Overall, there are a lot of good things going on in this Trilogy, but not all of it is Brooks "gold". (Rosalyn Landor does an excellent job of narration, so props there.)
Terry explores new ground in this latest Shannara iteration. Some of it feels a bit rehashed, some of it is new and exciting, and some of it in the end goes nowhere you expected. Terry starts out with his typical quest headed in one direction and becoming an entirely different one in the end. There are familiar love triangles and emotional conflicts to resolve, but there are some real plot twists that keep the story moving forward, although they don't always resolve in the way you'd expect or even like.
Overall, this trilogy feels like it is laying the groundwork for future works by Terry as opposed to trying to wrap up everything neatly in a 3 parter. If you like Brooks, this is a welcome addition to the series. Looking forward to where the Shannara legacy goes from here....
A couple of spoilers in this review (4th paragraph)- You have been warned!
First, I have to say that overall I am a Brooks fan. Next to the Hobbit, Brooks was my introduction into the Fantasy genre at a pretty early age with the Sword of Shannara, and I've read everything he's put out since. So the medicare star rating should be a heads up.
Most of the Shanarra series has been somewhat, "formulaic", in the overall plot line, and I do want to give props to the author for exploring new ground (though in this book it's not really a good departure in my opinion).
This story centers once again around the Ohmsford family (though now it's the Leah name as the bloodlines merged at the end of the last trilogy, Witch Wraith). Its pretty obvious that this book is much more about setting the pieces in place politically and contextually for a much larger grand story down the road.
What we get in this book is relatively mundane in terms of the plot. There is no grand "end of the world" threat taking place (at least overtly) in this story- instead a bar fight escalates into a kidnapping and a rescue that sets some things in motion, that on the surface are, (for the Shannara world), rather "dull", especially given the bloodbath the previous trilogy was.
Contrasting that dynamic, the other main criticism is that the story gets quite dark in places. One of the main characters is a 15 year old girl (her age mentioned several times in the text), the offspring of the Railing Ohmsford and Mariah Leah line. At one point she is kidnapped and brutally tortured- I hate to give that away, but at the same timeI feel one should be aware of this going in.
I don't think the description of the torture is specific enough to technically be considered graphic, though it does get the idea of what is being done across well enough through implication. Most of the Shannara characters historically are quite young and always threatened with awful deaths- this brings a grittier detail to the character's trial that may be off-putting to some, given the age of the person being tortured. While there is a sexual tension to the torture (that component is threatened a few times), it doesn't cross the line into that thankfully. For added tension though, her capture always seems to wind up with her clothing removed at the end. It's effective, if a bit disturbing.
Where in pervious stories, the tension comes from the nature of the evil protagonist of the story attempting to destroy or conquer the world (and subsequently kill the hero of the story who is trying to prevent this), this is a much more direct assault against the main characters for personal gain by the protagonist (though agendas are hinted at).
Brooks is obviously trying to go a bit deeper here in the perceived threat to the heroes and raising the tension in a different way than he has done in the past. I can't say it isn't successful, even if it does leave you feeling a little dirty at the end (though I have read much worse by other authors- it's just somewhat unexpected here).
Another flaw is that the main protagonist, while diabolical in his casual brutality, doesn't seem to have any solid direct plans to gain power, but seems to let things develop at times and be along for the ride. He comes across less as an "arch villain" and more as a sadistic opportunist.
Despite all this, I'll keep with the story and see where it goes. Brooks has said in interviews that the Shannara series is headed to a major (world changing) confrontation between the Magic and Science spheres of the world, and there are some obvious hints being set up in this story for that to play out in the future. But ultimately this 1st book of this trilogy doesn't really communicate any cliff hanging, nail biting drama that makes you want to dive right into the next book. But I remain hopeful.
With this being the 2nd book in the trilogy, the story does drag a bit. There are some interesting character arcs and we get more in depth into some of their backgrounds- some questions are answered, and more arise.
Overall though, the story is lacking a bit of tension and drama. It's not that there aren't significant challenges for the characters to overcome, but they all feel significant only relative to the characters themselves as opposed to world changing, epic struggles (though I suppose there are still hints and overtones of that). Some of what happens in this book feels extraneous though, and I think a lot of it could have been condensed or omitted without loosing much of the essence (but that's obviously a highly subjective opinion).
The good news is that, at this point, you're up to speed with who the characters are, what is happening in this world, and (on a surface level) why. Very few new characters are introduced in this book, which is actually a plus in my mind. I do think the characters themselves are a bit more "fleshed" out in this book as opposed to the 1st- they feel more real and "flawed" (in a good way).
Again, Christian Rodska does a fair job with most of the characters- a few are a bit too close to distinguish easily, but there is a pretty wide range of inflections and dialects that he can use to help embellish their readings, but it's not as effective as some of the other readers I've heard. Also, as mentioned in my 1st review, his younger characters and the opposite gender doesn't come off as believably. But there are a few characters that he just nails- when it's good, it's really good.
The overall storyline and the world the author has created are fairly rich and well thought out. There are some interesting story arcs going on, but it takes a while just to get up to speed as to what is happening and why.
The main issue is that, instead of following a single main character, the story unfolds from several different perspectives. Compounding that is the fact that the storyline also starts at a very dramatic and world changing event. You are (unfortunately) thrown into this world without any background information, into a complex plot and have to unravel what is unfolding as it comes by piecing things together bit by bit. I don't feel the need to have the story "spoon fed" to me, but it took several chapters before I had my head around exactly what was happening and why. Even then, understanding the dynamics in play continued to unfold until the very end of the book, as new layers keep getting peeled away.
The world is well thought through, the characters fairly complex and intriguing (though it takes a fair bit longer to connect with them than other stories I've read). For a long while I wasn't even sure who the main characters were- there isn't any significant online resources to help sort if out either. I considered giving up at the halfway point, but stuck through it. While it wasn't my favorite book by far, it was worth the read and I will probably continue with the series.
The performance was mixed. Christian Rodska is undoubtedly talented, but his deep baritone voice struggles with younger roles and the opposite gender. Some of the main characters had voices that were a bit too close to one another and at times it was hard to distinguish which character was being read. He has a pretty wide range of accents to pull from, and his gravely voice for Tamas was fantastic.
Despite only giving it (overall) a 3 star rating, I do think this is a worthwhile book.
MINOR SPOILERS ahead: Stop here if you don't want that....
I don't generally do this, but a brief explanation of some of the characters and the magic system might help to orient you into the world a bit better. So:
A couple of things to help. The story, as I mentioned, is told from several viewpoints. The main Character, Tamas, is a Field Marshal and responsible for a coup of the existing Monarchy of his country- this is the event that has just happened right before the 1st chapter. He hires Adamant, an older inspector, to try and unravel why several members of the "Royal Kabal" (the royalty's personal sorcerer guard) whisper a strange warning at their death during the coup.
Tamas's son, Taniel, an officer in the military under Tamas's command, is sent to hunt down the remaining members of the "Privildeged" (royalty) not captured or killed during the coup. Manhooch was the ruling King before the coup and executed within the 1st few chapters. A subplot revolves around a laundress who worked for one of the royal families and tries to protect the youngest son of that family during the aftermath of the coup (Nyla is her name I think). Those are the main character viewpoints the story is told from.
The magic system takes some explaining. Apparently, the royal line was made of people who could work magic (basic elemental stuff) by drawing from a supernatural source (called the Els) and using their hands to create their spells. They have to wear distinctive gloves to do this, which marks them as "Priviledged", as the story refers to them. Lastly, Tamas and Taniel (and much of the wing of the military under his command) are another type of sorcerers called "Powder Mages". They consume gunpowder and "burn" it to enhance their physical abilities and senses, as well as also giving them the ability to ignite gunpowder to varying degrees and distances, depending on their natural abilities with the magic. Gold will inhibit these abilities if it comes into contact with their blood. (Similar to Alomancy in Sanderson's Mistborn series).
Hope that helps without being too revealing.
Sanderson is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite authors. I'm always impressed with the range of stories, systems and worlds he is able to create.
The Reckoners series is a worthwhile departure from his more typical "fantasy" novels. It's in a much more "recognizable" world (with some major and obvious exceptions) but with cities and technology we can relate to.
Sanderson knows how to creating engaging characters and an evolving plot line that has plenty of twists- it's fun to guess where it heads but he usually pulls out a surprise or two, which is refreshing in todays world of fairly predictable story lines.
The main character is quite entertaining, and must have been as fun to write as he is to read. He's socially inept at times; awkward yet sincere. I love the fact that Sanderson has written the bad "metaphors" into part of his makeup- I find myself smiling as he comes up with new ones.
This is a very worthwhile followup to his Steelheart book, and I can't wait for the next one ("Calamity") to come out that he is writing now. If you liked Steelheart, you'll enjoy this one as well.
Overall I'd give the series a thumbs up.
The characters felt a bit too straightforward at times- the good were "ultra good" and the bad were evil in the extreme (with a few exceptions). That's refreshing in some ways and a bit predictable at other times. The unadulterated nature of the hero of the story was a bit hard to relate to, he was just so darn pure of heart. At it's core, it's a story of light vs. dark, so I guess the characters reflect that, and It's hard to slam the story too much for that, since I knew that was the case going in and it's what I wanted.
The only real complaint I have (the above is really just an observation) is how quickly the storyline wrapped up at the end. The author took so long describing each and every trial the heroes overcame throughout the entire series in hyper detail, that I wanted the same level of explanation of what happened after the story arc climax. Instead we got a 15 minutes grand overview and hints and snippets. The author obviously took great delight in painstakingly crafting horrible and awful scenes for the characters to walk through and overcome, only to wrap things up way too quickly to feel really satisfied at the end, though it wasn't completely dropped.
I could have done with less detail about the plants in the jungle and hearing about the same emotions time and time again as the characters walked through similar situations and reacted the same. I got to where I would roll my eyes every time I heard the phrase "thrill of fear"- (that would make a good drinking game for listening to this book!)
I do like the overall storyline. The use of magic in the story was well conceived and thought out, and the creativity of the realm was very immersive. The author described each scene with detail sufficient to picture exactly what was going on. I was also able to connect with the characters sufficiently (despite my above comment) to feel invested in them and care when they suffered or triumphed. The reading was very well done (as most audible authors seem to be) and the range of voices helped identify and the performance added to the story immensely.
Overall a very good book. Not the 1st in which he explores the notion of a "god" point of view- think of it as a companion to "Elantris";- not set in the same universe, but exploration of a different side of that coin. The individual plots are well thought through and nicely developed. Sanderson once again creates a unique and intricate "magic" system for the universe in which the story takes place in. I like that (as per most of his stories) he sets up the rules early on so that you can acclimate to the system, but then will break or bend those rules as needed to add complexity to the storyline, and that the system is more complex than it seems initially. The characters seem well thought out and have significant growth during the story, and there are plot twists aplenty.
Several people have issues with the narrator here. I thought the reading was just fine. As with most, you have to give a certain degree of "suspension of belief" when they read for the opposite gender, but for me that was only an issue for 1 or 2 minor side characters where this became problematic. There was one main character which was read with the cadence and accent of Keanu Reeves from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". I'm not sure if that was his own interpretation or if there was direction from the Author to go that direction. In the end it worked, although to me it gave too strong an impression to see the character with any other frame of reference, which was a bit limiting as how to you viewed him. (I kept waiting for him to throw in a "whoa… dude!" phrase.) A minor quibble though.
I've really enjoyed getting to know Sanderson's world and style of storytelling and have liked everything of his I've read to date- Mistborn being his best I think. If you like his work, then this is something you will also enjoy.
There is no doubt that George Martin is a masterful storywriter, and able to weave a plot line that is complex, subtle and intriguing.
The main issue I have with the series is that this story is primarily what I would classify as a "Drama". It has a much more historical, medieval feel to it than pretty much any other work of fiction I've read. But the fantasy element is really lacking. Oh, there are "dragon skulls" hanging on the walls, but for the vast majority of the book, there isn't really anything fantastical or supernatural (except for the fact that you can't place the geography, and the weather is apparently quite odd- though that isn't really fleshed out in this portion of the story. Oh, and a couple of zombies thrown in at the end.)
It never had any grand "end of the world approaching" sort of evil to be overcome (or if it is there, it's in a very early stage of development) that made it feel like it was an "epic" story. The characters are much more broken and flawed people and the acts of evil committed are pretty graphic.
This is a book primarily about political alliances, betrayals, intrigue and the personal relationships that revolve around those circumstances. The characters are well thought out and developed though (even if not particularly likable), and Roy Dotrice puts on a SPECTACULAR performance- absolutely one fine reading.
I can't say it's not a good story. It's just not one I was really interested in. It's much more centered around who is going to be the king and who will side with who. If you like that sort of thing, this story will fit you. But it's not for me.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy is the 1st book in a 4-part sprawling epic fantasy. It is an intriguing story woven mostly around the voyage of an ancient and huge ship and the secret of it's real purpose. The narrative of the story comes from several viewpoints in the way of 1st person journal entries of the crew to family members, but is mostly centered around one of the lowest deckhands, nearly a slave and a young boy. He becomes the main character of the story and influences the entire plot though the relationships he makes, although at times it seems his story nearly comes to an end.
Michael Page, the narrator for this Audible version, has a fantastic range of voices and accents- it's easy to forget at times that you are listening to a single person reading the story. It really helps to distinguish the characters in your mind on another level and helps keep the story straight- you might forget a character's name, but recognize the voice. Some of the choices seemed odd at 1st, but they became part of the character quickly enough.
Overall, the story in the 1st book is very well thought through- it is complex but not overly so; engaging and deep. Some of the story is easy to figure out where it will go in general, but for the most part the story is unique and inventive. One of the really fascinating aspects of this fantasy is that almost the entire story is told from the perspective of life onboard the ship- the nautical aspect is pervasive and central to the story and the author has apparently gone to great lengths to make that aspect feel real, both in terminology as well as the chain of command with the crew of the ship. The ship's journey winds up becoming a key part of the entire political structure of the known world, and the story goes into the machinations of those empires and the subterfuge and conspiracies that follow.
Excellent book and well worth the time.
Terry Brooks was my introduction into Fantasy, and I have been a long time fan since "The Sword of Shannara". I've enjoyed the world he created and the stories he told, but as the series grew on, they started to become formulaic. Certainly he's explored different aspects of that world, different politics and occasionally created some great events. Elfstones of Shannara was perhaps one of his very best (along with "Antrax"), and this latest trilogy builds on much of the elfstone mythology. However, the story arc of of this particular trilogy (to date) has been fairly predictable. The 2 "big reveals" in the past two books were evident (to me anyways) from very early on in Book 1, Wards of Faerie. The characters are still pretty much the same as he's written before with new names (although perhaps with some gender reversals this time, which is interesting). What is intriguing is the regularity with which main characters die in this book- much of this trilogy has been little more than a slaughter at times, which is certainly a departure from previous writings. But it does leave you with a sense of hopelessness that you never had in previous works- the original quest gets fairly lost, if not outright forgotten by the end of this book as the remaining characters struggle to just stay alive.
If you're a Books fan, you're going to get this regardless, because you're invested in the world he's created. I don't really see this work as better than it's predecessors, although Terry is trying to explore new ground here, it just feels that the tools he has are getting a bit long in the tooth- though perhaps that speaks more to my growth as a discerning reader as I've branched out into other authors and story lines than it speaks of Terry's career. Still, I am a fan and will get the next book when it comes out, more out of nostalgia than truly being invested in the characters or the storyline at this point (though I am curious to see where it winds up).
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