This is the second book in the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, a series that holds the interesting position of being both a prequel (to the extensive Shannara series) and a sequel (to The Word and The Void trilogy). Though there have been little clues strewn about various Terry Brooks’ books that hinted at a connection between the epic fantasy of the former and the urban fantasy of the latter, it was with more than a little excitement that I picked up Armageddon’s Children, knowing it to be the first of a trilogy that bridged the two series.
The Knights of the Word are in the service of the Lady, a powerful spirit that arms them with magical staffs and guides them with dreams in their fight against demons and “once-men” that have ravaged the world and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Elves of Cintra (what they call Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range) are hiding away in their city, determined not to get involved with the human world that is dying beyond their borders. Finally, a street kid called Hawk learns of his extraordinary identity as a “gypsy morph,” a creature made of wild magic that is destined to lead the survivors of this apocalyptic world into the Promised Land.
In the previous book, there were four main storylines pertaining to these central concepts from the Shannara and The Word and The Void books; here that has been whittled down to two as plots and characters begin to collide. After Knight of the Word Logan Tom (given the task of protecting the gypsy morph by the Lady) witnesses Hawk thrown from the walls of a compound only to disappear into a blazing white light, he takes Hawk’s family of street kids and begins the march to a rendezvous point in which he hopes to be reunited with his original charge.
Meanwhile, fellow Knight of the Word Angel Perez joins with the Elvish siblings Simralen and Kirisin (continuing Brooks’ odd trend of bestowing feminine names on male characters) who have been charged by the mystical Ellcrys tree to — in this order: find the Elfstones so that they might find the Loden so that they might contain the city in its depths and carry it to the place of safety that the gypsy morph will lead them to. Further complications arise when it becomes clear that a demon is hiding in their midst, anticipating their every move…
Finally, in a plot that’s so short it’s barely worth mentioning, and disappointingly minor for the character who is ostensibly meant to be the main character, Hawk is transported from his execution and awakens in the gardens of the King of the Silver River (another major character from Shannara) and told of his lineage, powers, and destiny. Hawk, the savior and subject of the final book’s title, does absolutely nothing proactive in this installment.
As the title would suggest, the book is mainly concerned with the plight of the Elves and the search for the Elfstones, and (though tastes may differ) this segment makes up the most enjoyable part of the book, despite the slight repetitiveness of the plot — it seems as though every Shannara book has a group of Elves trying to find the long-lost Elfstones. In comparison, Logan’s journey from point A to point B with a gang of street kids known as the Ghosts is frustratingly slow and — speaking with the authority of hindsight, having read the final book — full of pointless events that come across as needless padding. With a couple of exceptions, the Ghost are too numerous to be individualistic and so there is little emotional impact when they are used as cannon fodder in order to drive home the point of how dangerous the situation is.
They fight killer robots, come up against a rouge Knight of the Word, search for medicine when others get sick, mourn over the dead, try to rescue a disfigured boy who ends up kidnapping one of their number, meet a random character called the Senator and a girl who decides to tag along with them, scavenge and bicker with one another, but nothing is all that important in the long run. It is a survival story as they traverse inhospitable territory, running up against various obstacles on the way to their reunion with Hawk, and although it is all told at a break-neck speed (in fact after Candle is kidnapped and escapes her captor, her reunion with the Ghosts is relayed in hindsight), none of it really amounts to much. None of the dangers are specifically linked with anything that occurs in the next book, or in the Shannara books to follow.
I suppose I was simply coming into this book with misconceptions. When I think of a prequel I automatically assume that it’s going to take advantage of two things: the opportunity to explore the origins of certain people, places and objects, and the fact that there is a foregone conclusion at work. We already know how this particular story is going to end: with the death of one world and the beginning of another. What’s (supposed to be) interesting is how it gets there and what we learn on the way. To me, the whole point of these types of stories is so that the readers can recognize foreshadowing, smile knowingly at in-jokes, see the characters in a “before-they-were-stars” angle and discover the origins of certain ideologies and artifacts.
There are little touches here and there, such as a visit to the Oronyx Experimental Robotics Systems that hints at the main antagonist of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara as well as the emergence of mutated humans nicknamed Croaks, Spiders, and Lizards that are presumably the prototypes of the Gnomes, Dwarfs, and Trolls of later books. But take for example, the Elves. If the mutants in this book are the forerunners for the fantasy species of “Shannara,” then why couldn’t the Elves have been some sort of genetically mutated and superior race? How about instead of finding the Elfstones and protecting the Ellcrys (two plots that have already been done to death, most predominantly in The Elfstones of Shannara and The Elf Queen of Shannara) Brooks instead explores the origins of these two iconic Elfish talismans?
I had this pet theory before cracking open Genesis of Shannara that the Lady of The Word and The Void would end up being the first incarnation of the Ellcrys tree and the one who (with a little help from the newly crafted Elfstones) sealed up the demon hoards in the oft-mentioned Forbidding of the Shannara books. However, this story opens with the Ellcrys, the Elfstones and the Forbidding already in existence, giving us no clue whatsoever as to where these iconic Elfish talismans originated from, or what the difference is between Shannara’s demons and The Word and The Void’s once-men who roam the post-apocalypse landscape (I had always assumed they were one and the same species). It just felt as though Brooks is robbing himself of the opportunity to explore and explain his own created world in more detail.
But for the most part, The Elves of Cintra is a rewarding story, which is also surprisingly self-contained considering Brooks’ usual tendency to leave a reader hanging with a cliff-hanger. The pacing is fast and the action is almost non-stop, and for the most part The Elves of Cintra avoids “middle book syndrome,” in which nothing starts and nothing finishes: in this case, the protagonists get plenty of work done, though still have their main objectives left to achieve in the final book. As always, the main characters are likable enough, though they indulge themselves in plenty of needless pontificating, repetitive introspection, and a tendency to state the obvious.
Certainly epic in scope and apocalyptic in nature, Genesis of Shannara may not be completely rewarding reading for those hoping to gather more illumination on the deep history of the Four Lands, but it’s certainly doing its job in bringing the world as we know it to eminent destruction and pushing the survivors forward into a brave new world.
Growing up, my love for fantasy literature can be largely attributed to a select few authors including J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Robert Jordan, and the subject of this review, Terry Brooks. Ever since the original Shannara trilogy, I’ve been a Terry Brooks addict and over the years, the author has continued to impress me with his numerous Shannara sequels, The Magic Kingdom of Landover series which is a personal favorite, and the excellent urban fantasy trilogy The Word and The Void.
Mr. Brooks took readers by surprise with Armageddon’s Children, which was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where the author’s worlds of Shannara and The Word and The Void collided with one another, laying the groundwork for the Genesis of Shannara series, which revolves around a gypsy morph whose purpose is to save the human race by leading the people of the Word to the Promised Land, a haven that will shelter them until the outside madness and destruction are complete and the world has had time to heal itself.
Immediately picking up after the cliffhanger events at the end of Armageddon’s Children, The Elves of Cintra continues the storylines that were established in the previous book including the fate of Hawk and Tessa, Logan Tom leading the Ghosts away from the city of Seattle, and Angel Perez and the tatterdemalion Ailie reaching the haven of the Elves and joining forces with Kirisin who is in search of the Loden Elftsone that will save the Ellcrys, and in turn, the Elves.
Among the various subplots in play, there’s a demon disguised as a prominent elf, a rogue Knight of the Word, a scene that satisfyingly ties in with The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy, and a final showdown between Angel and the demon Delloreen, not to mention familiar themes of destiny, regret, family, forgiveness, responsibility, survival and growing up.
Overall, the story in The Elves of Cintra is vintage Terry Brooks — fast pacing, multiple viewpoints, short chapters, mini-cliffhangers, succinct length (384 pages), et cetera — and is a worthy follow-up to Armageddon’s Children. To be honest though, I didn’t think it was quite as strong as its predecessor. Obviously Elves play a much more prominent role in the story this time around, and as fascinating as it is to see the worlds of the Word/Void and Shannara crossing over, I have to admit that the whole concept of Elfstones, Ellcrys and so forth, seems a little played out. I guess that’s why I enjoyed the parts that featured Logan and the Ghosts so much more, because they offered something different from what you might normally see in a Terry Brooks adventure.
The only other problem I had was with the ending. If you’ve been reading Terry Brook’s books for a while now, then you know that cliffhangers are a major part of his repertoire, and since The Elves of the Cintra is the middle volume in a trilogy sequence, I was expecting quite a humdinger. Instead, Mr. Brooks does a good job of wrapping up events in a bearable manner for those who hate to wait between releases, but I thought the finale was disappointingly anticlimactic. Of course, that’s not going to stop me from looking forward to the next book in the series.
Like any Terry Brooks novel, The Elves of Cintra features a large cast of characters, comprised of a mix of young heroes/heroines, experienced veterans, enigmatic mystics, nasty villains, and an animal or two. For me, this kind of format has its advantages and disadvantages. From one perspective, the many different voices offer great diversity and help the story to move along at a fast clip. On the other hand, in-depth character analysis can be a bit lacking, but fortunately Mr. Brooks handles this problem area better than most. Looking at The Elves of Cintra specifically, the biggest issue I had was that some of the characters seemed too much like previous Terry Brooks characters. For instance, Logan could be John Ross reincarnated, Angel is indistinguishable, Hawk is the prototypical boy ‘destined for greatness,’ and Kirisin, Simralin, et cetera, are just like any other elves that the author has already written. Thankfully you have the Ghosts, a group of street kids who each have their own distinctive personality and talent and work well together as a family. They’re easily my favorites in the book and it was particularly nice to get to know more about Fixit, Bear and Candle. Unfortunately, some of the characters from the first book that I enjoyed reading about — Hawk, Tessa, Findo Gask — are not as prominent in The Elves of Cintra. The villains in particular have been a bit disappointing, especially compared to some of the more memorable ones Mr. Brooks has come up with in the past, but I’m hoping that will be remedied in book three.
Another issue I had was with the character deaths. Because of the large cast, it’s sometimes difficult to connect with everyone in the book, especially the minor role players, and a couple of the casualties in The Elves of Cintra lacked any real emotional impact and seemed more like plot devices than something I should care about. Finally, of the new characters introduced, Catalya is by far the most intriguing and I definitely look forward to reading more about her. As a whole, the characterization in The Elves of Cintra is solid as usual, but I have seen better from Mr. Brooks.
The Genesis of Shannara series has been a particularly fun and rewarding experience. In fact, I think anyone who calls themselves a fan of Mr. Brooks would be hard-pressed not to enjoy the new trilogy. For readers new to Terry Brooks, I think The Genesis of Shannara would be accessible to you since it’s basically serving as the ultimate prequel to the Shannara series. Sure, you might miss out on a few references to The Word and The Void — John Ross, Nest Freemark, Two Bears, feeders, the Lady, Hopewell — and Shannara — King of the Silver River, Elves/Faerie, Ellcrys, Blue Elfstones, the Forbidding, Arborlon, the Elven Home Guard, shades, et cetera — but as a series, the books stand well on their own.
In the end, even though I felt The Elves of Cintra was not as strong as Armageddon’s Children, the trilogy as a whole is shaping up to be one of Brook’s most accomplished works and I can’t wait to see howit ends and what the author has in store for his readers following The Genesis of Shannara. What impresses me the most about the trilogy is that even after thirty years of writing, Terry Brooks is still producing high-quality fantasy at a prodigious rate, and in fact, has gotten even better. So thank you Mr. Brooks for all of the wonderful books that you’ve given us and may your career continue to be a long and successful one.
FYI: The Dark Wraith of Shannara, an original graphic novel, has been published by Del Rey. The story, which takes place a few years after the events of The Wishsong of Shannara and stars siblings Jair and Brin Ohmsford, the young girl Kimber Boh, Cogline the Druid, and the Croton Witch, was created by Terry Brooks with Robert Place Napton (Saint Angel, Deity, Battlestar Galactica) writing and Edwin David (Battle of the Planets, ShadowChasers) drawing.
THE HERITAGE OF SHANNARA — (1990-1993) Publisher: Since the death of Allanon, life in the Four Lands has drastically changed. Yet Par Ohmsford still has some power of the Wishsong. And when a message from the ancient Druid, Allanon, reaches them, Par is ordered to recover the long-lost Sword of Shannara, and the glory that once was the Four Lands…
THE VOYAGE OF THE JERLE SHANNARA — (2000-2002) Publisher: When a half-drowned elf is found floating in the seas of the Blue Divide, an old mystery resurfaces. Thirty years ago, an elven prince led an expedition in search of a legendary magic said to be more powerful than any in the world. Of all those who set out on that ill-fated voyage, not one has ever returned. Until now. The rescued elf carries a map covered with mysterious symbols–and Walker Boh, the last of the Druids, has the skill to decipher them. But someone else understands the map’s significance: the Ilse Witch, a ruthless young woman who wields a magic as potent as his own. She will stop at nothing to possess the map — and the magic it leads to.
HIGH DRUID OF SHANNARA — (2003-2005) Publisher: Twenty years have passed since Grianne Ohmsford denounced her former life as the dreaded Ilse Witch — saved by the love of her brother, the magic of the Sword of Shannara, and the destruction of her evil mentor, the Morgawr. Now, fulfilling the destiny predicted for her, she has established the Third Druid Council, and dedicated herself to its goals of peace, harmony among the races, and defense of the Four Lands. But the political intrigue, secret treachery, and sinister deeds that have haunted Druid history for generations continue to thrive. And despite her devotion to the greater good as Ard Rhys — the High Druid of Paranor, Grianne still has bitter enemies. Among the highest ranks of the Council she leads lurk those who cannot forget her reign of terror as the Ilse Witch, who covet her seat of power, and who will stop at nothing to see her deposed… or destroyed. Even Grianne’s few allies — chief among them her trusted servant Tagwen — know of the plots against her. But they could never anticipate the sudden, ominous disappearance of the Ard Rhys, in the dead of night and without a trace. Now, barely a step ahead of the dark forces bent on stopping him, Tagwen joins Grianne’s brave young nephew, Pen Ohmsford, and the wise, powerful elf Ahren Elessedil on a desperate and dangerous mission of search and rescue — to deliver the High Druid of Shannara from an unspeakable fate.
GENESIS OF SHANNARA — (2006-2008) Mr Brooks is planning one more stand-alone novel in this series and he plans another Shannara trilogy. Publisher: Extrapolating from current world events, Brooks projects a worst-case scenario in which the steady destruction of all humankind is a reality. Plagues have killed half a billion, weapons of mass destruction have decimated entire populations, and the few survivors have retreated into a siege mentality, turning city stadiums into walled compounds and shutting out the “freaks” — those who have mutated from breathing the polluted air and drinking the badly fouled water. A variety of principals propel the transfixing yarn Brooks spins in this setting: Logan Tom and Angel Perez, both Knights of the Word committed to keeping the magic that binds all things together in balance; Hawk, a street kid who leads a group of other young people in Seattle; Kirisin, a young elf who is one of the Chosen safeguarding the Ellcrys, a magnificent tree upon whose existence the lives of the elves depend and whose safety is now threatened; and the demons and their minions, the once-men, who have been subverted by false promises and lies. Everything and everyone moves inexorably toward a deadly confrontation in the Northwest. Characterizations are dynamic and multidimensional, the descriptions of the land as well as the ruined cities and small towns are compelling, the action and battles are mesmerizing, and, as is Brooks’ wont, the ending is a cliff-hanger that leaves readers salivating for the sequel.
LEGENDS OF SHANNARA — (2010-2011) Publisher: The Genesis of Shannara trilogy — Armageddon’s Children, The Elves of Cintra, and The Gypsy Morph — charted the fall of our own world into the hands of once-men and demons… and the escape of a few humans, Elves, and others into a remote mountain valley walled in by impenetrable magic. For five-hundred years the survivors have lived peacefully, learning to coexist and to build a new world with the limited resources and skills available to them. Now the magic that kept them safe for so many centuries is wearing down. Frightening creatures are penetrating the barriers and wreaking havoc on the valley within. It is time for the four peoples to stand together and create the new world of Shannara.
SHANNARA’S DARK LEGACY — (2012-2013) Publisher: Seven years after the conclusion of the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks at last revisits one of the most popular eras in the legendary epic fantasy series that has spellbound readers for more than three decades. When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power of magic ruled — and the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried away more than her heart. Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon the secret account of an Elven girl’s heartbreak and the shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a little knowledge been so very dangerous — as Aphenglow quickly learns when she’s set upon by assassins. Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating clash to come. But Aphenglow and her allies — Druids, Elves, and humans alike — remember the monstrous history of the Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question entirely.
DEFENDERS OF SHANNARA — (2014- ) Publisher: From New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks comes the first stand-alone novel in his legendary Shannara series in almost twenty years—the perfect place for new readers to begin. Paxon Leah never thought of the old family sword hanging above his living room hearth as anything other than an intriguing ornament—until his sister is kidnapped by a sorceror. Following the dark mage with nothing but this piece of steel to protect him, Paxon stumbles into a plot to remake the world . . . and accidentally unlocks the powers of the ancient blade.
PALADINS OF SHANNARA — (2012-2013) Stand-alone short stories.
THE FALL OF SHANNARA — (2017- ) The triumphant and epic four-part conclusion to the Shannara series, from one of the all-time masters of fantasy. Across the Four Lands, peace has reigned for generations. But now, in the far north, an unknown enemy is massing. More troubling than the carnage is the strange and wondrous power wielded by the attackers—a breed of magic unfamiliar even to the Druid order. Fearing the worst, the High Druid dispatches a diplomatic party under the protection of the order’s sworn guardian, Dar Leah, to confront the mysterious, encroaching force and discover its purpose.
Related SHANNARA books:
Prequel: First King of Shannara — (1996) Publisher: Horrified by the misuse of magic they had witnessed during the First War of the Races, the Druids at Paranor devoted themselves to the study of the old sciences, from the period before the collapse of civilization a thousand years before. Only the Bremen and a few trusted associates still studied the arcane arts. And for his persistence, Bremen found himself outcast, avoided by all but the few free-thinkers among the Druids. But his removal from Paranor was not altogether a terrible thing, for Bremen learned that dark forces were on the move from the Northlands. That seemingly invincible armies of trolls were fast conquering all that lay to their south. That the scouts for the army — and its principal assassins — were Skull Bearers, disfigured and transformed Druids who had fallen prey to the seductions of the magic arts. And that at the heart of the evil tide was an archmage and former Druid named Brona! Using the special skills he had acquired through his own study of Magic, Bremen was able to penetrate the huge camp of the Troll army and learn many of its secrets. And he immediately understood that if the peoples of the Four Lands were to escape eternal subjugation they would need to unite. But, even united, they would need a weapon, something so powerful that the evil magic of Brona, the Warlock Lord, would fail before its might…
Indomitable — (2011) Publisher: Master fantasist Terry Brooks first conjured the unforgettable world of the magic-wracked Four Lands more than three decades ago, and its boundaries continue to expand into new territory. With Indomitable, Brooks provides an essential epilogue to the beloved Shannara trilogy that started it all. Two years have passed since Jair Ohmsford aided his sister Brin in her quest to destroy the evil living tome known as the Ildatch. When word comes that a single page of the book, covered in lines pulsing with dark energy, survived Brin’s magic, Jair must take up the fight alone. But Jair’s gift is not the equal of his sister’s, and as he steals into the prison fortress of Dun Fee Aran — where he almost died in his first foray against the Ildatch — he has nothing to rely upon but the power of illusion. Illusion, and the memory of an ally who died to defend him.