Fans have known for many years that Terry Brooks, author of the immensely popular fantasy Shannara series, is one of the most talented authors in the fantasy business. Fortunately for those loyal fans who have stuck with him during his three decades of writing, his most recent endeavor, Bearers of the Black Staff picks up right where his preceding trilogy left off and plunges readers into the world that will, it is assumed, become the Four Lands.
Brooks’ previous trilogy, “The Genesis of Shannara,” revealed that the world of Shannara, in which magic predominates and science has mostly been forgotten, is indeed our world, albeit many years after Mankind almost destroyed itself with the Great Wars. At the end of the last trilogy, a group of survivors of that holocaust fled into a remote valley and were sealed in. In this series, however, that seal has been broken, and a new cast of characters, including Sider Ament (the last bearer of the black staff,) Panterra Qu and Prue Liss (two Trackers,) and an Elven Princess named Phryne Amarantyne must contend with both outside invaders (in the form of Trolls, and inside threats from those who believe that the boundary cannot possibly fail.
As always, Brooks’ plot is like a tightly wound ball of thread, with only enough of it being unraveled at a time to keep the pace moving briskly. Before we know it, we’re at the end of the book, hanging in a cliff, and we simply don’t know what’s going to happen. As a result of this, we find ourselves caring about the characters as they struggle against those who are out to destroy everything that they hold dear. Furthermore, we also feel the pain when someone we have come to enjoy meets an unfortunate fate (an unfortunately common occurrence in much of Brooks’ work.)
Although the protagonists in this newest Terry Brooks book are quite enjoyable, particularly the enigmatic Sider Ament (who bears a striking similarity to one of Brooks’ earlier characters, the Druid Walker Boh,) his villains are even more so. The Seraphic, a religious leader and zealot who has the power to control magic, is a villain good enough to challenge any of the others that have populated the world of Shannara. Although it would be easy for Terry Brooks to just let him stand as a the embodiment of evil, we actually get to see moments where the story is from his perspective, and we get a tantalizing glimpse inside his mind. For those who find villains to be irresistible, these sections should be a delight.
All in all, this was an engaging and engrossing novel from one of the giants of the epic fantasy genre. It never ceases to amaze me how Terry Brooks manages to take the epic fantasy formula and turn it into something new and exciting. When you come to the end of this fine masterpiece, you’ll find it very difficult to wait until next year. Never fear, however. Mr. Books will be back again with the concluding installment in this eulogy next year.