Hunting for Elfstones: a review of Wards of Faerie

Wards of FaerieTerry Brooks has written over 30 novels, but they’re all new to me. Before now, I hadn’t read any of his stories, but the subjects he traditionally delves into are familiar: fantasy adventure, magic, and elves.

To acquaint myself with his work, I decided to start with Wards of Faerie, which came out last fall and is already succeeded by a sequel, Bloodfire Quest. Together they comprise the first two books in The Dark Legacy of Shannara, one of many series in the larger Shannara line.

I read a digital copy, so I rarely got a chance to look at the cover, but the design for Wards of Faerie is more symbolic of how Brooks concludes part one of the series than how it unfolds. The splitting of the coin represents the broken parties at the end of the novel — characters take separate paths with different priorities, and some even scatter to unreachable locations — which promises lots of excitement for Bloodfire Quest but little for Wards of Faerie itself.

Granted, the premise is enticing: Long ago, a girl fell in love with a boy from a dimension called the Forbidding, but she chose to remain with her people, the Elves. Determined to have her join him, the boy stole some of her family’s precious Elfstones and returned home, leaving a trail in the hope that she, armed with the ancient seeking power of the Blue Elfstones, would follow.

Sigh. Boys.

Enter Aphenglow Elessedil, who is searching for signs of magic lost to the Druids, an order that believes it can bring balance to all races through its prudence. She finds the girl’s diary and in it, the clues she has been looking for. What it means or what power the stolen Elfstones might hold, no one knows. The discovery triggers a chain reaction of omens, including multiple attacks on her life, and sets in motion a dangerous journey into the unknown and a brewing conflict between the Druids and the Federation, an opposing force that values the advancement of science and wants to stifle magic throughout the land.

Most of the characters feel one-dimensional; either they’re side characters who receive little attention or more important ones who never break out of the frames that Brooks has built for them. The Prime Minister of the Federation, for instance, is a transparent villain who lacks even a modicum of depth.

That’s not to say the other characters don’t have potential; in fact, I’d love to see where they end up. Currently, all but one or two have undergone any sort of genuine development. A mere few descriptors can encapsulate their personalities and worldview. I admire how one romantic angle was resolved as it brought a lot of strength to a good character, and I appreciate that the Ard Rhys (the leader of the Druids) wasn’t overglorified, but otherwise, these characters did little to impress me.

I found myself taking quite a few breaks from Wards of Faerie, which is partly normal due to my schedule and partly a sign that this just didn’t hook me. At 384 pages, it’s certainly not a long fantasy book. The action greatly improves in the final third — with battles, deaths, and strange new places and implications. Brooks introduces a pretty cool source of magic that’s shrouded in mystery.

That’s not the only instance of magic or supernatural influence that’s interesting. One character, a shape-shifter, and two others who can manipulate the “wishsong” add great color to the story.

In other places, though, Brooks defaults to clichés evident in prophecies (“many will die; one will betray you”) or resorts to delivering neat plot summaries when introducing a main antagonist. This isn’t engaging fantasy. It’s a tepid introduction in which Brooks seems afraid to verge on something bigger too soon.

Bottom line: I’m less than eager to move on to Bloodfire Quest. Any Brooks fans out there who can tell me what I’m missing? How does Wards of Faerie rate in comparison to his other books?

What I liked: The magic! But there’s too little of it.

What I wasn’t expecting: Such sapped writing from an otherwise prolific fantasy author.

Grade: C

2 thoughts on “Hunting for Elfstones: a review of Wards of Faerie

  1. Mike adams

    Actually, that by choosing to start in this book you are missing the entire build up of the story. It’s obvious that without having read the previous books where the wishsong was introduced, and later where it is an antagonist to the story by its self, that you are missing the point. The build up of most of the characters is slow, but this is normal for his trilogies. But again, having read every other book, I feel connected to the story because I actually know the back story that’s being referred to. But, without actually having read the previous books and understanding where the world is now, and where it comes from, it is less engaging. In my opinion, picking this book up and reading it without having read the previous ones is like turning on a movie half way through and then trying to figure out what’s actually happening.

    1. Stephanie Carmichael

      Hey, Mike! Thanks for your perspective. That’s totally a fair response. I’m a firm believer, though, that every book — whether it’s a standalone or the tenth in a series — should provide a new reader with enough context and character investment to enjoy the story. This is a constant issue with things like comic books, where there’s no way readers could be familiar with everything that happened before. I feel that books need to work the same way. Good writing is good writing, and Wards of Faerie just didn’t do enough to draw me in.

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