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The Measure of the Magic: Legends of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345484208
Date: 30 August 2011 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Sider Ament, bearer of the last black staff, lies dead. Now Tracker Panterra Qu must take up that magic talisman--and the responsibility that comes with it--even as enemies inside and outside their valley sanctuary bring the threat of annihilation.

In The Measure of the Magic, Terry Brooks follows up Bearers of the Black Staff, continuing to explore the history that lies between his contemporary fantasy works and the Shannara novels. In a preceding trilogy, the boy named Hawk led his people to safety; now, centuries later, the magic keeping them safe in their valley has dissipated and they are unwittingly at the mercy of a Troll army beyond their mountains, as well as vulnerable to even more dangerous creatures.

Matters inside the valley are far worse than the townsfolk imagine. A demon stalks Panterra, aiming to kill him and smother the power of the black staff forever. Skeal Eile, who leads the Children of the Hawk cult, schemes for political power--and enlists a devious assassin to achieve those ends. Along the way, honorable people are betrayed, fears are enflamed and exploited, and long-buried hatreds and misunderstandings sunder potential alliances.

Panterra's allies are few and scattered. His best friend, Prue Liss, is in the hands of the Trolls (as far as he knows); the Elven Orullian brothers are with the army, defending a key pass through the mountains and unaware of what happens elsewhere; and the Elf princess Phryne Amarantyne is falsely accused and imprisoned by her treacherous stepmother.

If they hope to succeed, the heroes must brave an Elven graveyard to recover a treasure, brave a howling mob and unlock the power contained in the black staff. Without it, Hawk's heirs are doomed.

This is the second half of a duology and, as such, serves to complete a story. That is primarily what happens here--a story is completed. The demon, a new addition not present in the earlier volume, is the dominant antagonist here; his machinations overshadow those of Skeal Eile, who was bidding to be a considerable menace. Eile had ties to Isoeld Severine, the new Queen of the Elves, whose plots were laid bare in the previous book; he also had connections to the unseen ruler of a more powerful human realm far away in the valley. Unfortunately, he doesn't really have the opportunity to grow into being a great villain--the demon is there to do that.

Panterra is a classic Brooksian hero, young and uncertain and endowed with magic he cannot easily use--much less understand. He manages to use the black staff readily, once he's suffered a bit and Brooks does not shy from creating ways to make his characters suffer. While he is sorting out his conflicted feelings and goals, Prue Liss has made a sacrifice of her own for the power to help Panterra. The nature of that sacrifice is a singular one but doesn't pack quite the emotional heft Brooks clearly intends that it should.

Apart from that, there are two situations that very closely reflect one another. It does not help the story that they are set up, progress and are resolved in almost identical fashion. Nor does it help that the threat of a troll army appears to affect only one village, with no hint, apart from the Elves, that there are greater stakes for the valley in general. Without that menace looming over more than Pan and Prue's home, the sense of peril is greatly reduced. The only real surprise in this part of the story is a heroic sacrifice, to break the siege at a critical juncture; that *does* end in a way that will startle the reader.

While I am a fan of Terry Brooks, The Measure of Magic is likely to be considered a lesser work of the Void/Shannara bridge stories. For a story about the danger of the "real world" endangering the last vestiges of civilized humanity, as well as Brooks's well-established skills as a writer, there just isn't a lot going on.

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