Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: The Gypsy Morph

The first Terry Brooks novel I ever read was The Elfstones of Shannara. It was one of the first fantasy novels I'd ever read, and I fell instantly in love with it. I know, I know. His critics claim that his work, especially the early stuff, is warmed over Tolkien. I don't care. I could actually read and comprehend Elfstones in a way that I could never have gotten into Tolkien. I wasn't ready to dig into the Lord of the Rings until college. I just didn't have the tools to get what was going on. But Elfstones I could get. It was accessible, and a good story with a decently subtle moral. I loved it. I still do. It's my favorite Brooks novel, by far, although I admit that I own just about everything he's ever written and enjoy most of it to one degree or another.

So, when The Gypsy Morph came out, it was a no-brainer that I was going to get it and read it post haste. Which I just finished doing. Yes, that's right. Instead of reading my friend's manuscript, or working on Wiglaf's Tale (my current obsession) or revising At What Cost (my last obsession) or hell, doing the laundry, vacuuming or doing anything else constructive, I polished off the last of the Genesis of Shannara series this morning. Was it worth the effort?

Hell, yes!

I was actually worried about this book quite a bit. The ending of Brooks' last Shannara sequence, the High Druid of Shannara, was disappointing to me in a really fundamental way. Brooks never pulls any punches when it comes to introspection, self-discovery and self-sacrifice. But the ending of High Druid was just no very satisfying. It left you with a "Well, damn!" kind of feeling. But The Gypsy Morph is much better. For one thing, there's an actual, honest-to-goodness happy ending, even if it is tempered with Brooks' usual bittersweetness. And I'm impressed with how he's managed to blend the worlds of Shannara and the Knights of the Word. Both worlds are reflections of our own, in one way or another, and it's nice to see a relatively seamless integration. It was just flat-out fun to watch a rune-covered black staff wielding Knight of the World kick demon ass alongside a blue Elfstone wielding smoking-hot, sexy-dangerous Elven Tracker.

There's one other thing I'd like to point out. The entire Genesis sequence has had a heavy environmental message layered on top of Brooks' usual story elements. Not that he's not had things to say about the environment before, but this series took on more and more of that call for environmental preservation as it went along, and I'm okay with that. Well, I suppose it's more of a cautionary tale. But either way you look at it, it's not a greenwash by any stretch of the imagination, if only because it's not the first time he's had elements of environmentalism laced through his works. But it's obvious that the author is very concerned about where we're going as stewards of our world, and I'm pleased to see it done so well. I seem to share his concerns. Also, he doesn't push a particular agenda. I view this series' environmental message as a very general call for a re-examination of our policies and prejudices. I don't think anyone, except some seriously right-wing wackaloon, can disagree with that.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu