Monday, October 22, 2007

The Elves of Cintra, by Terry Brooks

The Elves of Cintra
Terry Brooks
Del Rey: 2007

When Terry Brooks published Armageddon’s Children in 2006 I felt that Brooks was beginning a trilogy which had the potential to be something special. It was the first volume in a trilogy which was to begin to bridge the gap between the Word / Void Trilogy (Running with the Demon, A Knight of the Word, Angel Fire East) with the Shannara series (beginning with 1977’s The Sword of Shannara). Up until Armageddon’s Children there had been speculation that the world of the Word / Void and the ruination it predicted was somehow the origins of the wars which would destroy the technological driven world and transform it to an unrecognizable Four Lands. Armageddon’s Children confirmed the rumors. More importantly, Armageddon’s Children was a marked improvement over Brooks’s six previous Shannara volumes and hinted at a return to form for Brooks. Terry Brooks gave richer descriptions and built up the story and the setting into something we could visualize. It was good.

The story of Armageddon’s Children had the Lady (an agent of The Word, the forces of “Good”) send two Knights of the Word on two different missions. Logan Tom was to find the Gypsy Morph, a being “born of wild magic”, and keep it from the forces of the Void. We know from the end of Angel Fire East that the Morph somehow became the child of Nest Freemark, but this is generations later...but the Morph is being of magic, so nobody knows what form it may take now. Angel Perez is sent on a different quest: Find the Elves and somehow allow them to save themselves and in turn save a remnant of humanity. Angel does not believe there are elves, but she has a quest from the Lady and must obey. This is where we know that Word / Void will meet Shannara. When Armageddon’s Children ended Logan Tom identified the Gypsy Morph as Hawk, a member of the Ghosts tribe of street children from Seattle. Hawk and Tessa, another Ghost, had been thrown off of the walls of Seattle’s Safeco field compound (this is something of a post apocalyptic series now), presumable to their death. The novel literally ended in a cliff hanger.

A year has passed and Brooks has published the second volume in what is now being called “The Genesis of Shannara”: The Elves of Cintra. Where Armageddon’s Children was focused more on Logan Tom and the Ghosts, one can guess from the title that this volume will focus more on Angel Perez and the Elves. It does. Somehow, what could and should be the most exciting and intriguing part of the novel – the elves from the title, legendary characters from the series – is the weakest part of the novel. We get a bit of Elvish intrigue where the Ellcrys tree has given instruction to two of her Chosen (caretakers) that she will need to be moved to save the Elves. The elf king does not believe and has been acting erratically. This is shades of The Elfstones of Shannara and just feels forced. Of course the Elf King does not believe the Chosen and diminishes the threat and the risk. Of course. This adds drama, but in The Elves of the Cintra, it is just forced because unlike in other Shannara novels it is clear even to the Elves how much damage the humans have done to the world and that things are only getting worse. At this point it is not unusual that the Ellcrys might speak, might give instruction. And we have read the first seven Shannara novels, so we know all about the Loden Eflstone and the Blue Elfstones. Nothing here is a revelation or illuminating. It is as if Terry Brooks took the “Good Parts” of the early Shannara novels and removed them from the book and gave us the chapters about the elves in this novel.

Brooks spends a little bit less time on Logan Tom and the Gypsy Morph. First off, we do find out early on what happened to Hawk and Tessa and how they lived (assumption at the end of the previous novel is that they lived...Hawk is the Gypsy Morph after all). I won’t tell exactly how they lived, but Brooks revisits a well used Shannara occurrence which tends to give lost characters a chance to refresh and refocus. Yes, that one. Again, by this point it feels forced. Overused.

The biggest problem of The Elves of Cintra is Middle Book Syndrome. Brooks is moving his characters around to put them into set places to have a chance to run a conclusion in the next volume. This is the case with most, if not all, trilogies, but when the reader FEELS M.B.S. occurring, that’s when it gets frustrating. I felt it.

What did work, I thought, was when Logan Tom met another Knight of the Word, a fallen Knight. We got hints of what can happen when a Knight loses his or her way in the Word / Void trilogy with John Ross’s dreams, and here we get a “real life” example. It’s interesting to see the madness of having all that power but a loss of faith. But what I want to know is when did the Word start calling so many Knights? The way Word / Void read was that only one was called at a time, though of course that is silly, too. Why did there only need to be one Knight? The sense from John Ross in Word / Void, though, was that only one Knight at a time (like one Slayer at a time).

The description that I had enjoyed so much in Armageddon’s Children has either been stripped back or I just missed it here. There is no longer a sense of place, of any place. I can visualize parts of the climb Angel makes near the end, but that’s about it. Are we back to Brooks telling the tale as fast as possible, trying to entertain but missing a good core of storytelling? Possibly. Maybe this is just an aberration and Brooks will be able to close out the trilogy with a bang.

I’m not so sure.

Terry Brooks was part of my beginnings as a fantasy reader and unlike other fantasists of that era (David Eddings and Piers Anthony), Terry Brooks has at least maintained the ability to tell a story in a fairly entertaining manner without repeating himself over and over again. I have been reading Terry Brooks for about as long as I have been reading fantasy (call it 15 years) and while I do not believe Brooks is at the height of his powers anymore, I understand that aspects of my taste in reading and fantasy have changed, too. No longer does a fast paced story with little or no detail about the characters, setting, place, world, and magic do it for me. I need more, something else. Maybe that is it. But I thought Brooks hit a homerun with Armageddon’s Children. It wasn’t a perfect novel, but it was a satisfying one. That was only a year ago. What changed? Terry Brooks has become very hit and miss and my thought is that the closer he gets to Shannara the faster he tells his stories and the less detail he provides, the less rich his storytelling becomes. It was only, I believe, the fact that Armageddon’s Children was very near a Word / Void novel that Terry Brooks gave the level of detail and, dare I say, care to the novel that he had not done since Angel Fire East.

That’s what I think.

Now that The Elves of Cintra is closing in on Shannara due to the inclusion of Elves AND because Brooks already set the scene with Armageddon’s Children...we’re not going to get the detail from A.C. Brooks is done with it and is back to a novel a year as fast as he can write and telling the fast paced story that he wants to tell.

I wish he’d slow down.

I can’t argue with the man’s success, but I know Terry Brooks could be so much better. He WAS so much better. A man has a right to make his living in any legal way he chooses, and Brooks is doing just that. He is telling the stories he wants to tell in the manner in which he wants to tell them. But he could be so much better. He WAS so much better. It’s disappointing, to say the least, but the novels are still just good enough to want to know what happens next and see how Brooks will connect the pieces and because the novels go down so easily, there is no gag reflex. They just don’t taste as good as they used to.

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