“The Black Staff’s Bearer Comes Closer Each Day…”
By this stage there are so many books in Terry Brooks’ SHANNARA series that each new installment requires a lengthy rundown of where it belongs in the sequence. After writing the original SHANNARA trilogy back in the 1970s, as well as a bevy of direct sequels, Brooks went on to write a seemingly-unrelated contemporary fantasy trilogy that introduced the Knights of the Word, champions of light armed with powerful staffs of black wood who fight against demonic forces that strive to bring about the end of the world.
Since then, Brooks has written a trilogy and a duology that bridges the gap between his SHANNARA series and THE WORD AND THE VOID trilogy. THE GENESIS OF SHANNARA trilogy and LEGENDS OF SHANNARAduology chronicle the time period between the world as we know it falling into a post-apocalyptic stage and the rise of the familiar fantasy-setting of his earliest books. Spanning over twenty books, it’s obviously quite a complex set-up by this stage, and newcomers should definitely not begin their reading experience here. A better starting-point would be Running with the Demon or The Sword of Shannara, the former being chronologically first in his canon, and the latter being Brooks’s first published book.
The Measure of the Magic is a direct sequel to Bearers of the Black Staff, with Brooks continuing to weave together elements of his series both past and present. Sider is the last of the Knights of the Word, protecting the valley in which the descendants of the last trilogy’s characters have peacefully lived for the last five centuries. But when the magical barriers fail, the dangers of the outside world begin to encroach on the valley. This comes in the shape of a dangerous troll-army, one that has managed to infiltrate the valley and compromise it from the inside. As his final act, Sider passes on his staff to Panterra Qu, a young tracker who now has the responsibility of the valley and its people on his shoulders.
There is danger at every turn: not only is the troll-army on the march, but a demon is creating dissention among the people of the valley, and a coup has occurred in the elven capital. Panterra’s dearest friend Prue is held captive by the trolls, and his ally Phyrne, an elven princess, is on trial for the murder of her father (I guess the letter “P” was popular among parents when these three were born). Brooks moves between these three subplots as the trio of characters try to reach each other once again: Panterra hunting down the demon, Prue sacrificing a piece of herself in order to reach her friends, and Phryne evading her evil stepmother and going in search of the missing Elfstones.
The story itself is quite piecemeal. The three situations aren’t really connected to one another (the three antagonists — troll, elf-queen and demon — are not only boring, but have no awareness of each other’s existence) which leads to a disconnect between each main character and what they’re trying to achieve. Although the pacing is steady and the action is exhilarating, it all builds to an ending that is hopelessly anticlimactic. I appreciated the bittersweet conclusion, as Brooks often opts for a more traditionally happy ending, and the denouement leaves the series wide open for further exploration of this world’s origins.
Therein lies the rub. Despite this book being set in Shannara’s prehistory, I still feel as though Brooks isn’t doing enough to explore it. Familiar relics such as the Ellcrys and the Elfstones are present, but it turns out that they predate everything in his timeline (thus denying us the chance to see how they originated in the first place). There is a (very) brief mention of feeders here, but none of the Lady. The King of the Silver River appears as a total deus ex machina to extract a price from one of the main characters that is… well, a bit random and silly. Still no word on the Druids, the Ildatch, the famous Sword of Shannara — or even (and this is strangest of all) the Shannara family. Given that both the GENESIS OF SHANNARA series and the LEGENDS OF SHANNARA duology actually HAVE the name “Shannara” in their titles, their absence is baffling. It’s like watching a STAR WARS movie without any war.
The past and future of this world still don’t successfully merge, and since a prequel’s strength lies in exploring the origins of the past, it’s a strange oversight that Brooks skips so many aspects of his established mythology. Having gone from what was a basic Tolkien retread in his very first book The Sword of Shannara, only to find his own voice and write some exceptionally good stories of his own in Running with the Demon and THE HERITAGE OF SHANNARA, Brooks has looped back around and is now copying himself. Many of the subplots involving Elven politics, an assassin tracking our heroes, or the Elfstones as a magical McGuffin have been used countless times in his other books. The idea of a “midquel” breaching the gap between past and present was a great opportunity to stake out new ground, but at this point the same story is just being told over and over again. It’s a pleasant, diverting read, but it’s really nowhere near as good as it could be.
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.