There are, in my admittedly limited view of things, four kinds of Western fantasy (disregarding the urban fantasy genre that is so popular lately, I see that as just an extension of the faerie stories that every culture throughout history has created). The four kinds that I am talking about are all Tolkien derivative. None of them is like Tolkien’s work but they draw inspiration from it.
There are the fantasy histories like Kate Eliot and Steven Erikson. There are the fantasy journeys like David Eddings, Tad Williams, and Robert Jordan. David Farland and Brandon Sanderson write fantasy that pays homage to Tolkien’s work but don’t fit an obvious mold.
The fourth is what I call Tolkien fan fiction. These are the books by authors who lacked the ability to create their own worlds and stories so they borrowed them. Sometimes this works okay (Weis and Hickman) because of interesting characters. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all (Paolini, Goodkind) because it is lifted whole from other works.
Terry Brooks belongs to the fourth group, mostly.
When I was younger I loved Terry Brooks. I read every one of his novels that I could get my hands on, as many as sixteen of his books. Something changed, either me or him, I don’t know which, probably both.
Perhaps I have read too many books by better authors. Maybe I’ve studied too much about writing.
Whatever the reason I find it hard to get through any of Terry Brooks’ novels in a timely manner.
Morgawr is the third book of a trilogy called The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara. The first too books I found horribly tedious and only finished them because I was assured that this third volume was significantly better.
It was, but that isn’t saying much.
The story focuses on a group of characters who have survived a horrible attack by some kind of ancient computer that happens to use magic as its power source. Despite the improbability of it being able to do … any of the things it does… it manages to kill off most of the side characters so that the third book can be more focused.
The Ilse Witch, Grianne Ohmsford, has touched the Sword of Shannara which revealed to her the truth about her past. Unable to deal with the bad things she’s done she goes semi comatose – she walks around when led but otherwise she is completely unresponsive.
Because of her former nature everybody pretty much wants her dead, except her long lost brother Bek Ohmsford. Her old master, the Morgawr, is among those who wants to kill her, along with everybody else – because he’s evil and his friends are lizards.
People fall in love, friends die, shapeshifters never ever change shape and Grianne stares blankly in front of her, all with almost no emotional impact. None of the characters seem different at all. In fact they don’t really feel like characters so much as puppets placed in situations so that things can happen to them.
Terry Brooks has, apparently, never heard the old adage ‘show, don’t tell‘. If you want us to believe that a character is suffering from the effects of PTSD, don’t tell us, show us. The story is so consumed with navel gazing and introspective passages explaining that this characters has this emotional turmoil – no really, he does – that the story itself probably takes up a third of the pages.
The writing is also difficult to read because Terry Brooks is quite fond of the passive voice. Every sentence is written in passive voice. The effect of this is that everything feels like events happening to characters rather than characters participating in events.
Terry Brooks has been writing in this world for over thirty years. I expected somebody with that much experience to think things out more clearly. His monsters are all huge and have lots of teeth and razor sharp claws. Or they are given ambiguous names that mean nothing. Magic has no description whatsoever. Magic users ‘lash out’ and ‘strike’ and ‘trace down lines of power’ without any indication what any of that means. Elves are just humans with pointed ears. They don’t have any different culture, or different views. They don’t live longer than humans or think differently, they only exist because Tolkien had elves in his books. (Never mind that Tolkiens elves are immortal and kind of creepy and alien and arrogant and different. Immortality changes ones views.) Dwarves are all grumpy and use axes in battle. Shapeshifters are prevalent but they never bother to change shape – maybe there were budget cuts in the special effects department. Anything that looks reptilian is evil, always.
Grianne Ohmsford spends six months in a catatonic state and never in all that time has to be fed, given water, changed or bathed. She actually sits in a chair all that time and when she does finally wake up she gets up and goes out to do battle with no stiff muscles or signs of atrophy from six months sitting in a chair. Maybe it was the lack of food that kept her fit.
Some characters survive simply because they happened to have hidden things previously that the reader was never told about (Redden Alt Mer just happened to have a single wing glider stowed on his old air ship) or just by plain design from the author (Quentin Leah ‘swims’ with the rock fall and comes out with only bumps and bruises, while a big animal falls on him later and nearly kills him – so that Grianne and Bek can be the heroes in the end – Quentin was obviously too capable).
Terry Brooks still sells a lot of books so there must be something that somebody likes in his writing. A lot of somebodies, apparently. I, however, have given him an honest try. The last four of his books that I read I had to force myself to get through. I enjoy my Calculus books more than these.
Whether I have changed as a reader or Terry Brooks has changed as a writer I just can’t punish myself with this any longer. I am through with Terry Brooks.