Book Review: The Word and The Void

This is a JCMBooks first – A combined book review for a series. While it is painful as a creator to sacrifice what could be three weeks of content, I cannot justify writing nearly the same review for you all three times in a row. You’re welcome. 

Readers familiar with the Shannara setting will find a strong connection with the Word and The Void series. This trilogy serves as a prequel, a bridge that connects our world to the fantastic future of Shannara. It chronicles the intersection of the endless cosmic battle –  goodness and order against chaos and evil – with the lives of regular people. 

This was my first foray into the Shannara universe. My expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. 

The Basics: 

Title: The Word and The Void series: Running with the Demon, A Knight of the Word, and Angel Fire East. 
Author: Terry Brooks
Genre: Urban High Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Del Rey): 1997, 1998, and 1999

Spoiler-Free Summary: 


We follow three pivotal weekends in Nest Freemark’s life as she battles The Void: an unfeeling cosmic force that seeks to push humanity towards chaos and death. Her path providentially crosses with three servants of The Word (the force of all goodness) – John Ross, a knight-errant, O’olish Amaneh, a prophet, and Pick, a sylvan who looks like baby Groot but talks like John Cleese chewing gravel while passing a kidney stone

When she is 14, Nest Confronts her past and reconciles her reality with the dark threat that looms in every shadow. At 19, she saves one of her friends and allies from their own self-destructive choices. At 29, she protects vulnerable victims and artifacts from the forces of darkness.

Along the way, we see how the world we inhabit becomes the post-apocalyptic future other titles in the Shannara universe explore. 

It is interesting how often the far-reaching cosmic stakes involve the most overlooked characters – blue collar workers in a small town, the homeless, drug addicts. Brooks clearly strove to elevate the importance of the overlooked. We’ll discuss that more in an upcoming reflection. 

Why these books might be for you:

Is it too vapid to say that cool stuff happens? If you hear demons and magic and shadow creatures and supernatural paladins and think “I’m there!,” this series is for you. 

The Word and The Void series is epic fantasy in every sense of the word. The world as we know it is at stake, and only certain special individuals can stop this doom. There’s magic, prophecy, and monsters galore. These familiar building blocks eschew the standard pseudo-medieval-European setting for the modern world. The change is refreshing.

Each installment is an intensely personal tale. We dive into the nuanced emotions of characters caught in the vortex of a cosmic conflict. Brooks gives every viewpoint character a truly unique voice, immersing us in their inner life, helping us to genuinely care for them. I smile every time O’olish Amaneh enters the scene, and laugh at Pick’s cantankerous antics. 

Why these books might not be for you: 

Given the popularity of the Shannara universe, I expected a little more polish from the writing. Particular in Running With The Demon, the writer spends a little too much time clearing his throat and follows detailed backstory rabbit-trails that don’t always pay off. That said, after a few chapters, the story sucked me in and I stopped noticing. I can see that the goal is to flesh out the world, but sometimes it falls a little flat for me. 

If you’re tired of clear-cut good-vs-evil fantasy tales, this may not be the series for you. There is no space for exploring shades of gray. The Word is good and The Void is bad and that’s the way it is. Personally, I feel both sides of this debate. There is joy in the simple escapist familiarity of this type of setup. At the same time, it is predictable. Your mileage may vary. 

Where can you find more?

You can read about Terry Brooks and his works at his official website, or his profile at Penguin/RandomHouse. You can explore the world of Shannara at their Wiki

If you’re reading a book blog but still want to check out the small screen, you can find The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix. Warning: The CW-esque drama is strong with this one. If you like shows like The Arrow, Flash, Supernatural, and Supergirl, you might enjoy this tv adaptation from 2016/17.

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