To take a series that was written in the 1970s and connect it to a seemingly unrelated trilogy published in the 1990s is certainly quite a feat, but that’s what Terry Brooks has done in GENESIS OF SHANNARA. From the typical fantasy world that was introduced in THE SWORD OF SHANNARA, published way back in 1977, Brooks has often hinted that the Four Lands were a post-apocalyptic portrayal of our own world, thousands of years into the future. Readers were looking out for clues to this when RUNNING WITH THE DEMON was published in 1998, which made significant use of the term “The Word,” that had been previously used in the SHANNARA series. But it was not until the publication of GENESIS OF SHANNARA that the link between the two series was confirmed.
By this stage a plot summary is somewhat redundant. Long story short: the world is ending and the survivors are following Hawk, a “gypsy morph” formed of wild magic, to a safe haven. Making this journey all the more difficult is an army of demons who exist for the sole purpose of wiping out humanity (and elfin-kind, many of whom are travelling alongside humans with their city and population encased in a magical gemstone). From The Word and The Void trilogy there are Knights of the Word who act as protectors to the street-kids known as Ghosts, and from the Shannara series are the Elves and their Elfstones, working alongside humans for the first time in living memory.
The Gypsy Morph (and in fact, all of Brooks‘ books) is what I call “pulp fantasy,” with an emphasis on thrills, action, battles (physical or magical), romance, cliff-hangers, and capture/escape/chase scenarios. Brooks provides examples of these in droves, all told at break-neck speed… but the GENESIS trilogy had the potential to be so much more. This was our chance to see the birth of the Four Lands and its inhabitants, but it’s less about the “genesis” of the Shannara series as it is the conclusion of our civilization and world as we know it. Had it truly been a “genesis” of Shannara, surely there would have been more links with that particular land and the origins of all the “ancient” creatures that populate it.
There are several obvious connections between the two series that could have easily been made explicit, but weren’t for whatever reason. For instance, I was certain that the Lady would somehow be connected with the Ellcrys tree; or that the union of Simralen and Logan and their magic would lead to the beginning of the Shannara/Ohmsford bloodline, or (though this one’s a bit of a stretch) that the book of names that Findo Gask carried around throughout Angel Fire East would somehow evolve into the sentient Ildatch book of The Wishsong of Shannara. Of course, I can’t expect Brooks to remember all of these plot threads strewn throughout over four decades of writing, but these particular examples seemed blatantly obvious to me. There are components of both “Word/Void” and “Shannara” present here, but like oil and water, they never mingle in a satisfactory way.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this trilogy was a perfect opportunity to shed some light on the history of this world and the nature of many of its inhabitants. As it is, the story comes across as a bit of a rehash of previously published books, (plotlines such as Elfstones that need finding, the Ellcrys that needs protecting, demons that need unmasking and defeating, motivational speeches that need telling) and in one case a sub-plot repeats itself twice over in this very trilogy: in the second book a demon called Delloreen hunts down a specific target at the behest of Findo Gask. In The Gypsy Morph, the third book, a demon called Klee hunts down a specific target at the behest of Findo Gask. There are too many meaningless subplots and side-quests here: nothing is gained by them, and they just come across as filler. For instance, a HUGE amount of emphasis is put on the characters of Panther and Catalya, only for the two of them to abandon the group and go in search of life beyond the confines of Hawk’s proposed settlement. Since the story ends with the world engulfed in a nuclear winter, I can only assume they don’t get very far.
Although the story is fast-paced and one certainly gets the sense that a lot is riding on the success of our heroes, a lot of the plot relies on contrivance. There is an irritating shuffling of characters as they continuously and needlessly keep splitting-up. The King of the Silver River can transport Hawk to his domain, but apparently lacks the power to do so for everyone else. Kirisin is the only one who can activate the power of the Elfstones… at least until it’s convenient for someone else to do so. Candle looses her physic abilities for no discernible reason, and then just as inexplicitly gets them back again at the most opportune time. As the titular hero, Hawk doesn’t do a heck of a lot of work. Instincts guide him to the safe haven and he gets two impressive displays of power toward the end of the book, but it’s really the Knights who do most of the grunt-work. Hawk just comes across as a figurehead of hope rather than the messianic leader of men that he’s initially made out to be.
And what happened to Trim? I liked that little owl!
As always, Brooks displays a tendency to waffle on. The Elves provide long tracts on environmental pollution and how the nasty humans have destroyed the world; whilst the Knights of the Word introspect endlessly on how painful/precious life is, how the battle has robbed them of their youth, whether humanity is worth the effort, etc. Brooks tells us the thoughts and feelings of characters rather than simply letting us assume the obvious and experience their pain for ourselves, and he has this odd compulsion that is prevalent throughout all his work on reiterating the same plot-points over and over again. For example, we are told on page 243 that Kirisin carries: “the Loden Elfstone, which contained the bulk of the Elven nation, its talismanic tree, and its city.” Er, Brooks, why are you repeating this information to us? We know all this! We were there when it happened, remember? Whatever the reason, the man just loves to repeat himself. After a while, you become proficient at the “skimming” technique.
The premise of the GENESIS trilogy is a great one, and while it lasts it is a read that manages to be both riveting and sluggish (and if you don’t think that’s possible, just consider the fact that even though things repeat themselves several times, they’re done at such a break-neck speed that you’re not given a chance to realize it until it’s over), but I can’t shake the disappointment that The Gypsy Morph should have been an “answer” book, shedding light on many of the mysteries and enigmas that shroud this series. Not in a blindingly obvious “this is how it all works” way, but in a subtle way that allows for illumination at the puzzle pieces between the two worlds clicking together. But it simply isn’t that type of story, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I known that initially. So if you’re reading this, hopefully you’ll now know what to expect: it’s a fine read, but the two worlds of the far-reaching series are bridged, yet never really merged.
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.