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Bewildering Stories

Terry Brooks, Armageddon’s Children

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Armageddon’s Children
Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Ray Books, 2007
Length: 404 pages
ISBN: 978-0-345048410-9
It’s appropriate that the first book of the latest Terry Brooks trilogy, Armageddon’s Children, borrows a Christian term describing the apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil. Brooks re-uses stock archetypes from various much-too-familiar mythologies in almost all his works: the Tolkien-derived elves and dwarves of his Shannara trilogy; the fairy-tale creations of his lighter-touch Magic Kingdom series; and here, in his Genesis of Shannara trilogy, biblically flavored demons and not-quite-Christian soldiers (“Knights of the Word,” with the “Word” no longer identified as Christ. Neither God nor Christ get explicit mentions here. There is, however, a thinly disguised Mary as the “Lady,” patron of the Knights).

Brooks’ religious riffs coexist uneasily with fantasy elements and magic (as a source of more-or-less non-Deity-attributed power). So how does one bridge the gap between a semi-Christian Armageddon and Middle Earth?

By starting with that cherished old chestnut, the End of the Civilized World, it seems. Magic comes to the rescue. The scenario of the technological world turning into a magical one has been done before, in Fred Saberhagen’s superior Empire of the East series. Nuclear bombs in the process of detonation are magically transformed into demons to save the planet (which does give the reader a graphic example of how evil and powerful Saberhagen’s new-born demons are).

Brooks has a different take: magic has been here all along. His elves are hiding in Oregon (right along with the Scientology scriptures packed in those southern Oregon mountain vaults, perhaps). The Knights of the Word have been battling evil demons with those magical staves (without being noticed by John Q. Public) for centuries. Magic and science do co-exist.

Now it’s crunch time, and the last two Knights of the Word have been handed their marching orders by the Lady. Logan Tom gives up rescuing human slaves from the camps (and, incidentally, euthanizing unfortunate children who have been victims of demonic experiments) in order to trek West as the only Wise Man from the East still in search of a star. Angel Perez heads out on a mystery mission (which is still a mystery by the end of the book) in the company of a magical tatterdemalion. The focus of their efforts is a magically gifted street boy named Hawk, who just might be the new Savior of the World (the previous one was presumably Dove, not Hawk).

We don’t progress much further in this first book in the series, in part because Brooks insists on giving us detailed back stories on character after character — even the minor ones. We’re two steps forward, one step back, all the way.

The backward glances slow the forward progress, and by the time I plowed through the back stories for Owl and Panther and the rest of the street kids, not to mention Hawk the Savior-to-be and the two knights, I was as afloat with unnecessary information as the survivor of a six-pack drinking binge with beer. Some readers want to know the nitty-gritty detail; they don’t like ambiguity, and they really do want to know why some minor character has issues because mommy or daddy abandoned him when he was a little tyke. If you’re that kind of reader, you’ll be in hog heaven.

I confess to being a fan of the author’s lighter and more humorous Magic Kingdom series, and I wish Brooks would return to it. I admired the early Shannara series for how Brooks could take such unoriginal elements (elves and dwarves and the like) and still make interesting stories.

But in this book, the engine chug-chug-chugs as it strains to marry fantasy and denatured semi-Christian mythology. If you’re a die-hard Brooks fan, you’ll read this book and enjoy it anyway, even if it isn’t Brooks at his best. If you’ve never read Brooks before, for goodness sake, don’t start here. Pick up Magic Kingdom for Sale or Sword of Shannara instead. Even by the end of this book, I couldn’t really picture the Valley of Armageddon in Middle Earth.

Copyright © 2008 by Danielle L. Parker

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