I got a pleasant surprise while in the airport, discovering that Terry Brooks’s newest book had come out earlier than I’d expected. Naturally, I had to buy it on the spot (even though I undoubtedly could have gotten it cheaper elsewhere). Good thing too, since my flight got delayed about 4 hours and while most of the other passengers were complaining and upset, I was back in my favorite fantasy world: Shannara. Terry Brooks is the author that really got me to start reading long fantasy series. My dad suggested the series to me when I was in high school and I have since read every book he’s written (except his On Writing book, which I do intend to get).
Bearers of the Black Staff picks up five hundred years after the last series ended–Hawk led a group of people, Elves, and some mutants (Lizards and Spiders) to a valley and then became the mist that protected them from the nuclear Armageddon taking place outside. Now you’d think that the races would learn their lessons (namely, to live in harmony together rather than separate, to do their part to restore the land, to restore the use of magic, to foster a community rather than hate…), but of course, that would be wishful thinking. Instead, the races divvy up the valley (which is really a series of valleys) and create very separate communities. And now, the mists are failing. The people Hawk saved must band together in order to deal with whatever has survived beyond their bubble, but can they do it in time?
Prue and Panterra are extremely young to be Trackers, but their unique gifts (Pan’s ability to always discern a trail and Prue’s ability to detect danger, much like Candle from the previous series) have earned them a spot in this elite group. While out, they discover that two of their colleagues have been killed by a creature they’ve never seen before. They decide to track the creature and luckily, they aren’t the only ones. Sider Ament, the last Bearer of the Black Staff (and thus a guardian of the people in the valley), was tracking this creature as well, just in time to save their lives. This sets them on a dangerous journey to warn the races that the barriers are failing, but there is a challenge. Much of Mankind has dubbed themselves the Children of Hawk and strictly believe that Hawk will return to lead them out of the valley. The information Pan and Prue bring directly contradicts this belief, which is not tolerated. It isn’t easy to give up on beliefs passed down for 500 years. Fleeing for their lives, Pan and Prue try the Elves, hoping that they will listen since they do not believe in the Children of Hawk’s religion. But the Elves have their own troubles brewing, with an impetuous princess, a withdrawn king/father, and a queen who is “too young” and more than she seems. And the dangers beyond the valley are not willing to wait until these issues (and others) are sorted out.
My biggest complaint about this book is that Brooks has become predictable. (The last series’s ending, for example, was too similar to the Ellcrys storyline, which was unfortunate.) It felt like we’d seen a number of the plots before, even if not necessarily with this set of characters. So, Brooks, get yourself out of this formulaic writing and come up with something new and CRAZY!
That being said, I still enjoyed the book immensely. I thought that the writing was a bit stronger here than in the last series (perhaps just having fewer overall characters helps), which made it easier to immerse myself in. I wouldn’t recommend it to new readers who are unfamiliar with Brooks, because it isn’t his best, but for fans, this is a good one to add to the series. The thing I miss most is the complex character of Grianne Ohmsford or the magical issues of Brin and Jair, storylines which though not exactly ground breaking in the genre, have a lot of issues to work through. Sider Ament’s storyline was a bit obvious, though I am curious to learn more about Prue and Pan and it would be interesting to see Phryne grow up/mature.
Can’t wait for the next book.