I have been meaning to sample Terry Brooks for a long time but felt overwhelmed by the Shannara canon; a commitment to explore his work the way I imagined I would explore it meant a commitment to forego reading other books for quite some time. When Hachette's press release for June featured another Shannara title, instead of glossing over it with the mental promise of "later," I read the promotional material. And you know what? It promised the novel could read as a stand-alone! This seemed like the perfect answer to my procrastination pickle (and the perfect answer for the publicity agents too, I'm sure).
I have good and bad news;
- The good: Jumping in at the offered entry point, albeit late, confirmed what I'd heard about Brooks. He's a high quality of world-builder. It reminded me of Trudi Canavan, in style. With Brooks, there is a kind of medieval cyberpunk mash-up going on, and I can get behind that. I'm not a big fan of his weaponry choice, but I like fantasy airships a great deal (thank you for awakening this, Canavan).
- Problem is, knowing Canavan, I know I wouldn't want to jump in at a later point and miss the beautiful exposition that precedes later books; I'd be squinting through a watered down beverage instead of savouring juice and expelling a regular "Aaaaah!" of satisfaction. Therein lies the bad news; I cannot agree this is a stand-alone novel. I didn't enjoy it as a stand-alone, and was hyper-aware of all of the notes and nuances I was missing. Being filled in on earlier episodes centered on other Defenders' of Shannara did not equal having joined them on those episodes. I have occasionally read a stand-alone novel set in already-constructed world and felt it worked. This isn't one of those times. Sorry.
- I found the characters lacking. Maybe if I knew them better (again -- this means -- had read about them more) I would care more for them. But as a stand-alone, these characters didn't appeal to me. I wasn't invested in any of their futures, and in fact found one female protagonist seriously aggravating. The villian was the most interesting! Any scenes without him were quite dull, and I felt everything about them was being summarily reported instead of shown for a long time; I wanted to get back into the live-feel-unfolding narrative the story opened with! And when it did, it was happening with characters I didn't care enough about. *sigh*
- I do like the style of euphemistic other-world cursing (and yes, it also reminded my of Canavan's high fantasy style).
- Semi-spoiler: I like that there was a witch. I don't know why, but I'm into witch narratives at the moment. (Okay, I do know why, looking at you, Throne of Glass.)