Bearers of the Black Staff (Legends of Shannara)
by Terry Brooks
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345484178
Date: 24 August 2010 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
While on separate errands in the mountains surrounding their protected valleys, both Sider Ament (aka the Gray Man) and trackers Panterra Qu and Prue Liss make a terrifying discovery: not only have the mists protecting their haven finally failed, but monsters from outside are roaming (and killing) within their lands.
This sets up the tale of Bearers of the Black Staff, the first of a new duology by Terry Brooks that explores the years between his Ghosts of the Sinissippi trilogy and his ongoing Shannara tales. Sider Ament carries the last known black staff; once bestowed upon Knights of the Word by the Lady, it remains a talisman of great power, but the Knights and their mission are largely forgotten. Carrying the staff is an almost religious calling, one for which few are well-suited (as a flashback in the story illustrates).
Panterra and his partner Prue Liss, however, are more concerned with the roaming monsters. Tracking them with Ament, they engage the beasts in battle but quickly realize the implications of their presence--now that the mists are gone, the outside world can (and inevitably will) discover them.
It could not come at a worse time. The lands of mankind are dominated politically by the Children of the Hawk, a religious sect that insists Hawk will return when the mists are gone. They are led by Skeal Eile, a clever and ruthless man with plans of his own; Eile is challenged only by Aislinee, wife of the town's nominal leader, who has reasons of her own to defy authority.
Meanwhile, Ament finds a possible ally in the rugged, hellish lands outside the valley--an ally he'll need when he discovers a powerful potential enemy.
Fleeing the consequences of a rash decision, Pan and Prue find themselves in Arborlon, home of the Elves, where a pair of brothers and an Elven princess take up their cause. They set out to discover something of the outside world, a trip that ends in disaster...and sets them on a course that will change their sheltered world forever.
With turmoil inside the sheltering mountains and many dangers outside, even the power of a single black staff may not be enough to save mankind this time.
Bearers is everything readers have come to look for in a Terry Brooks novel. There are young heroes, a wise mentor, treacherous enemies, and an overwhelming external threat bearing down on complacent, unprepared, and mostly peaceful folk. There is also plentiful magic and the seeds of romance are sown. In short, it's a story that will delight Brooks' legions of fans.
The leads (Panterra and Prue) are appealing and resourceful, trained to be Trackers and thus capable of faring in the wilderness. The byplay between them is much like any brother and sister (though they are not related); however, things take a turn in their relationship when Pan encounters Phryne, a restless Elven princess with domestic problems of her own--and a heritage she must struggle to live up to.
Ament is not precisely a stand-in for Brooks' iconic hero Allanon; his abilities are more specialized and his magic largely derived from the black staff. He knows very little of the staff's heritage, but how he came to possess the artifact is shown in flashbacks that reveal a momentous decision with long-lasting consequences. As Brooks often shows, choosing and using magic always carries a price.
The enemies, both internal and external, will be familiar to fantasy readers--there are no surprises here, but none are needed. Brooks constructs villains that are worthy foes for our heroes, providing them with a danger that appears insurmountable. Indeed, they have their work cut out for them, bringing the folk of the valleys together to stand against an looming threat from outside.
The Legends of Shannara duology is off to a strong start with Bearers of the Black Staff--here's to many more tales of this incredible world.