The Shannara series by Terry Brooks begins with The Sword of Shannara (Ballantine Books, 1977) and currently continues through The Darkling Child (Random House, 2016). Brooks is also known for the Magic Kingdom at Landover series.
The Shannara series takes place on Earth, 2,000 years after a nuclear holocaust destroyed most of the planet. Following The Great Wars, mankind evolves into four races: Men, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls. In addition, Elves have emerged after centuries of hiding.
The television series begins with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara, which introduces Wil Ohmsford, (grandson of Shea, the main character in the first novel). Wil inherits the Elfstones and, at the instruction of the druid Allanon, teams up with Amberle Elessedil (granddaughter of the King of the Elves) and Eretia, a Rover (a race of gypsies). Accompanied by Allanon, they embark on a quest to save the Elcryss, a magical tree that keeps the Demons locked away from the Four Lands.
Long compared to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, Shannara pulls the reader into a world that is every bit as compelling as Middle Earth without Tolkien’s verbosity. Readers who enjoy the Shanarra series may also enjoy the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind or The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. ★ ★ ★ ★
The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Viking Press, 2009) has been described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” It centers around Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior from Brooklyn, who is obsessed with a Narnia-like series of books about a land called Fillory.
On the day of his admissions interview to Princeton, Quentin is instead evaluated for and admitted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, where he learns magic and prepares to fight against a mythical enemy called “The Beast.”
There are significant changes from the books to the television series. Quentin and the other characters are aged from high school to their mid-20s, and more emphasis is placed on Quentin’s depression. In the opening, he is shown being released from a mental hospital. This never occurred in the books, where he is portrayed as simply being aloof or disaffected.
The Magicians is a brilliant parody of the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia. At times it drags, with the characters appearing overly negative or cynical. These issues are easily overlooked, however, against Grossman’s dialogue and characterization.
Readers who grew up on Harry Potter or Narnia may be drawn to The Magicians based on the obvious similarities—indeed, it would be easy to dismiss The Magicians as a rip-off—but Grossman has created a darker, more grown-up world in which magic does not guarantee greatness. Readers may also enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke or Soon I Will Be Invincible by Lev Grossman’s brother Austin Grossman. ★ ★ ★ ½
In American Gods by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2001), the ancient stories of gods and mythological creatures are real. Since people have stopped believing in them, they have faded into obscurity and been replaced by new gods of technology, drugs, and celebrity.
The novel opens with Shadow, who, days before he is released from prison, receives word that his wife and best friend were killed in a car accident. Consumed by grief, he takes a job as a bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, who knows a great deal about Shadow’s life. They embark on a journey across America where Shadow learns the truth about the gods.
Gaiman is known for Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and the acclaimed graphic novel Sandman, whose spin-off, Lucifer has also been made into a show on Fox TV.
Many of Gaiman’s previous novels draw on the idea that ancient legends have a foundation in reality. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, fairies co-exist with mortals. In Lucifer, Satan becomes bored ruling Hell and takes up in Los Angeles as the owner of a piano bar. Readers starting with American Gods should investigate Gaiman’s other work such as Coraline, Neverwhere, or Good Omens (co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett). ★ ★ ★ ★