Sunday, January 13, 2008

Terry Brooks

Magic Kingdom For Sale—Sold!
by Terry Brooks
Recommended Age: 14+

The author of the acclaimed fantasy novels Running with the Demon and A Knight of the Word, as well as the best-selling Shannara series, is one of the authors most often recommended by your feedback. I have been hesitant to follow this recommendation, for two main reasons. First, it sounds like he’s already popular enough without my help. And second, he has written a lot of thickish books and, believe it or not, I’m a slow reader. I was afraid that once I got hooked on Brooks, I wouldn’t be able to read anything else for about 2 months. And that would be such a drag when I’m already in the middle of a months-long commitment to Patrick O’Brian’s novels. But I decided to sample just one of his books, in between O’Brians, and to read the rest of the series some other time. So I chose this book, the first in the (shorter) “Magic Kingdom of Landover” series.

Magic Kingdom For Sale—Sold! is a charming, original, series-starting idea on the same level, I think, as So You Want to Be a Wizard and yes, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. It introduces—what else?—the magical kingdom of Landover, which exists in a world separate from ours, but connected to it by a pathway through the mist-enshrouded fairy realm. It is a truly magical place, with castles and dragons, knights and damsels, witches and wizards, sprites and nymphs and all sorts of things that go bump in the night. But it has a problem. The magic that keeps everything living and healthy has been draining out of it for the past twenty years...that is, since the death of the last true king.

Oh, there have been pretenders to the throne...but no one stayed long enough to do anything except drain the magic (and the royal treasury) even more. The kingdom has sunk so low that its next king will be a Chicago lawyer named Ben Holiday, a widower struggling to understand his place in the world, who answers an ad in a New York department store’s Christmas “Wishbook” touting a “magic kingdom for sale.” After coughing up a million dollars, Ben finds himself in an adventure he at first has trouble believing in, and soon starts wishing he could escape from. But so many hopes ride on him, against expectations, staying in Landover and tackling its problems.

Ben Holiday has a lot stacked against him. The people who sold him the kingdom expect him to give up and let them sell it again. The noble families and other creatures of the kingdom refuse to acknowledge him as king. Even to have a chance to start setting things straight, he must fight increasingly hopeless battles against trolls, a witch, a dragon, and a demon named the Iron Mark. He must do what no one else has ever done—enter the fairy realm and come back alive—and he must conjure up a ghostly champion called the Paladin who, as far as anyone can tell from the last 20 years, doesn’t exist. And who is on his side? No one but a cracked wizard, a talking dog, a woman who occasionally turns into a tree, two loyal but deadly kobolds, and two very cowardly gnomes.

Ben is a determined customer, however. And one way or another, he plans to discover the secret that links the throne of Landover to the magic that keeps the land alive. He’ll do it or die trying...and the latter is a always a distinct possibility. So far it is a story that any teen, graduating from Young Wizards and Harry Potter, will welcome with delight. But it also has some adult themes (nothing smutty, mind you): the rule of law, recovering from the death of a spouse, controlliing your emotions, and (heart-poundingest of all) exactly what it means to have a friend for whom you would go “to hell and back.”

I hereby put the Robbie Fischer seal of approval on Terry Brooks, at least this first book in his Landover series. Do be patient, friends. I will eventually read the rest of the series, and perhaps the Shannara books as well. Why? Because I enjoyed this book!

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