Monday, April 20, 2015

Fairies: the Myths, Legends, and Lore by Skye Alexander

Fairies: the Myths, Legends and Lore by Skye Alexander explores stories surrounding these mythical beings both ancient and contemporary, and draws heavily on their abundance in literature as beings of delight and wickedness. I initially purchased this books in hopes of building up my reference collection. However, after the first few pages it became clear that this book relies less on academic or even historical sources and more on fancy. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but buyers looking for a more serious text for research purposes may want to look elsewhere.

       The book itself is beautiful. The font is a nice, calming purple and the illustrations scattered throughout the work are very crisp and whimsical. There is definitely some information to be found in this book, but although there is a bibliography most of the sourcing is weak and barely present, and the vast majority of the sources are from fictional works published in the fantasy genre. There were many instances in which the author would lead with something like, “according to legends”, but fail to back the legend up. If anything, the book draws more on the authors own understanding of the things she has learned and believes and her subsequent interpretation of that understanding rather than providing a catalogue of recorded information. Even now I'm not entirely sure if this book should be treated as a work of fiction, non-fiction, or a reference work.

      Now, I don’t have anything against this per say. Aside from being pretty, the book is fairly well written and at the very least it can give aspiring writers inspiration and enthusiasts of mythology and folklore a light, entertaining read. There were a couple of interesting ideas and concepts, and some region specific terms that I hadn’t come across before. Just know that if you’re planning to purchase this book that it’s written more in the vein of Candlewick Press’s Ology series and less in the vein of a Norton anthology.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fallings Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is a Young Adult fantasy series that splits it’s narrative between three kingdoms and several characters from each kingdom all while a massive war is brewing and old prophecies are coming to pass.

The book starts off with a kidnapping years ago marked by bloodshed, committed by two witches in search of a child prophesized by the stars to reclaim ancient magic artifacts long lost. The child is taken faraway to be raised under close supervision while her powers develop.
     The story then shifts to Princess Cleo of Auranos—a stubborn, hot-headed princess who often leads too much by impulse and not enough with her wits. While on a trip to the neighboring Paelsia, the drunk, haughty noble she is accompanying murders a wine seller’s son during a haggling dispute, and Cleo is left haunted by a crime she feels she could have prevented. In truth she hates the noble who committed the crime, but must tolerate him lest he reveal a dark secret that could ruin her reputation.
       Jonas is the brother of the murdered boy. He swears vengeance on the noble ruthlessly murdered him, as well as the princess he believes to have been cold and indifferent to the tragedy. Having grown up in a land filled with poverty, Jonas has always hated the rich. Now, however, he has a reason to kill them.
        Magnus and Lucia are the prince and princess of Limeros—a kingdom under the rule of a bloody King who polices his people using brutal and unforgiving means. Magnus and Lucia, however, both harbor secrets and these secrets drive a wedge between their once close relationship as their father drags them into a bloody war with Auranos.


I think that this book has a lot of promising ideas. I like the notion of charting three different perspectives from three different feuding kingdoms, and letting the readers see into the minds of each kingdom before they all come to a bloody head. Unfortunately, the execution of this novel was incredibly chaotic. The narrative hop-skips between different characters so swiftly that there’s no real time to develop any of them satisfactorily. In addition to how quickly perspectives change, what we do get for each character amounts to a lot of telling and not enough showing. We’ll be told that a character is upset without seeing them be upset, we’ll be told that a character is really strong and not irresponsible, even when the only evidence we’re shown is that character being irresponsible. When the characters in the story do stupid things—which happen quite frequently—I was left feeling frustrated because what they did often contradicted what the author told us about them. This leads me to another problems: false climaxes.

Now, I don’t mind a few of these in a story. I actually think they can be pretty clever when used occasionally because it’s smart of defy the reader’s expectations now and then. There is one point in the book where a romantic interest dies, and it was completely unexpected and not the cliché for this genre at all, which made for a really enjoyable turn of events. That having been said, it was obviously meant to be a sad moment when in reality I didn’t really care that this character had died because the romance they had participated in was really rushed from the get-go. Still, I was surprised. The problem is, when you use these false-climaxes too much it makes the reader feel like they’re on a ride that keeps stopping. It makes your blood rush in the beginning, but once it happens too many times you’re just left wanting to get off. And this story has an abundance of false-climaxes. Characters will have something go their way and then be interrupted, only have things go their way and be interrupted again. Readers will be led believing that a certain change is going to occur and it does—for two pages.

I think this book might have been aided greatly by a rearranging of the content. Instead of having the perspective shift every other chapter, each kingdom could have been given a quarter of the book so that readers could really understand the characters that lived there and the politics, religion, etc. The quarters could then end with each character entering the climax of the book, which the last quarter could be dedicated too.

Overall, I think this book had a lot of potential that was lost in some bad techniques and poor management. I really like the basic idea behind Falling Kingdoms, and I can see what the author was trying to do, but by the time I closed the book I felt almost relieved to be done with it.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: I'd bypass this one, or at the most borrow it. I initially paid $10.99 for this book, which was a little steep for such a short read to begin with, and given my overall impression of it I wouldn't recommend paying full price.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima


"Wolves were said to appear to the blooded queens at turning points: times of danger and opportunity."

The Demon King is the first book in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, of which there are presently four installments. This Young Adult fantasy novel utilizes many tropes familiar to the genre, at times rendering it very predictable. However, it also boasts several unique, world-building features that make it stand out amongst the masses, and the story’s simplicity does not prevent it from being entertaining.
        The book centers chiefly around the lives of two characters: reformed thief Hans Alister and princess heir Raisa ana’Marianna. The two spend most of the novel without interacting with one another, although their paths cross through a series of circumstances and the novel ends on the note that the two will most certainly be drawn together again. The book opens with Hans and his friend Fire Dancer collecting rare plants to sell at market. Before returning home, they decided to try their hand at hunting but are quickly met with a wall of magically fueled fire. Their subsequent confrontation with the young wizards in training responsible for the flame and the capture of a peculiar, seemingly cursed amulet set Hans’s seemingly placid life into a frenzy that carries him through the rest of the story, plaguing him with personal loss and revealing his unsettling destiny.
        Meanwhile, princess Raisa’s world also begins to unravel as her name day—the book’s version of a birthday—quickly approaches and her hand will officially be available to suitors looking to secure a place in the royal family. Along the way however, Raisa is forced to face some unsettling truths, including her ignorance of the true going-ons around her. Little by little she’s lured into a trap and made victim to a political game that could set the entire kingdom aflame with war, and threaten to revive the legendary conflict known as the Breaking—a time in the kingdom’s past where a legendary figure known as the Demon King wielded a magic so powerful that he almost broke apart the world. Not all of the old tales are as they seem however, and as the story progresses both Raisa and Hans begin to learn terrible truths about their pasts and their present.
      One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was the intriguing world that was built around it. The ruling structure is matriarchal in nature, so much so that the land is called a queendom instead of a kingdom. Furthermore, the people known as the Clan—who are based on First Nations—provide the story with both cultural and racial diversity. The princess herself is part Clan, and the line of queens descends from Clan blood. It’s always refreshing to see novels representing different groups of people, and the representation of women is also very refreshing. More than anything, I’m intrigued by the world that Chima has created.
      The story itself is, as I said, rather predictable. The heritage of a certain character was all too obvious, as was the deception of another. The plot itself was fairly straight-forward, with no real surprises or unexpected twist. Overall, it was interesting enough to keep me wanting more but not so much that I couldn’t put it down. As this is the first entry in a series, it isn’t really surprising that The Demon King would be spent going through the motions and laying down the groundwork for the rest of the series. I do wish that there had been a little more content, maybe delving into the history of the world. I also found that the characters could be a little flat at times, and I found myself wanting them to do more or to at least be privy to more of their thoughts. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Chima sometimes does a bit to much telling and not enough showing.However, as this is the first in an on-going series and as the book was an enjoyable read I'm definitely interested enough to buy the next installment.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: I'd recommend this book to most YA fantasy fans, especially those looking for a world with a lot of strong female characters and racial diversity. It's widely available in paperback and isn't too expensive, and I've seen plenty of used books floating around for those on a tighter budget.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Queen's Choice by Cayla Kluver

The Queen’s Choice  by Cayla Kluver


“Keep silent your screams and never look back”


       The Queen’s choice is the first installment of a Young Adult Fantasy trilogy by Cayla Kluver. The protagonist is Anya, who is the sixteen year old princess of Chrior—a magical kingdom filled with beings known as Faeries. She puts on the air of being remarkably cultured and mature for her age, though this does little to disguise the fact that she also has a taste for adventure and some reckless compulsions that lead her into trouble. Most prominently, adventures into the world of man.
     Her maturity is put to the test however when her Aunt, the Queen of the Faerie, declares that her niece will be her heir. What’s more, this news is preceded by the revelation that the Queen will soon die, though of the circumstances are unclear. Faced with the frightening  prospect of having to surrender her freedom in order to become a ruler that she is not convinced she can be, Anya sets out to the world of man in order to find her runaway cousin Zabriel in hopes of convincing him to claim his blood right and become the next ruler of Chrior in her place.
     However, the world of man—though exhilarating—is not a safe place for Faerie to tred, and Anya tragically learns how treacherous it is when she is robbed of her magic and therefore robbed of her ability to return home. With no choice but to push forward, Anya stumbles through the world with the fleeting hope that she can still find Zabriel and right the wrong she committed by fleeing her responsibilities. The travel is long and arduous, and she makes friends and enemies in the same stroke and finds the beliefs that she once defended with zeal shaken to their core.
     Something that I really enjoyed about The Queen’s Choice was how multi-dimensional the characters were. Anya in particular is far from perfect. Her entire quest is fueled by a decision she makes in the moment and rationalizes to both herself and those around her. The beliefs that she once professed to hold—especially in regard to Human/Faerie relations, which is a topic of controversy and even violence in both Chrior and the human kingdom—are constantly put the test and they do not always pass scrutiny. Furthermore, the characters around her are all shown to have fatal flaws. The age old argument of the “good man” versus the “just man” comes into question more than once, and even the noblest of characters are not without fault. In the rush of YA novels that have hit the shelves in the past decade, this honest and forthcoming depiction of the faceted aspect of human nature is not often hinted at, let alone explored in detail.
     Alas, there does come a point when this duality hinges on bipolar. Anya herself, though I appreciate her struggles, fails to ever really breakaway from this endless back and forth, and since the story is told through her perspective this fact is made especially tiresome. There were several junctures during the last leg of the book when I expected Anya to use all of the development that had been practically thrown at her to break away from her mold. Unfortunately, this never really happened in The Queen’s Choice. Her arguments at the end of the novel were no more enlightened than her arguments at the beginning. Despite the fact that she has many asides dealing with her internal crises regarding situations that force her to reexamine her ideologies over and over again, Anya disappointedly never rectifies these crises enough to revitalize her arguments. While I’m aware that this is just the first in a trilogy, I can only judge Anya’s development in this book alone—and it was a little disappointing. I found myself more intrigued by side characters like Illumina,Anya's cousin, whose strange mood swings and somber upbringing, as well as her surprising role in the plot made her far more interesting a study.
     Kluver creates a lot of scenarios and obstacles that Anya has to overcome, and more than once I feel like opportunities were wasted in regards to developing Anya’s character. This feeling was especially apparent in the last half of the book, when it seemed like Anya kept coming to the same “realizations” over and over again, but doing little to act on them. I like the fact that Anya did not start of the novel as perfect. In fact, she basically tossed aside everything that we thought we learned about her character in the first few chapters and revealed that she was not nearly as capable as she made herself out to be. And I loved the fact that she struggled with this, and that she didn’t get over it easily. She was tested and tested and tested, and the results were never favorable. However, when there is a limited amount of space in which to tell a story, I believe that you need to try to prioritize certain movements in the characters. At the end of The Queen’s Choice, I was left with the distinct impression that Kluver intends to stretch Anya’s growth thinly over the next three books. While It’s naturally that a character should grow between novels, there also should be satisfactory growth in each independent book in a series. Overall, I give Kluver kudos for making very flawed and interesting characters, but I’m also very dissatisfied with their growth. The set-up was there, but it lacked execution.
     The plot of the story is interesting enough. The reader soon learns that there is a lot more going on than just an issue of ascension, and it definitely kept me engaged enough to read half of the book in one sitting.  Though, I'm not entirely sure that this subplot needed to have existed to this extent in this novel at all. I found myself often questioning things about the Faerie culture, and the world of this universe in general. For instance, if the Bloody Road is cursed to humans, how is it that they are able to retrieve the Faerie that they hunt? It supposed to be poisonous to them, and yet there are at least two occasions in the story when humans are able to walk on it for a time(Shea, her Father, and the group of hunters who injure Anya). If the road is so dangerous, and if the governor of the human lands is so against Faerie hunting, why aren’t there guards stationed at the road? Why do the Faerie make the crossing at all, if it is so dangerous? Davic, Anya’s promised, does not, and it never appears as though he is not viewed as an adult. And yet, isn’t that what the Crossing is for—helping young Faerie become “adults”? It was almost painted as a sort of Bat/Bar Mitzvah of Faerie culture, and yet there appears to be no cultural stigma for nor participating. While I liked the idea, I feel as though it wasn’t as carefully ferreted as it should have been. Given the fact that this was already a pretty long book for the YA market, I think that Kluver could have spent a little more time in Chrior hashing out some of these issues before jumping into the main plot.
     Speaking of adulthood, only one character in this story--Shea--appears to act their age. The fact that most of the cast is in their teens is truly baffling to me. It almost seemed as though this book was written with older characters in mind, but the ages were reduced in order to make it fit with YA conventions. However, I will give Kluver credit for at least addressing this incongruity once or twice, when Anya realizes that she’s nowhere near the adult she once thought herself to be. All of this turns out to be moot however, since this is not an isolated incident. If it were just Anya, or maybe just the Faerie themselves, then maybe I could understand. Maybe I could accept the fact that she is just an exceptionally mature sixteen year old, or that Faerie mature quickly compared to humans. However, as even the human teenagers act like twenty-somethings it’s kind of difficult to maintain this logic. Don't get me wrong--I don't like to read about silly teenage anghst. I can appreciate mature and responsible, young leads. However, it would have been nice if the characters who were teenagers actually made more youthful mistakes. Whenever they did, it seemed as though they simply snapped back to mature mode, perhaps a little too quickly to be believable. Also, there’s the dangerous whiff of a love triangle that forms at the end of this story, and I abhor love triangles. Fortunately, it’s fairly muted for most of the novel.

     Overall, I did enjoy this book for what it was. I reached the halfway point very eagerly, though as I was approaching the end I realized that I wasn’t going to get the development I was looking for and I slowed down considerably. As I wrote earlier, I enjoy the different dimensions of the characters. I like the idea of the plot, and I think it could have been strengthened with a little tweaking. I will pick-up the next book in the trilogy when it comes out, though I will probably wait for the paperback edition. Though this book had issues, I want to see if the Heir trilogy holds up better as a whole than it does as independent novels. It certainly has the potential going for it, and I'm not ready to write it off for a few flaws versus the parts that I really enjoyed.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: If you’re intrigued by the description and other reviews of this book, I’d advise you to buy it—but do so when it’s in paperback. I bought the hardcover on a whim for the steep price of $17.99 USD, and though I did like the book I would not be willing to spend the same price on the remaining books in the trilogy. Borrow the book if you’re only mildly interested, but I wouldn’t recommend bypassing this work. It has some merit to it, and it’s a fairly easy read as well as a descent set-up for the next book.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

        Set in the distant future of Chicago, Divergant is a dystopian young adult novel that focuses around the life journey of sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior and how her one choice drastically shapes her future. The world of Divergent is separated into five factions; Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction formed in the aftermath of a great conflict, and were designed to exclude the traits that they felt were responsible for human conflict and highlight the traits that they hoped would bring peace and balance. Erudite blames ignorance, and choose to pursue knowledge. Dauntless blame cowardice, and choose to highlight bravery. Candor blames dishonesty, and pursue a life of truth. Amity blame hatred and violence, and choose to live in peace and harmony. Finally, Abnegation blame selfishness, and therefor choose to live selfless lifestyles. Once children from each faction turn six-teen, they undergo an assessment test that determines which faction they’re most suited for. They then are left with a daunting choice; to choose their own faction would mean security, and to choose another would mean having to leave their families permanently. Beatrice Porter is born into the Abnegation faction, and though she admires their path towards selflessness, there’s something wild and unkempt in her nature that calls her towards the rowdy Dauntless faction. When the day for her assessment arrives, Beatrice does not what know what to expect—though she does expect answers. Instead, she’s left more confused than ever. She has been told she is a Divergent, and warned never to speak of it to anyone. The rest of the book follows Beatrice’s choice to leave her family and become a Dauntless, as well as the consequences to being a Divergent.
     Divergent cleverly addresses a very simple question that most of us have asked or will invariably ask at one point in our lives; what causes evil? In the novel, humans have tried to sort this out for themselves and have naturally come to different conclusions, leading to different factions. Something that both Beatrice and the reader learn however is that no faction is safe from evil, and none have an absolute cure for evil. Evil, like good, is omnipresent. You can anticipate it, guard against it, and fight it—but you can never eliminate it entirely. Beatrice struggles with both the evil present in the world as well as the evils present within herself. In fact, part of what makes Divergent such a good book is that the heroine is not infallible. She does not always do the right thing, even though she was raised to. She doesn’t always do the brave thing, even though she wants to. She isn’t incredibly pretty, or the top student in the class. She excels in some regards and fails in others. She thinks about going home once or twice, and she’s not above crying or screaming. Beatrice is a thoroughly human character, which in tern makes her thoroughly relatable. She also possesses a unique trait—being a Divergent—which makes her journey more interesting. The strength of Divergence as a story is its ability to address human questions in a very human way; through trial and error. Violence is used when necessary, but Roth is never gratuitous or tasteless. She uses enough to get the point across and leaves the rest to the imagination, allowing readers to contemplate their own fears and draw their own conclusions.
       With so many dystopian novels being published nowadays, especially in the young adult section, it’s difficult to sort through the failures, the good attempts, and the greats. I think that Divergent easily comes closer to the greats, with its wonderful characters and though provoking concepts. Why does it never quite make greatness, you might ask? Well, this is due to two chief complaints I have about the story. Firstly, I feel as though there should have been an additional character building moment in the story, sometime in between her first and second fight. I wanted to actually see her try to improve herself. I wanted to see her struggle to do so, and maybe find that a life of being reared to be selfless contradicted her feelings for personal improvement. Her character change, and the fact that she was a much better fighter the second time around without much contextual evidence to support how she became so made the transition a little unbelievable. Secondly, the romance aspect of this book was a little disjointed. I really enjoyed how it was progressing at first. The tendency with most YA’s is to just leap into a romantic plot line, usually by using a half-arsed excuse like fate, destiny, or animal attraction. Roth doesn’t do that, instead letting the romance build and gradually unfurl. The problem is, she spends so much time being careful, that by the time it actually does unfurl it unfurls too quickly. I understand why Roth wanted to establish this relationship, as it creates tension for the climax. However, while I like the relationship between the two characters I find myself not really believing it, because I don’t understand why they like each other as much as they do. Neither of these two points change the fact that this is a good book, but they do keep it from becoming a great book. Overall, Divergent is a solid read. The premise and the characters are interesting, and most importantly it will make you think—which is something this nerd thinks that all books should aspire to do.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nette by Barbara Rayne

       Nette by Barbara Rayne is a fantasy novel based on a very interesting premise. Boys are born with brown eyes, and girls are born with blue. This is how the sexes always fall and have always fallen, until the birth of a brown-eyed girl forever alters the course of the world. Aside from having a genetic anomaly, the girl, named Nette, is the subject of a grand prophecy and the wielder of incredible powers. She is destined to overthrow the corrupt king and bring peace to the land of Sentus, as well as to free the captive souls of the once great kingdom Predious. After the despot king murders her parents out of fear and attempt to murder her, Nette is whisked away by lights of an unknown origin, and raised by them for five years. During this time, she learns that she does not need sustenance to survive, nor can she die. For all intents and purposes, Nette is a superhuman. As she grows into her prophecy and avenges her parents murders, Nette has to struggle with the fear of the people and the spite of nobility.
    I think that this book has a really interesting concept. I haven’t come across a similar idea in fantasy writing before, and the genre desperately needs new ideas. While there are some ideas that can be played with in a seemingly unlimited number of ways, sometimes this fantasy nerds feels as though writers get too comfortable with tropes and cliches. The first few chapters are very interesting. Readers are thrown into a confusing situation, just like the heroine, and they’re motivated to keep reading in order to solve the mystery of the lights and the strange, brown-eyed girl. However, while the writing of the first few chapters is very tight, the narrative unfortunately begins to unravel, worsening as the story progresses. Let’s start with the actual structure of the writing. While not horrible, the overall story lacks substance. What’s frustrating about this is that fact that substance is there—covered up like some forgotten relic or lost puzzle piece. I kept expecting Rayne to develop something more, but almost every time I was met with a brief and abrupt time skip. I also found that the number of typographical errors increased as the story progressed, which was midly annoying and distracting. I understand that Rayne was eager to progress the story, but I believe that by doing it so abruptly and without the use of transitionary devices, she instead created a crowded narrative that left no room for character development. That brings me to another point: the characters never change. The never grow—aside from physically—and they never learn; specifically the main heroine. Nette is a girl who attracts suspicion by simply being. She is almost godlike in nature, able to survive even the most brutal of deaths. Naturally, people fear this strange gift and tend to turn on her like a cliched angry mob with fire and pitchforks. And this angry mob trope happens a lot in Nette. What’s even worse, is that Nette recognizes how unjust the treatment is, and decides to resolve it by becoming exactly what they fear: a superpowerful terror. Now, if this story was meant to chronicle the life of this sort of character I wouldn’t be so opposed to it. However, Rayne makes it quite clear that Nette is supposed to be the hero of the work, and yet she’s entirely unheroic. She kills all how oppose her, throws temper tantrums like the Greek gods of yesteryears, and has absolutely no moral struggle with the fact that she kills left and right. She justifies everything she does, and what’s worse is that everyone else does—that is, the select few characters who aren’t apart of the angry mob. Not only do the main characters never grow, but the rest of the cast are complete stock characters. They’re all designed to fill the stupid, ignorant, and prejudiced antagonist roles. They all turn magically against her at the same moment, and no one actually sees the good she’s doing. These characters are so overplayed that they aren’t human or relatable—they’re just voices in a massive blob designed for the soul purpose of adding conflict to the story. And, once again, the only people who aren’t apart of the angry, stupid mass, blindly worship Nette and accept all of her actions as completely justifiable. It’s okay for her to murder large groups of people who oppose her. It’s okay for her to abuse the power of the blue orb—and object which is never fully explained. It’s okay for her to "cull" those who oppose her, because how dare they oppose their "benevolent" Queen?
      Simply put, Nette is a book full of missed opportunities. The heroine is not relatable, nor is she even likable. She never changes, nor do any of the other characters around her. I would have loved to see her begin as very bitter and filled with self-entitlement, perhaps even believing herself to be a god over the weak masses. She could struggle with her humanity and the inhumanity of the world around her, and the desire to repay unkindness with godly force. And then, over the course of the book, she could learn to see herself through the eyes of the people, and discover that their content was born out of fear—a fear that she was reinforcing through her behavior. Ideally, side characters would have helped her to learn this lesson by showing her that not every single person in the world was afraid of her. Unfortunately, these things never happened. She never changed, for better or for worse. Instead of using her inhuman characteristics to explore the notion of humanity, Rayne instead chooses to make Nette a god-like character with no growth arc and no care for the consequences of her actions. Sadly, this in turn made the entire story un-compelling for me as a reader. Why would I want to read a story whose plot is driven a character I can't bring myself to like? I reiterate, the core idea of this book was very good. If Rayne ever writes a sequel, I might be interested in checking it out to see if she's grown as a writer and learned how to do her ideas justice. Until then though, I have to dubb this one a miss.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks



"She was close to breaking at that point, all her preparations and the steeling of her resolve shattered and vanished, and she felt naked and exposed. Everything about her revealed in an instant and nothing left hidden. The dead knew her. The dead could see all she was and all she ever would be, and it was terrifying."

      Wards of Faerie is the first book of Terry Brook’s latest fantasy trilogy, The Dark Legacy of Shannara. As one of the most renowned living epic fantasy authors, Brooks once again delivers a story full of grand odysseys, subterfuge, and hidden surprises—not to mention his colorful host of characters.
   The main plot is simple enough. As with all epics, the lead cast of characters find themselves undertaking a dangerous and life-altering quest, brought on by the impending threat of a government (known as the Federation) intent on destroying the Druid order and colonizing the rest of the free world. However, when the main cast of characters is separated side quests surface, and each group is left pursuing a task no less important than the others.
    The story begins with an elf named Aphenglow, who is member of the Druid order housed at the magical stone fortress, Paranor. She has been searching in Arbolon—city of her kin, the elves—for the whereabouts of lost magics for almost a year, and is just about to relent her task when she stumbles upon a diary written ages ago, in the time of the Faerie. In it, she finds a story of star-crossed lovers, as well as the only documentation of the fabled missing elfstones. Thousands of years ago, these magic talismans all but disappeared, leaving only the blue elfstones and the black elfstone. No one knows what these lost stones do, but they are sure to be powerful. Taking what she knows back to Paranor, the Ard Rhys, Khyber Elessedil—head of the Druid order—embarks on a quest to find the missing relics in order to secure peace throughout the four lands. However, a dark omen hovers over the quest, promising that no one will return unscathed—if they return at all.
     As is always the case with Brooks, this book is engaging and well written. Adept at his craft, Brooks manages to get to the point when the situations requires it as well as indulge in wonderfully detailed descriptions. His characters are interesting and human, as well as diverse and unique. What makes his writing all the more realistic is that none of his characters are truly ever safe from being killed off, even the members of the main cast. This ability to thoughtfully get rid of characters that are usually safe in other tales helps to make Brooks work more engaging, as no character’s fate is certain. And those that do survive one series usually cross over to serve as a bridge for the next, and such is the case with Khyber Elessedil, who was a main character in Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara series. In fact, there are numerous references to his prior works in this novel, most especially to the Voyage of Jerle Shannara series. And this is where my main complaint lies.
     Something I’ve always loved about Brooks’ work is that anyone can pick up a new series and not feel like they’ve missed too much of anything. Even though four series precede this one(excluding the pre-shannara books), enough references are made to past events that anyone new to the world of Shannara can chose to start anywhere. For those of us who have read Brooks' prior books however, some of the common threads seen in Wards of Faerie may prove to be a little too similar for comfort. While Brooks always includes common themes in his books in order to connect on generation of stories to another, some of the commonalties between the Voyage of Jerle Shannara series are a little too heavy handed. Once again, a voyage is being conducted to find missing elfstones. Once again, this voyage is prompted by the sudden discovery of lost information. Once again, this voyage is lead by the Ard Rhys, and once again the Druid is not being entirely forthright to the crew(although to be fair, this trait is simple a fact of life for Druids in the Shannara series). The cast of characters is also somewhat reminiscent of the cast from Jerle Shannara, including a Leah, an eccentric seer, and a shape-shifter. Now, these commonalities don’t make Ward of Faerie a bad book by any means, but they do make it more predictable than usual. Also, to be fair I should clarify that Ward of the Faerie bears similarities to Isle Witch, the first book in the Jerle Shannara series, and not necessarily the entire series itself. This is also the first book in the Dark Legacy series, which leaves the story more time to distinguish itself from that of its predecessors.
    Overall, I quite liked this book. The quality of writing was top-notch as per usual, and the characters are interesting. The story, though a little too reminiscent of the stories of previous series, is still engaging and enjoyable. I finished the book hungering for more, and I have high-hopes for the next book in the series that is scheduled to come out this March. I should also add that a lovely illustration and fold-out map can be found a the end of the book. This is the first time that Brooks has done this, and I sincerely hope that he continues. It was a nice surprise and it added more value to an already valuable purchase.