I picked up Terry Brooks’s Wards of Faerie with a bit of nostalgia. I had read his previous Shannara trilogy back in high school and enjoyed it. This epic fantasy is the first of another trilogy, set in the same world as the previous one, now known as the Four Lands. While magic still plays a large role, there has now been the growth of science, especially among the race of man, who are attempting to take control of the world as it is known. The Druid order, tasked with protecting and preserving magic, is under attack and their limited numbers are continuing to dwindle.
The story begins with a young druid/faerie, Aphenglow Elessedil, who is researching esoteric bits of the history of magic and comes across a diary which provided tantalizing clues about a group of missing Elfstones, which were used centuries before to protect magic and the lands. She also happens to be the granddaughter of the current faerie king, but has been ostracized by the elves for becoming a druid. Aphenglow takes the diary back to the druid who heads up her order, and it is decided that the druids must find the missing Elfstones to secure them and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. (Hands like the current prime minister, who is has no one’s best interests at heart except his own and is willing to go to great lengths to maintain and increase his power.) Thus, the druids, along with a hand-picked contingent of guards, trackers, airship pilots, and a pair of twins with magical powers of their own, set off on a quest through the Four Lands to find the stones.
This book falls firmly into the epic fantasy category, and I think my tastes have changed since I read the first trilogy years ago. The characters are all well-written and the lands through which the story is set are well-developed, so you can get a sense of the landscape the characters are traveling through and the hazards they encounter on their quest. The book ends on a cliff-hanger (although one of the two major plot lines is resolved) which, if you know me at all, annoys me quite a bit. I don’t mind there being more books in a series to read, but I like to have them more or less standalones where you could finish one and not feel like the story is completely unfinished which was the case here. As with other books of this genre I’ve read more recently, I find myself comparing them to LOTR and most don’t live up to that very high bar, so I tend towards disappointment.
I liked most of the characters Brooks has created, except of course the one we’re supposed to not like. Aphenglow is a strong female lead here, which I appreciated, although she seems remarkably dense for a trained warrior, druid scholar and magic user when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I’m assuming, based on the teaser at the end of this book, that we get to know her sister more in the following books. The other characters fall into some epic fantasy tropes: The wise, calm, sage druid leader, the burly dwarf chieftain warrior, the taciturn, tall blonde faerie who is amazing in battle. We’ve seen these before and I think that’s why I didn’t like this book as much as I would have wanted to. As epic fantasies go, there’s lots here that fans will enjoy – battle scenes, lengthy travel across different landscapes filled with perils, fae magic, seemingly insurmountable odds, and the quest for ancient symbols/tools of power – I wanted something a little different.
I should note that I listened to this as an audiobook from Audible. I very much enjoyed the narrator, who I have listened to before in other reads. She does a great job distinguishing each of the characters and giving them an appropriate voice throughout.
Star Rating: 3-1/2 out of 5.