Retro Review: Genesis of Shannara:
If you’re a fan of fantasy literature, you’ve probably at least heard of Terry Brooks, if not read some of his books. He’s one of the biggest names in the fantasy field, a bestseller and author of no less than three large fantasy series: the high fantasy Shannara, the urban fantasy the Word and the Void, and the satirical the Magic Kingdom of Landover.
The Genesis of Shannara trilogy–“Armageddon’s Children,” “The Elves of Cintra,” and “The Gypsy Morph”–is both a prequel to the other Shannara books and a sequel to the Word and the Void. That said, it doesn’t draw too heavily on the other series, and you could easily read it and enjoy it even if you’ve never read a Terry Brooks book before.
Set in the late 21st century, Genesis of Shannara depicts a world utterly destroyed by war and environmental disaster. Diseases and radiation blight the landscape, creating various strains of mutants, and armies of nightmarish Once-men ravage all in their path. Worse still, Demons lurk in the shadows, working tirelessly to extinguish what life remains in the name of the Void. The few survivors that remain are forced to cram into tiny, Spartan fortress-cities where the weak and infirm are cast off, lest they divert resources from the more worthy, or eek out a meager existence on the streets, where disease, Once-men, and other gangs are a constant threat.
It’s hammered home early in the series that our world is dead. Not dying. Dead. Those few who still survive know they won’t for much longer.
It’s this bleak feeling–even more so than it’s utterly different setting–that sets this apart from the other Shannara books, which had frankly become rather dull and formulaic up until Genesis. Whereas the other recent Shannara books had tended to be lacking in character and emotion, Genesis is haunting, rich with feeling, and has a stellar cast of characters.
Most memorable of these for me are the Ghosts, a gang of street children trying to survive in the ruins of Seattle. They sum up the books’ sorrowful feeling perfectly with the ritual greeting they give when meeting other gangs: “We are the ghosts. We haunt the ruins of the world our parents destroyed.”
Every Ghost came to their little family with a tale of tragedy. But it’s not all misery with them. There are lots of quiet little moments of peace that contrast wonderfully with the horror that occupies the rest of the books. Some of the best scenes in Genesis are the more familial moments, such as Owl, the “mother” of the family, reading bedtime stories to the younger children.
And that’s what really makes Genesis of Shannara so brilliant. If it were all sadness and doom, it would simply be depressing. But remember this is a prequel. It’s not just about the death of our world; it’s about the hope that a new world might rise from its ashes. It’s this mix of hope and sorrow that makes these books so special.
Now, the series does a lag a bit in the middle with “The Elves of Cintra.” Brooks’ Elves have never been anything special–they always just come across as humans with pointy ears, and the parts of Genesis that focus on them feel as tired as his previous Shannara books. And if I have to read about the Blue Elfstones one more time, I’m going to punch Terry Brooks in the face.
Luckily, the story picks up again in “The Gypsy Morph,” and overall, the books maintain a high level of quality.
One other nit to pick is that it is somewhat confusing that this series features two largely unrelated groups of creatures that are both referred to as Demons. It makes a little more sense if you’ve read his other books, but only a little. But once you figure out which Demons are which, it’s not much of an issue.
Genesis of Shannara combines a lot of different elements in very unique ways: fantasy and science fiction, high fantasy and urban fantasy, hope and despair, epic scale and intimate character moments. It’s a very moving and intriguing series that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in science fiction or fantasy.
Overall rating: 9.4/10
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