Friday, February 04, 2011

Review - The Elves of Cintra

The Elves of Cintra (Genesis of Shannara)The Elves of Cintra is the second book in the Genesis of Shannara series by Terry Brooks. I've been a Brooks fan since I first read Sword of Shannara back in Junior High School. While I haven't absolutely loved all of his books, I've really enjoyed most of them. Over time, he's had two series that take place more or less in "our world." The first was the Landover series which was generally more light-hearted fun with some tongue-in-cheek elements (not as farcical as say the Xanth series, but also not your sweeping epic fantasy, although some of the Landover books have some moderately engaging depth to them).

His other venture into our "modern world" started with his Word and Void stories. The idea being that there are two basic forces in the world…the Word, which reigns over the good elements and the Void which reigns over the bad. Starting in the late 90s, he put out a trilogy following some encounters between the Word and the Void in modern day America. In the series he set forth some intriguing elements such as Knights of the Word (who are servants of the Word and strive to maintain goodness and order under the direction of the Word), the Demons and Once-Men (servants of the Void who try to subvert the world of Man and bring us into darkness and destruction) and the Feeders (invisible forms that prey on negativity and thrive on chaos, anger and other disagreeable emotions and actions of humanity).

The Genesis of Shannara series picks up years after the Word and Void series and the world is in an essentially post-apocalyptic state. The government has collapsed…in fact, any real sense of civilization is all but gone. Most of humanity is huddling together for their survival either hiding in more remote areas and hoping to be left alone, or fortifying themselves in "compounds" created inside large structures such as sports arenas. Meanwhile, a variety of Demons and Feeders are subverting the land and creating an army of "Once-Men" to help seek out and exterminate mankind. Not a very pretty picture.

The first book in the series (Armageddon's Children) primarily followed Logan Tom, a Knight of the Word, on a quest to travel across the country and find a "creature of faerie" masquerading in human form as a teenage boy. The first book ended with a rather climactic cliffhanger that raised uncertainty about much of the successful progress made in the first book.

This second novel continued the story of Logan Tom but also, as the title suggests, brings in a new race of faerie creatures…the Elves. Apparently, the Elves have been essentially hiding out and living their lives for centuries, ignoring (and largely despising) Man. For those who have read some of the other Shannara books, you'll recognize some of the family and city names as well as the idea of Elcrys and the Chosen. For those unfamiliar, the Elcrys is a magical tree cared for by the Elves. This special tree has a very special function where it creates a sort of shield/barrier, called the Forbidding, behind which an immense population of extremely evil and ancient faerie creatures are trapped. Basically if the Elcrys/Forbidding fail, then our world will be overrun. With the fall of mankind, the Elcrys needs to be protected and so a quest is set out for a Chosen (one of those who cares for the Elcrys) to find a particular talisman and move the Elcrys and the Elves to safety.

Meanwhile, Logan Tom escapes from the cliffhanger ending at the end of book 1 and begins a trek southward with the ragtag family of the Gypsy Morph Hawk (the faerie creature he went to save)…to try and reunite with Hawk and lead the kids to safety.

In the style very well-known to Brooks readers, we get to follow multiple groups of characters on a variety of quests. Another Knight of the Word comes in to help the Elves. We're also given some close attention to a couple of Demons hunting the Knights, the Elves and the Gypsy Morph. So there are always at least two primary groups each on their own adventure and at times we are given some attention to the smaller groups as they slowly converge on their individual plans and get closer to one another.

This book had a lot of intricate moments of suspense and intrigue where we are made to question the motives and trustworthiness of some of the individuals. This is another hallmark of Brooks's work that I enjoy…the fact that his heroes are never perfect, often quite flawed, and they also usually tend to be faced with such odds that it truly is questionable whether or not they will succeed. There is some foreshadowing in the book that definitely suggests some or many of the key characters will NOT survive through the entire series but will end up sacrificing themselves for the good of the others. Because of this, it added the tension to each suspenseful moment or action sequence because it was always very possible that one of the key characters could be killed off as part of this sacrifice. Thus the suspense felt more real…rather than the suspense often felt where you feel on edge but you know in the back of your mind that the hero will prevail because, well, he's the hero and that's the way it works.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I'm having fun with this series both as a continuation of the Word and Void series and as a bridge to the world of magic and fantasy in the main Shannara series. I really like the ideas presented in the Word/Void series and the way they continue to develop here. It provides interesting theories and ideas related to the nature of morality, good/evil, and the overall psychology and mindset of Mankind.

As this is the second book in a series, you need to be sure to at least read the previous book before starting this one (I'd suggest the Word/Void series as well, though it's not vital). Like book 1, this book ends with plenty of things unraveling. That said, the cliffhanger in book 1 was far more dramatic than the ending of book 2. In book 2 there is actually a lot more resolution and a greater sense of hope…although there is still plenty of despair hanging over the various groups since many of their key members hang on the verge of death.

I definitely have a certain bias towards Brooks's work…as I said, I generally like almost everything I've read by him so I really feel like my own personal reading styles and tastes are very closely fitted to his writing style and stories.

Still, I feel like I can recommend this series to a somewhat wider variety of readers, especially considering the recent influx of "urban fantasy" books. I'm not a reader of urban fantasy per se, so I don't know how well this relates to that genre, but I can say that this has a feel of post-apocalyptic dystopia blended with elements of epic fantasy. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is a very fun melding and one I definitely recommend. And with that, I now need to go read the final book in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

dude have not read a shanarra book in years...i remember readin sword on a camping trip...i dont think i left the hammock until i was done...feel the need to go find one...

Anonymous said...

"the fact that his heroes are never perfect, often quite flawed, and they also usually tend to be faced with such odds that it truly is questionable whether or not they will succeed." I agree with flawed protagonists being much more interesting to read about than the perfect, can do no wrong ones. Where the tension & suspense of victory assured?

logankstewart said...

It's no secret that I love me some Terry Brooks. His stuff is a comfort read; nothing too heavy or depressing. I loved the Word & Void series, and all the Shannara stuff. I'm currently reading Bearers of the Black Staff, and it has all the familiar traits of a Brooks novel, but still it's fun.

My favorite was always the Heritage of Shannara series.

Great review! I liked The Genesis of Shannara trilogy, but not as much as some of the other stuff. Still, fun stuff. Enjoy The Gypsy Morph.

Okie said...

Thanks for the comments. :)

DEZMOND said...

oooh, sounds interesting. Never got to read Shannara books, but they do seem lovely.
The film adaptation has been a plan for some years now ...