Thursday, September 01, 2011

Review - The Gypsy Morph

The Gypsy Morph (Genesis of Shannara, Book 3)The Gypsy Morph concludes the "Genesis of Shannara" trilogy. This trilogy worked to bridge the gap between Terry Brooks's fantasy world set in a more traditional fantasy setting (elves, dwarves, trolls, castles, knights, magic, etc) and Terry's books set in our own contemporary world (his Word and Void series). Granted, even though the Word and Void books were set in our current time, there was still plenty of magic, demons and other fantasy elements. The Genesis of Shannara examines the end of our world as it currently exists. Over the course of the trilogy, a handful of people (human, elves and others) must band together not to overcome and destroy the evil forces…but to escape them.

For the first two books there is a lot of running, scheming and fighting but it was still somewhat ambiguous as to how these young survivors will actually eventually survive. In The Gypsy Morph, that question is often brought to the forefront, especially by the Morph himself (a faerie creature in human form). He knows that he is supposed to help with the gathering of the survivors and that he is to lead them somewhere, but he has no idea where he is leading them or what they will do once they get there.

In many aspects, this series had a lot of elements core to a fantasy-adventure novel. It has the strong, battle weary knight, the unlikely underdog heroes, the overly vile villain, and a seemingly impossible quest. All of this was fun and entertaining. But what it didn't have as a super obvious element was HOW things would finally be resolved.

Brooks really enjoys filling his novels with tension as primary characters are separated and brought to the brink of death and disaster again and again. The book usually had at least two story threads going at one time, each following one or more main character. By alternating these threads, he was able to create a fair degree of tension and then pan over to the other story arc in order to let the tension simmer and come to a boil. By having characters in each arc attached to or anxious for characters in the other arc, it increased our ties to the characters because the reader felt the same tension the characters felt for those who were "off stage" at a particular moment.

In many of Brooks's books (and indeed in many fantasy novels), I've wondered about the possibility of religious allegory. While some writers are very explicit (C.S. Lewis) and others adamantly deny the possibility (J.R.R. Tolkien), I'm not sure if Brooks has taken a stance on the subject. I know he's commented about the Word/Void series being relatable to the troubles in society today and that naturally carries over into this series, but I'm not sure about his stance on religious allegory.

The Ten CommandmentsHowever, this series explicitly brings up and explores the Old Testament story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Society is in chaos so there isn't much in terms of organized education, religion or any organization at all really. But the Mother character in the book has told "her children" (the Ghosts) stories over the years. One story in particular has resonated with them…the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, they've come to understand that Hawk (the human form of the Gypsy Morph) will act as their own Moses and lead them to the Promised Land.

This story is brought up a few times throughout each novel and indeed the Exodus that the children and others take is evocative of the flight from Egypt. In this novel, however, there is one particular scene that struck me as drawing very heavily on the Moses story. (*potential spoiler, but I'll try to walk lightly*) Basically the survivors are backed up against a large body of water with very little choice for escape. I fully expected there to be a "Parting of the Red Sea" moment…though that might have been a little too overt and trite. Instead of a duplicate "escape" method, we're given a parallel miracle of sorts that had similar enough characteristics to make me think of the Bible story but was still different enough to make it fit in this story.

At the same time, I felt a little bit robbed by the "simplicity" in overcoming the challenge. Along the journey there were so many fights that seemed insurmountable and were very tense and exciting. This particular fight had a sort of deus ex machina that left me a little less than satisfied. It was still spectacular and fun, but a little anti-climactic. I know that a lot of the book was filled with knock-down, drag-out battles and fights so perhaps extending this one would have been overkill. But I was left wanting just a bit more.

The final couple of chapters of the book wrapped up the end of our own world and the beginning of a new world to come. I felt like the "end of the world" method was realistic enough but felt a little jarring going from the fantasy adventure to the catalyst that ended the world. It worked alright though. I'm still a little worried about the logistics of how the survivors will survive long enough to emerge into a new world, but I felt like it was wrapped up adequately….I'll just have to dive into the next series (Legends of Shannara) to see what happens "500 years later."

All in all, I found this a great conclusion to the series and a fun bridge between the many books Brooks has written. While it was similar in tone and feel to many of his other books, it was unique enough that it felt fresh. Setting it in the ~near future also made it more intriguing to me.

If you've read this book/series, let me know your thoughts. If you haven't, give it a try and let me know if you liked it.

4 stars out of 5

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logankstewart said...

This was probably my least favorite of the Shannara series books. It had too much cliched fantasy elements for my liking, or maybe it's just that apocalyptic fiction is too popular now. Whatever the case, I think Brooks did an okay job on bridging the Word & Void books with the Shannara books, but I wonder if this was his plan all along?

I hope you enjoy Bearers of the Black Staff more than I did. I think it's my least favorite Brooks book to date.

Okie said...

Yeah...there were definitely a lot of cliched sequences.

I think I accepted these tropes and moved on partly because, for better or worse, I am a Brooks fan-boy and so I give him perhaps more leniency than I might give to other authors. Sometimes it's hard because I acknowledge that a lot of his books have 'cookie-cutter' story arcs, even feeling very similar to other Brooks books, but I have a huge nostalgia that keeps me coming back and enjoying them.

I'm a little anxious now about Black Staff but hopefully I'll get through it over coming weeks and let you know what I think. :)