Every year, I look forward (without fail) to a new Shannara book from Terry Brooks. Sure, there has been some fluctuating quality in the past – the Straken trilogy was pretty dry and predictable and didn’t give much except some new info about the Forbidding – but its like coming home for the holidays. There is a level of comfort that you only get after a long relationship with a series.
The Word & The Void trilogy is one of the high water marks for urban fantasy and I was thrilled when Brooks tied that series into the Shannara series via the (belatedly – and I think incorrectly – titled) Genesis of Shannara trilogy. I don’t think Brooks quite knew how to handle the apocalyptic fantasy but those books got better as they went along and the connections were super-groovy. Now, in Bearers of the Black Staff, Brooks is bringing us ever closer to Jerle Shannara’s time. Lizards from the last series have become the Trolls and the landscape is starting to resemble the Four Lands just a bit. Oh, and the protective mists that kept most Men and Elves alive in that valley? Fading, fast.
All in all, the setup is intense and the action moves at a swift gallup. It’s as though spending time away from Shannara itself (somewhat, with the prequels – and then completely, with a new Landover book last year) has given Terry a new lease on writing in that world. Also the idea of doing a duology means anything unnecessary is excised and as a result, we’ve got one lean book.
There are some issues with it – I hit a pretty serious gap in everyone’s logic near the beginning and I’m starting to get tired of the precocious youths who populate this series… but Sider Arent was an inspired creation, as was Deladion Inch. The villains are pretty stock – but the threats aren’t. Was the ending a bit predictable? Sure – the cliffhangers are all ones that’ve been used before in the series. However, I appreciated that Brooks spent less time here than ever before easing in new readers. There’s some stuff about the Elfstones that could’ve been trimmed even further – but the black staff and the Lady and everything about the Word is glossed pretty quickly. The previous trilogy is mentioned in a (really cool – like, I loved it) way and the 500 year gap sort of feels legitimate.
As usual, a year is far too long to have to wait. The cliffhangers, although predictable to an extent, are all serious and you can’t help but say “DAMN IT” when the book ends. There was a bit more death than I expected (sadly – some great characters go, unfortunately) and I really have no idea how this is all going to end up. I’m excited for it, though – I can’t wait to see how Arborlon moves back into the world, etc etc etc.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Not much to say other than that this was a solid and exciting entry into the Shannara canon. I like how the history of the Four Lands is slowly starting to come together. This book has nothing on some of the original books or even some of the “Voyage” trilogy – but its also better and more exciting than the fantasy world has been in a while.