This review contains slight spoilers for The Bearers of the Black Staff.
The second half of the Legends of Shannara duology by Terry Brooks, The Measure of Magic continues the story begun by The Bearers of the Black Staff. Five hundred years after the events of the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, the barrier of magic hiding the survivors led to safety by the gypsy morph Hawk has fallen. With the fall of the barrier comes an entire new world filled with dangers. The only protection to the residents of the valley lie within the bearer of the black staff, the last heir to the legacy of the Knights of the Word.
An engaging premise
With Sider Ament dead, Panterra “Pan” Qu has taken up the black staff and become the last mystical defender of his valley. The Troll threat is still at large, though not immediately of consequence to the valley. Instead, there is a new force coming for the valley: a being drawn by the magic of the black staff. A demon, who is drawn to devour the magic itself. Only the wielder of the black staff has any chance of survival against this threat, but Pan must first learn how to use the magic of the staff—a task easier said than done. Not only does the threat of the demon loom, but Pan’s companions also face their own perils. Phryne Amaranthine must escape imprisonment by her traitorous stepmother and recover the blue elfstones, the only other source of magic available to the peoples of the valley. Prue Liss, trapped outside of the valley with a horde on her tail, must somehow find her way back to Panterra while avoiding the demon stalking her.
And that’s not all—they also face danger from within their own ranks.
Bridging the gap
One of the things I enjoyed about this duology is that it ties together Brooks’ various series. His Knight of the Word trilogy is set in the same physical world as his multiple Shannara series, and the bridge was begun with the Genesis of Shannara series. Here, five hundred years later, we can see the expanse of time and history which bridges the gap between the two worlds—because they are very much two different worlds. It’s refreshing to see the different phases of the world, and it really puts the timeline of the novels’ stories in perspective.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
Not necessarily true. In his writing career, Brooks has fallen into a set formula, especially within the world of Shannara. Generalizing, it follows a three-act design. Act I: the stage is set, one villain is identified, the hero sets out on his quest and accomplishes some key elements of that quest. Act II: everything is running fairly smoothly, but then a second opposing force comes into play (sometimes at the direction of another entity), and complications ensue and sacrifices must be made by the hero. Act III: faced with the utter despair following the events of Act II, the hero must find his way out of the maze of doubt and desperation, manages to do so in the nick of time, and the inevitable butt-kicking of the ultimate villain occurs—and we can’t forget, the hero gets the proverbial girl.
This has been my main qualm with the majority of Brooks’ writing in the last decade. It’s not that it doesn’t work, because it’s not a bad formula and is one that works very well for Brooks’ style. However, it does cause the story to be predictable and stale, and all the character development and world-building in the world cannot detract from the sheer repetitiveness of plot points.
But, I can happily say that this is not the case with the Legends of Shannara duology. For one, it’s only two books, not three. For another, The Measure of Magic doesn’t get that fairy tale ending that so many of his other stories get. I was very pleasantly surprised at the developments which occurred, which seemed very much out of character for Brooks. Here’s hoping we see more of this sort of development in his future works.
Why should you read this book?
If you’re like me and have been a Shannara fan since you were young, it’s become almost habitual to read Brooks’ works by this point, no matter their quality. However, I highly recommend this duology. Not only does it reveal some of the history of the world we’ve never come across before, but Brooks is definitely upping the ante of his writing—and it’s paying off. This tale engaged me more than any of his works since The Heritage of Shannara quartet. Seriously, if you’re a Shannara fan, read this. It restored much of my faith in the series, and I hope it will do the same for any similarly disillusioned fans.