The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks

The Gypsy Morph

AuthorTerry Brooks

Pages: 416 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: August 26, 2008
ISBN-10: 0345484142
ISBN-13: 978-0345484147

For the sake of full transparency, I would just like my readers to know that I am a moderator at the Official Terry Brooks forum, but that this fact had no impact on the opinions found in the review below.

Terry Brooks is one of my favourite authors. For this reason, I feel it’s important to hold him to a high standard, a higher standard, perhaps, than other writers. I was disappointed in his previous trilogy, The High Druid of Shannara, and wasn’t afraid to express this disappointment – the writing was too lean, too manufactured. Brooks had the formula for writing that type of story down pat and it felt so.

All of my concerns, however, were washed away by the next two novels Brooks produced, Armageddon’s Children and The Elves of Cintra. These novels, the first and second novels in The Genesis of Shannara trilogy, acted as a bridge between Brooks’ ultra-successful Shannara series and his under-the-radar-but-totally-amazing Word and Void trilogy, an Urban Fantasy. The staid and by-the-numbers approach found in The High Druid of Shannara was suddenly replaced by a visceral, imaginative take on a post-apocalytpic Earth with humans struggling for survival amongst a world of mutants and demons. Reading the first volumes in The Genesis of Shannara trilogy brought back memories of what drew me to Brooks in the first place.

Then along came The Gypsy Morph, the final volume in the trilogy, and something was lost. That’s not to say The Gypsy Morph isn’t a decent book, it’s still one of the best efforts Brooks has put out in the last several years, but it just isn’t on the level of its two predecessors. So what’s the problem?

“It was late in the afternoon, another sultry, miserably hot day on the flats above the Columbia River, another day of sitting around and waiting for something to happen.”

This would be a decent opening line, throwing oodles of foreshadowing around and setting the reader up with high expectations for when something would happen. Unfortunately this isn’t the opening line, in fact it’s not even in the first chapter. It’s on page 238 of the ARC… over half way through the novel. Add to the fact that this is a trilogy and you have protagonists sitting, 5/6th of the way through a multi-volume story, sitting around and twiddling their thumbs and waiting for something to happen. This is a problem. In fact, the pacing throughout the first 2/3rds of the novel suffers. Too much happens in the heads of the characters and at a time when the story should be kicking into overdrive – there is a big demon army roaming the land looking to wipe out the human race, afterall – we instead have a lackadaisical romp around a boring barren wasteland.

This problem stems from the way Brooks has decided to tackle his novels these days. He used to be known for thick, satisfying single-volume novels – The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, The First King of Shannara, et al. – but in recent years has shifted production, putting out a novel a year and constructing ‘trilogies’ that are essentially one novel. This would be fine – it worked out okay for Tolkien… – except for the fact that Brooks insists on structuring each volume as its own independant novel. When read as a whole, The Genesis of Shannara will have 9 small acts instead of 3 proper acts – beginning, middle, end, beginning, middle, end, beginning, middle, end – and this makes reading through the early pages of The Gypsy Morph a bit of a chore as Brooks recounts the events that have occurred in the first two volumes.

The world and conflict that Brooks set up in the first two volumes is still compelling, but some of the character and originality leaks out in the third. The diverse settings from Armageddon’s Children and The Elves of Cintra – everything from a war torn Seattle Underground, to the lush verdant forests of the Cintra, to an overwhelmingly depressive town ruled by the mysterious ‘Senator’ – are replaced by a barren, Mad Max-style wasteland that just isn’t very interesting. As Hawk, the young protagonist of the trilogy leads his band of refugees across this hostile wasteland, I couldn’t help but feel that Steven Erikson did an infinitely better job of the same scenario with his Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates.

Many of the same problems that plagued The High Druid of Shannara trilogy also plague The Gypsy Morph. Perhaps the biggest of these is that I couldn’t help but feel that we’d seen it all before.

  • Oooh, another overwhelming army of demons?
  • Oooh, a big scary monster stalking the protagonist?
  • Oooh, a young boy with magical powers who doubts himself?

It’s all been done by Brooks before and did nothing to invigorate me as a reader. In fact, Brooks does little to rock the boat at all: no twists, no turns, no surprises. The Gypsy Morph plays out, besides minor details, exactly as I had expected it to. This is a far cry from the first two novels which were full of twists and turns which kept me constantly on my toes.

Something else that bothered me about the story, as someone who lives outside of the United States of America, is that Brooks seems completely blind to the rest of the world. The entire struggle for the entirety of the human race takes place in California, Oregon and Washington State. Where are the rest of the cultures and countries? Even Canada, in close proximity to the major events of the novels is largely ignored. This seems a little short-sighted to me. How cool would it have been if Brooks had weaved multiple story lines, spanning the globe and examining how different countries and cultures dealt with the end of the world? How did Japan fare? Did China with all its military might just fold? What about Europe or South America? Brooks makes small allusions to other battles being fought, but why not bring them to the forefront and really take the concepts he’s throwing around and do them justice? Certainly a missed opportunity.

It wouldn’t be fair to simply point out all the niggling things that brought the novel down without also commending it for the positive parts. The final hundred pages are great, bringing together all of the potential found in the first two novels and slamming it all together into a fantastic ending. He answers some long standing questions had by Shannara fans and left me feeling satisfied as a fan of both Shannara and Word and Void. There are a few battles near the end of the novel that kept me entertained and Brooks does a commendable job at wrapping up the fates of most of the characters.

Despite the disappointment I felt with The Gypsy Morph, the strong ending and the precluding volumes still raise The Genesis of Shannara trilogy above anything Brooks has written since the original Word and Void trilogy and perhaps only second in quality to that. Even with the weak final volume, I can’t help but recommend The Genesis of Shannara – fans are sure to love it, and I think it would be an eye opener for those who write Brooks off as nothing more than a Tolkien rip-off.

  • Bart June 30, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Oooh, I’ve not read any Terry Brooks for years, remember loving the original Shannara series though, & the Landover stuff, kind of lost my way, with where I got to in the subsequent books though. This series sounds like just the thing to re-introduce myself to his work though.

  • Shawn C. Speakman June 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I too have to say I am a fan of Terry’s. So my review is biased as well.

    But I pretty much disagree with almost everything you wrote about, Aidan. haha

    1) I believe, with the exception of the final fight, that most of the action takes place in the first 1/2 of The Gypsy Morph. I wish I could go into specifics here, but after the first half of the book that’s when the story bogs down a bit with plodding boring children. But the first 1/2 kept me on my seat and even surprised me twice — something Terry hasn’t done to me for quite a while and that includes the previous two volumes.

    2) Your analogy of 9 small acts as opposed to 3 acts is kind of off centered too. You are a major fan of the Heritage series; the Genesis series is constructed exactly the same as the Heritage series. Stand alone books with stand alone stories. It almost seems like you got too used to Terry in Voyage and High Druid, where he merely broke up the overall story into three parts and where all the action moves through the final book. The Gypsy Morph is constructed just like The Talismans of Shannara was, where all of the characters who have been scattered on their various quests must come together again. That takes time and pages and I feel quite strongly that Terry did a better job in Genesis of pulling his characters back together again from their quests than he did in The Talismans of Shannara.

    3) I fully agree we’ve seen it all before in those examples you gave, but there were equal if not more things in this book that Terry has never done — which as I said before left my jaw dropped a couple of times. The way you’ve written your review it sounds like there is nothing new when in fact that simply isn’t true.

    4) Maybe I am just an ego-centric American, but what you are asking for as far as other countries would be damn near impossible given the state of the world. Humanity must survive and be brought to the same place; that requires resources this world obviously sorely lacks. How does a group of survivors in… Ireland say… get to Washington state? By air? By sea? The kind of time to set those kinds of things up, to me, would take the story far outside of suspension of disbelief because planes would be defunct, ships would be sunk. I had a hard enough time with what Logan found in The Gypsy Morph; a plane would have ruined the story for me. I for one am happy he dealt with just the west coast of the US; the Word only cares about one thing and that’s the survival of the human race. Why draw dozens of groups from around the world when the Word can accomplish its ends right there on the west coast? Eh?

    I think your review might be the product of having read the last book by Greg Keyes, who only uses dialogue with no description whatsoever. haha Terry is on the far other spectrum of that, constantly in his characters’ heads. Then again, maybe you just wanted more from this book than what you got. But to me, it fits seamlessly in with the previous two books and how good they were — and is even better because of the couple twists he threw in.

    To each their own. :)

  • Rob B July 1, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Y’know, I liked The Heritage of Shannara series but ever since then, any of the series of his I tried I felt like this:

    Perhaps the biggest of these is that I couldn’t help but feel that we’d seen it all before.

    Oooh, another overwhelming army of demons?
    Oooh, a big scary monster stalking the protagonist?
    Oooh, a young boy with magical powers who doubts himself?

    I really REALLY want to like his books, I love the premise of Shannara and the GENESIS series showing how our wolrd got there, but I couldn’t get past Armageddon’s Children.

    That said, I still plan on trying the WORD AND VOID trilogy, which by many accounts I’ve seen, is his best work.

  • Jim C. July 1, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I’ve been a long-time fan of Terry Brooks — I first read the Shannara series when I was in elementary school — but it was only recently that I finally picked up the Word and the Void. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though I did find that he recycled a few favorite themes while writing it. I think I like it more knowing that it’s a prequel to Shannara, but that’s probably me allowing external knowledge to inform my reading. Nonetheless the way the author set the protagonists’ struggle for good against the backdrop of almost certain, ultimate failure was one of the most moving aspects of those stories for me. I just reviewed the trilogy as a whole on The Accidental Bard.

    That said, I just started Armageddon’s Children and haven’t been this excited about a Terry Brooks book since I started Heritage. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara was underwhelming for me, and I feel like it was the start of a brief but ill-advised bout of overly polemical writing in which the message overwhelmed the characters. I haven’t read the High Druid trilogy, but everything I’ve read and heard about it suggests that there, too, the world of Shannara was merely a convenient backdrop for a story the author needed to tell.

    So it has been exciting to read Terry Brooks at his best with W&V and the beginning of the Genesis trilogy; I look forward to finishing it.

  • […] “The Gypsy Morph” HERE (US) + HERE (UK-September 4, 2008) Find Excerpts HERE Read Reviews via A Dribble of Ink + Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review “The Ten Thousand” by Paul Kearney. Release Date: August 26, […]