I’ve written at great length about my relationship with Terry Brooks’ epic fantasy series, Shannara. After Tolkien, Brooks’ work reinforced my newfound love of elves and adventure, magic, vast landscapes, harrowing escapes, and epic battles between good and evil. One of my main/ongoing criticisms of the Shannara series, however, is that Brooks has a tendency to repeat himself—dipping his pen in the same inkwell too often. Themes, story structure, and characters archetypes repeat themselves in each new Shannara series, which makes reading a new Shannara book sometimes too predictable. He’s shown however, through his other fantasy series, such as Word & Void, a contemporary fantasy, and The Magic Kingdom (a humourous secondary world fantasy) that he has the chops to write original fiction outside of his most famous series, and I’m always curious to see what happens when he turns his eye toward something wholly new.
Street Freaks (Grim Oak Press, 2018) is a major departure for Brooks in a lot of ways. It’s his first pure science fiction novel (if you consider his post-apocalyptic Shannara novels to be a science fiction/fantasy hybrid), and it’s an absolute blast to see him playing in a new playground and worldbuilding from the ground up for the first time since 1997’s Running with the Demon. In many other ways, it’s familiar ground. Thematically, Brooks is sticking with his tried-and-true formula of coming-of-age meets adventure, which has proved immensely successful in the Shannara series. In all, he finds a nice balance between new and familiar, which appeals to the long-time Brooks fan in me.
Ash Collins is decidedly Ohmsford-esque, but the cast that surrounds him runs the gamut of personality and depth. One of my favourite aspects of the book so far is the way Brooks has filled it with disabled characters who each face their own challenge, but bring unique strengths to the ensemble. It’s delicate, admirable, and really contributes to the warm found-family feel of Street Freaks’ principal cast.
Brooks has always had a knack for action, and Street Freaks starts with a bang. From its first pages, Ash, a wealthy adolescent who suffers from a rare degenerative disease that requires him to take daily doses of a special medicine, is on his heels, fleeing the authorities and finding protection in the red zone—an off-the-grid, low income community ruled by street gangs and illicit street racing. It’s a major worldbuilding departure for Brooks—though the level of detail he spends on the street racers reminds me a bit of the airships in Shannara.
In all, I’m enjoying Street Freaks a lot, and look forward to unravelling its many mysteries. I’m always up for a new Terry Brooks book, and getting something in a new setting and new genre is icing on the cake. Look for a full review of Street Freaks on the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog when it hits shelves on October 2nd, 2018.