Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, June 2010
Terry Brooks is a rather uneven writer. I first recall reading The Sword of Shannara, which was one of the most spectacularly derivative novels I’ve ever read. It was virtually a recounting of The Lord of the Rings. Other Shannara novels I found something of a slog; long and rather boring. But Brooks also writes other things, notably the Landover and Word and the Void series’. Both of these have their flaws, but they’re considerably more original than the Shannara novels, and lighter and livelier reads.
A Princess of Landover is – surprise – a novel in the Magic Kingdom of Landover series. The background to the series is fairly straightforward. Many years ago, Ben Holiday, a lawyer in despair over the wreck of his earthly life, bought the right to be King of Landover. It was part of a scam that a wicked magician had been running for years; sell an Earthling the right to be King, wait until he got himself killed by the magic of Landover, and then sell it again. But Ben Holiday avoided that scheme and became a real King. He married a Woods sylph, Willow, and they had a daughter, Mistaya, and established a good life together.
This particular novel focuses, as the title suggests, on Mistaya. Last time I read a Landover novel, she was a newborn – now she’s fifteen and reluctant to follow her father’s strictures. Ben had sent her to a boarding school on Earth to help her learn something about that aspect of her heritage, and the need to fit in and get along with others. Unfortunately Mistaya isn’t too interested in any of that, and despite her promises, has done nothing to fit in with the school. As the novel opens, she’s in the process of being suspended for using magic (although the headmistress doesn’t know that that’s exactly what she did). Mistaya returns to Landover determined to stay there and resume her life much as before.
But Ben won’t allow that. If Mistaya won’t go back to boarding school, she has to do something else which is useful and may help fit her for her future role as ruler. With the help of his Court Wizard, he comes up with the idea of asking her to restore Libiris. Libiris is the land’s library; theoretically open to all, few have heard of it, and it’s fallen into ruin. Mistaya rebels against this idea too, but soon finds herself at Libiris. And far from the dreary task Mistaya envisioned, she uncovers a secret which may threaten not only her family but all of Landover.
You can read this novel easily even if you haven’t read any other Landover stories. It’s not dependent on what’s gone before, and there’s lots of recapping just to be on the safe side. It’s a light and fairly easy read. The plot is pretty straightforward, and there aren’t going to be too many surprises for most readers. In fact, there are a few holes in the plot. One is that even Ben hadn’t heard of Libiris before his Court Wizard suggested sending Mistaya there. Yet, the moment he mentions it to Mistaya, she knows all about it and its history. I suppose we can assume that the Wizard talked to Mistaya about it separately, but there’s no indication of that. This isn’t a huge plot problem, but little things like that can jar somewhat.
One of the things I dislike about Brooks’ writing is his tendency to moralise, and to do it extremely blatantly. I have no problem with a novel having a message, or wanting you to think about certain things. But Brooks more or less tells you in the first chapter what the moral lesson of the novel will be; pops up a few times in the novel to remind you; and then in the last chapter nicely summarises what you should have learnt. It’s not subtle, it grates, and for me at least it subtracts from the story rather than adding.
My other particular dislike about Brooks’ writing style is that he tends to tell you what his characters are feeling,
rather than showing you through their words or actions, or even through their thoughts. The result is that I find it hard to connect with the characters; they’re a bit cardboard and it’s difficult to really care about what happens to them. Although Brooks has quite a diverse range of characters in the novel, none really came to life for me, and none really truly stood out from the others. This is a shame, because lively characters would have made a great difference to this relatively light novel.
This isn’t a bad novel, though. It rollicks along at a good pace, and if it’s not startlingly original, it’s not written by rote either. It’s not aimed at a young adult audience, but would be well suited to them – if they don’t baulk at the moralising. The novel would appeal to a fairly wide audience – it’s an uncomplicated fantasy novel, with plenty of
familiar tropes and themes, and not much to offend or challenge anyone.
This is a novel to read on a night when you want something pretty undemanding. It won’t challenge you, and it probably won’t be very memorable a week later either. However, it will divert and entertain you for a few hours.