"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.