The Measure of the Magic is the second (and final?) book in the Legends of Shannara duology and the bridging stories that take us from our "modern" world of science and technology (from the Word/Void and Genesis of Shannara series) into the fantasy realm of the rest of the Shannara series. I felt like the first book in this series was interesting generally but at the same time it felt to me like it dragged on and moved a bit slower than necessary. The cynic in me felt like these two books would have been better had they been edited into a single book but for revenue purposes there was a push for two books. It could have been a larger single book as there wasn't a lot that I felt extraneous or in need of culling. Like I said, I found the first book interesting, just a little slow.
With that introduction, it should come as little surprise that I enjoyed this second book in the duology much better than the first. The first book left a large threat (an army of trolls) looming over the inhabitants of the valley and in this book that threat is off the page for a good chunk of the reading. The trolls aren't completely ignored or forgotten by the text. It's just that most of the action of this book takes place inside the valley and the various schemings and machinations of the inhabitants there.
I really loved the way this book started. While the trolls were only a peripheral threat until near the end of the book, this book introduces a new antagonist for our heroes to deal with. The book begins with a seemingly crazy old man wandering through the post-armageddon world outside the valley. He calls himself the Ragpicker and for the first little while it's unclear whether he will be friend or foe to our protagonists. When he is finally noticed and confronted, we quickly learn his true nature. He is a demon and he hunts the Black Staff that figured so prevalently in the first book and the Genesis series. The Demon can sense the magic and he is trying to track it to its source. He discovers the troll threat and the presence of the valley and he works his way into the valley to subvert and manipulate the inhabitants in an effort to draw the staff Bearer to him.
I enjoyed the added tension and adventure throughout this story. As is very familiar in other Brooks books, we have a handful of key characters each out on their own mini-quests. Where in book 1 these treks felt like busy work, in book 2 these adventures felt compelling and exciting. I enjoyed the political intrigue among the elves and the quest undertaken by the princess Phryne. I really liked the way Prue works to help Panterra and the sacrifice and adjustments she has to make. I felt like a few plot points and events stretched a little thin but they were still enjoyable.
As far as bridging the historical gap between our post-armageddon world and the world of the rest of the Shannara series, I'm still left a little dissatisfied. My interpretation of the maps and the reading of the "Voyage" series led me to interpret the Shannara world to exist somewhere out in the South Atlantic Sea (since they seemed to sail north east to reach what appeared to be the Florida area). And yet as this book ends we are still somewhere in middle America. Unless the geography changed immensely after the wars, this didn't sit exactly right with m. And so I suspect we may still see another set of travelogue adventures with our heroes leading the races out of the valley into some new distant safehold. Still, any additional stories in that vein are just speculation on my part. It's entirely possible that Brooks will leave the historical bridge behind and continue with new, more compelling (at least to me) adventures. I know I'm enjoying and excited for the continuation of the "Dark Legacy" series.
Anyway, for the completionist Shannara readers (like myself), I can recommend The Measure of the Magic as a fun adventure story that (in my opinion) is better than Bearers of the Black Staff, the first book in the series. However, even though the story is interesting, I didn't feel like this series progressed the overall Shannara world in any meaningful or necessary way. As with the other books, there are some fun and intriguing characters but there aren't any new artifacts, histories, or enemies to be revealed (except the minor revelation about the heritage of the race known as Trolls). An average read, but not one of Brooks's best works (nor is it my least favorite *grin*).
3 out of 5 stars
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