - that I began to think I might have made a mistake. It was there that Brooks introduced another major set of characters and a completely different story line. What the what?!?!? There’s no way he can wrap all this up in the rest of the book. So I peek at the last page - normally a taboo for me - and there it is, clear as day. “The story will continue in the next novel.” Aww, son-of-a....

The Genesis of Shannara Trilogy - beginning with “Armageddon’s Children” - tells the story of how “Shannara” got its start. I can only infer what Shanarra is, since the term is never used in the text of the three books. It appears to be some kind of magical land where magical things happen. I’m sure it’s very nice and adventures are had by all.

The setting of the trilogy, on the other hand, is a place nowhere near as nice - a post-apocalyptic, nightmare version of the land formerly known as the United States; specifically the Pacific Northwest. Massive pollution as well as nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare have made most of the land unfit for any form of life. Further, animals and humans that have been exposed to the toxic environment have undergone a series of mutations - populating the world with a variety of monstrous creatures.

And did I mention the world was magical? Yep, yep. Magic abounds in this alternate/future America. On the one hand you have demons, servants of The Void, who seek to complete the utter destruction of life on Earth. On the other hand, you have servants of The Word, Faerie creatures and others that seek to preserve life and oppose the demonic hordes and their armies of “once-men”. Chief players on the front lines of this epic battle: the Knights of the Word - humans who have been chosen to carry the magic of the Word and lead the charge against the forces of the Void.

Our story follows one such Knight - Logan Tom - as he accepts a new assignment from his Faerie “handlers”, the Lady and a Native American named . He is to find a magical creature, called a gypsy morph, which has taken the form of a human child. This creature will lead a group of survivors to a magical stronghold where they will be able to endure the destruction of the rest of the world.

Once Logan is underway on his task of finding the gypsy morph, we’re introduced to yet another Knight of the Word - Angel Perez - who is tasked with finding and protecting a group of Elves. Did I mention this world has Elves? The Elves must find magic stones with which they can save the Elvish nation and carry them to the stronghold which the gypsy morph will show them.

Needless to say, the demon hordes don’t want either Knight to succeed, and so monstrous hunters are sent to stop the Knights and their charges from completing their assigned tasks. Hijinks ensue. Enough to fill around 1000 pages over the course of three books.

That’s right. I ended up reading a story that’s 1000 pages long, all so I could avoid Don Quixote because it was too long. The irony isn’t lost on me.

And it’s not that I’m sorry that I read the Genesis of Shannara Trilogy, it’s just that I wasn’t terribly moved by it. The story was engaging enough. The characters were better than one-dimensional. The plot twists weren’t completely predictable. Generally, it was a well--executed piece of fiction. Yet I still found the entire experience unsatisfying.

The entire Trilogy reads more like a fanboy origins story. Normally, I’m all about the origins story. I stuck with Smallville long after the series jumped the shark, because I’m fascinated by origins stories. Maybe it’s just that to care deeply about the origins of this story, one needs to be deeply immersed in the rest of the Shanarra universe.

I think, ultimately, I felt put out by being taken in by the marketing copy. Nowhere did the book warn me that I was starting a series of books. Clearly they knew. “Armageddon’s Children” just ends. There wasn’t any pretense of wrapping up some of the story lines. It was, quite literally, a cliffhanger. So why didn’t the copy clue the potential reader in to this very basic fact? I blame the marketing folks.

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