Dec 3, 2013

[Books] Bearers of the Black Staff (Legends of Shannara Book 1)

The Shannara series of books has always been a comforting fantasy escape for me. It's not the greatest fantasy book series in the world but it does have its charm. Terry Brooks later on started a new series, Word & Void, which was more of a contemporary urban fantasy series that sort of had a Gaiman-esque feel to it.

The bigger surprised was when it turned out that Brooks had plans to link the two fantasy worlds - that Word & Void was somehow a precursor to the world of Shannara. And the very thought of that has been rather mind-blowing given that the two story worlds are so drastically different from one another.

But blending the two worlds hasn't been quite as ideal - and it's a bit of a journey as well. The Legends of Shannara duology of novels is the second set of stories that work to link the two franchises together. And this one definitely feels a lot more Shannara in feel than Word & Void.

Synopsis: Bearers of the Black Staff is the first book in the Terry Brooks duology, Legends of Shannara. It takes place several hundred years after the conclusion of The Genesis of Shannara trilogy.

After five centuries of safety behind the magical barriers that protected the valley, the descendants of the Humans, Elves, Lizards, and Spiders that has escaped the demon armies are now vulnerable. It appears that the walls have started to come down and they are now accessible to the old world of men beyond.

Sider Ament is the last of the Knights of the Word, and for the most part it falls to him to rally the Races to prepare for the dangers of the world beyond. A pair of human Trackers, Pan and Prue, along with the Elven Princess Phryne are perhaps the only ones truly willing to help Sider. Most are too stubborn to believe that their protection is gone - especially a religious order known as the Children of the Hawk whose central teachings depend on the barriers only coming down when Hawk himself returns to take his followers back into the world.

It was a bit more excited about this book than The Genesis of Shannara Books. The whole exodus from the world of man was a little tiring and I was eager to see how Brooks would finally tie up the last loose ends in order to bring the two worlds together. The basic concept behind the whole thing seemed logical enough, but some of the actual narrative bits weren't handled quite as well.

Compared to the last story arc, at least Legends of Shannara has some pretty decent protagonists. I think I'll always have a soft spot for the Knights of the Word and Sider Ament is certainly a good one, despite years of peace and false security in the valley. And he has quite the burden on his shoulders most of the Races don't even have forces that can defend them. At least the Elves aren't completely defenseless - all that the Humans have are their Trackers - and that's not saying much.

I wasn't too keen on Pan and Prue, but it's still early in the story and maybe they'll make more sense later on. Even though they supposedly have somewhat magical talents that make them better Trackers, it's not all that clear to me how their abilities will help them out in the long run. One has a danger sense and the other can read signs well - which sounds almost as bad as Pen Ohmsford's ability to interpret the intentions of living things as seen in the High Druid of Shannara trilogy.

With this book, I have to state that the Elves are the stupidest race of them all. In pretty much every Terry Brooks book that I've encountered them, they're always talking about their lost magic from the age of Faerie and one day devoting energy to reconnecting with that side of them. It's like a running gag that apparently started even before Word & Void based on how the books have been progressing. And that's just so lame. Are we ever going to read a book where they have greater magical worth?

And then there are the Elfstones. True, the blue seeking stones have been a rather iconic artifact across the Shannara books, but then I was kind of expecting to learn more about them in this prequel book. But instead we find that the only known Elfstones remain to be the Loden (whose only function is transporting the Elven capital around) and the seeking stones. So that's it? We're never going to have more of them? That Elven magic is lost even here?

This was a decent enough adventure, but Brooks certainly leaned more on his Shannara side of things more than the others. And thus a lot of the tropes like his stereotypes for the Elves and the Human need to be self-destructive due to their own weird beliefs and hunger for power, and even the budding romance between young protagonists. For once, I'd like a set of main characters who don't fall in love. And it's not even the slow, gradual build-up of falling in love. Typically we're just told as readers that they're now madly in love even if it never makes sense. They only rely on the fact that whole "young lovers" trope given kids fall in love at the drop of a hat.

Bearers of the Black Staff could have been a much better book, but a muddy plot and weird character diversions sort of got in the way of that. I don't know how the second book will fare at this point given how this one wasn't all that exciting or compelling. Thus for now, I can only rate the book as a passable 3 really weird plans set in motion out of a possible 5.

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