Thursday, July 21, 2016

An Attack on the Defenders

The last time I blogged about fantasy author Terry Brooks, it was to decry the abysmal television adaptation of his writing, The Shannara Chronicles. I found the show to be a hackneyed, teenaged version of one of his greatest books, The Elfstones of Shannara.

Now I've read his latest book, The Sorcerer's Daughter (the final book of three in The Defenders of Shannara set), and I find that Brooks' writing seems to have sunk almost to the level of that dreadful show. Was his writing always this way, and my younger self -- less well read, closer in age to the characters -- didn't see it? (I would have sworn not that; I just re-read Elfstones a few years back and still appreciated it.)

The Sorcerer's Daughter follows two distinct plot threads. In one, a group of Druids shepherded by Paxon Leah is fleeing from a peace conference that was attacked by a magical creature -- they themselves having been framed for the attack. In the other, Paxon's wife Leofur is trying to track his sister, who has been abducted for reasons unknown. Both situations have likely been caused by the Druids' nemesis, the evil mage (and Leofur's father) Arcannen.

It's been decades since Terry Brooks last published a "doorstop fantasy novel," but even as his page counts have been dwindling, he'd still mostly been telling "epic" tales of significant sweep and scope. The Defenders of Shannara series has been a definite push away from that, and The Sorcerer's Daughter feels like the culmination of this. It feels anything but epic, in the worst of ways. The stakes are extremely personal, and the characters are so shallow as to make that a real problem.

Much of what's going on here is recycled from earlier Brooks novels, even from within this very trilogy. This is the second time the same character has been abducted, the second time the evil sorcerer has used the same trick to fool the heroes. And the prose itself is repetitious too; the two main characters have the same internal monologue with themselves in chapter after chapter (sometimes even within the same chapter) without actually evolving until it's time for the book to end.

Brooks does try a couple of new things for which I should give credit. Where his past books have been using a similarly shaped romantic subplot, this novel actually depicts a married couple that may be on the way to divorce. The problem is, the major complication in this relationship is a potential new romance that plays out just like all the others, so it ultimately doesn't matter much that there's a pre-existing marriage here at all. Secondly, Brooks explicitly includes LGBT characters in his fiction for the first time, in the form of two Druid characters who are themselves a lesbian couple. Unfortunately, the personalities of both are rather underdeveloped (though one, at least, for reasons that make sense in light of the plot). Really, all the other characters in the Paxon Leah half of the plot are underdeveloped, so this is not a mark against Brooks' handling of a gay character... though it is a mark against his interest in supporting players beyond their immediate service to the narrative.

Though The Sorcerer's Daughter was quite short for the average fantasy novel, I found it a slog -- likely the worst of Terry Brooks' many books. I give it a D.


The Down East Genealogist said...

Funny you should post this today, because I just finished reading this book not 10 minutes ago. And I have to agree with your assessment completely. Repetitive, simplistic, and with very little real "action" and even less magic than usual. You could sum most of the book up as "the characters [encounter | are chased by | are captured by] [the Federation | Arcannen | a witch | a vicious plant or animal] and [escape using magic | die]." Rinse and repeat. I anticipated the big reveals well ahead of time (probably due to the plot recycling), and I can't help feeling that the big bad sorcerer -- regardless of the power of his magic -- was a bit on the inept side as far as planning was concerned.

With regard to the lesbian couple, I got the impression that at least one of the pair might actually be bisexual. Or did I read too much into the final scene?

(Major Rakal, in her genealogist persona)

DrHeimlich said...

I think that's a valid take on the final scene.

(Good to hear from you! It's been a while.)