Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks will always have a special place in my memories. It was he who first introduced me to fantasy books proper when I was young. Yes Tolkien was second. So, it is always by the original Shannara Trilogy that I compare fantasy books. Does it create that same sense of wonder?

I haven’t read a Brook’s book in a number of years. The Heritage of Shannara quartet was the last series I read from Terry Brooks and that was a number of years ago. I have been lax and missed a lot of his more recent work. So, I was honestly looking forward to reading Bearers in the same way that you look forward to catching up with an old friend. You know the memories are there but hopefully you haven’t drifted apart too much over the years.

Without a doubt, Terry Brooks still has his magic. The themes of Shannara still shine through clear and bright. Man is always paying for the sins of his past and always missing his shot at redemption. But, there are always a few noble souls willing to pay whatever price is needed to give mankind and the rest of the world another shot.

Bearers of the Black Staff immediately introduces you to the main cast. You quickly greet Sider Ament, full of mystery, duty and regret and you are quickly lured into the story. Sider is the perfect set-up for a fantasy fan. The stage is set, a mysterious event occurs, dire portents follow and you are escorted off to meet the heroes of the story: Panterra Qu, Pan to his friends, and his companion, Prue Liss. Both are young, full of ideals and enormously naive. By this point, I was hooked. Granted, its a bog standard opening but Brook’s helped invent that standard, so its sort of his signature.

I really enjoyed reading Bearers of the Black Staff. There is action, betrayal and budding love. It is a classic fantasy book. It did everything I want a fantasy book to do, including a cliff hangar ending. But what really stands out about the novel is the growth in Terry’s writing. I know Mr. Brooks writes in at a torrid pace, releasing a book every other year it seems. But, in the years since I read the Heritage I can really feel his growth as a writer.

The pacing of the book is immaculate. There is never a wasted scene, dull moment or stray word. You are never confused as to what is happening due to a byzantine cast of characters. Time is not spent delving into the intricacies of dress or village economics. The story focuses on heroes and their growth as they respond to calamity. In particular I loved the spacing and timing of Sider reliving the memories how he came to be the Bearer and how these recollections foreshadow the next chapter.

Terry’s skill with words and descriptions has also grown and I found his prose to be much more artful than I remember. Where I find Terry Brooks very successful in his writing is how little time he spends at world building. As his characters move through the world, it is described in short bursts. Enough to give you a feel the surrounds and set up the story. The focus is always on the characters. This discipline probably shaved a hundred pages of the book. It also means the book “reads” quickly.

My only criticism of Bearers of the Black Staff lie with the romantic triangle between Panterra, Phryne and Prue and then with the over editing of the book. I disliked the love triangle that developed between Pan, Prue and Phryne because unlike so many other elements of the book it felt a little heavy handed. Especially when compared to the relationship between Sider Ament and Aislinne Kray. Perhaps it was meant to be juvenille, since the characters invovled are teens themselves. Regardless, it was one of my least favorite elements of the book.

My second criticism is that Bears of the Black Staff felt over edited. Yes, I am claiming this after praising the pacing, sentence length and word usage. These are all the products of good editing. But, when finishing the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling of the novel being over tweaked. It was almost too perfect. I feel like some of the rougher aspects of Terry’s voice were edited out in the way a singer’s voice looses its uniqueness to auto-tune. The end result is a more polished product but it’s these quirks and oddities that really add texture to a book, the same as it adds texture to a singer’s voice. I couldn’t find them in Bearers. This is a tiny complaint, but it is something that nags me, even days after finishing the book. I miss Terry’s voice from his earlier work.

To wrap things up, I really enjoyed Bearers of the Black Staff. If you enjoy reading “classic” fantasy, you will enjoy this book as well. Yes, the book will seem very familiar, treading over already well tread ground, but it is very well written. The characters are lively and the story interesting. It captures the Shannara feel.

I also can’t wait to read the next book. Why? Since Shannara is all one timeline, you know the end of the book will reveal something about the future. It is like finishing your Cracker Jacks and getting a prize. You know the series will be good the whole way through but what will the prize at the end be? That is something to look forward to in the future.

Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Self Purchased ebook
ISBN-13: 978-0345484192

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