Wards of Faerie
Random House Publishing Group/Del Rey Books, August 2012
Review by Staff Writer, Kristin Brann
Wards of Faerie is the first book of the The Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy and Terry Brooks’ 22nd Shannara book. Brooks has frequently revisited Shannara through trilogies and quartets and has resurrected the Elfstones of Shannara, sprinkling a few familiar characters to introduce a new generation. The mounting tensions between magic and science, coupled with conflict between the druids and elves who are the primary custodians of magic in the Four Lands, create a very unstable political climate.
Aphenglow Elessedil, an elven Druid, discovers clues to the disappearance and location of the Elfstones, powerful magical artifacts which generations of elves used for defense before their theft. A group of druids embarks on a quest to rediscover the Elfstones with Redden and Railing Ohmsford, twin Rovers—a tribe of wanderers, as the name implies—who possess the power of the Wishsong but who have not yet fully discovered how to use it. Because Aphenglow was injured in an assassination attempt, she is left behind to heal while the other Druids go on their quest and must fend off an attack by the ambitious Federation, a nation which has been experiencing extensive instability of its own because its leaders are as ambitious and volatile as their plans for expansion.
Terry Brooks develops the characters just enough to introduce them, but not enough to get to know them: there are glimpses of the complexity of the untried characters. In particular, Aphenglow’s experiences test her and her companions, showing growth and greater confidence. In many respects, this feels largely like it is her book because she is so important to setting up the actions and within the book. The entire story is not centered around her, but she is central within it. Familial connections do provide ties to previous Shannara books, but nearly all central characters are young and still somewhat unknown. There is some elder influence through the Ard Rhys, or Head Druid, Khyber Elessedil and Farshaun Req, a shipbuilder and elder Rover, but this is largely a coming-of-age tale. Brooks’ has crafted characters who do not yet know their own strengths or limitations, so that they may be revealed to characters and readers alike and providing the opportunity to become more invested in the characters’ development. Periodically, insights are given into what the senior characters are thinking of the junior characters to help underscore the untapped potential of the central figures. This is particularly important in the case of Redden and Railing Ohmsford, who are identical twins but whose personalities are different.
The plot and setting are intertwined. Since the future of the Four Lands promises to hinge on the journeys being undertaken, this is a typical Terry Brooks Shannara novel. This is an epic journey, relying on magic, bloodlines, and dynamic characters engaged in high stakes quests. However, Brooks once again demonstrates his ability to craft suspense with his breaking points. Chapter breaks and where he leaves the characters at the end of Wards of Faerie leaves readers either eager to get back to the world of Shannara or perhaps annoyed to have to wait months to see what happens next. Wards of Faerie serves largely as an introduction to new characters and entities, but readers will undoubtedly travel again to see where they will go. As the first book in the trilogy, there is not a conclusion as much as there is a resting point. There are several journeys going on simultaneously, and each of them is significant. Though I am confident that Terry Brooks will ultimately satisfy, there were a few predictable touches hearkening back to his earlier novels, leading me to wonder what tricks he has left up his sleeve for the later books in the trilogy.
The preview of Bloodfire Quest at the end of Wards of Faerie reveals that Aphenglow’s sister, Arlingfant, will become a central rather than supporting character. As with much of Wards of Faerie, the potential for greatness is both an asset and a liability. The most intriguing characters have barely been explored, and some portions seemed almost to happen too quickly and easily for there to be two books remaining. So, part of my frustration is that I have no idea what is going to happen next—while that is also part of what leaves me wondering how long it will take before I give in and pre-order Bloodfire Quest.
If you want order Wards of Faerie, you can do so at Amazon.com. To find out more about Terry Brooks’ writing, including recommended reading orders for his books, you can visit his website.