Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 26-30

The Sword of ShannaraJen Miller and Phil Ilten have been reading The Sword of Shannara together and sharing their thoughts by writing back and forth. Find earlier installments of our discussion here; we'd encourage you to add to our conversation in the comments!


Dear Jen--

Some of my predictions turned out to be correct! I was momentarily worried about my Eventine theory when Flick entered the tent, but it turns out I had nothing to fear. Unfortunately my other two predictions were only partially correct, or perhaps totally incorrect. While Palance has been mortally wounded by Stenmin and would appear to be at death’s door, the cause was not what I expected. I also had thought that Balinor and friends would escape through secret passages, but it looks like Stenmin did instead. However, I did feel rather confident that secret passages of some sort would be involved; what kind of castle doesn’t have secret passages?

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Midweek Fiction: Elizabeth Bear, "The Horrid Glory of its Wings"

Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite writers. I love her precise and intelligent use of language, and her ability to write works that rip your heart out of your chest, and then show you the beauty in the sadness. She has a gift for seeing the monstrous in the human, and the humanity in the monsters.

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The Magic of the Theater: A Review of Barbara Ashford's Spellcast

SpellcastAnyone who has gone to a good theater production knows that the stage contains a magic of its own.  I'm not necessarily talking about just Broadway shows or those on London's West End, although these often do contain magic.  No, I'm talking about any production that takes on a life of its own, where the script is just the beginning, and where the members of the audience become active players in the drama.  It can happen anywhere, from New York to New Prague, from Tony-winning shows to those performed by grade school children.  There is something about the stage, the lights, the curtain, the costumes and makeup, and most importantly, the idea of make-believe that has the potential to imbue any theatrical production with magic.

Which is why Barbara Ashford's novel Spellcast makes so much sense.  Spellcast tells the story of Maggie Graham, a thirty-something who loses her job at the beginning of the novel and decides to head to Vermont to figure out what to do with her life.  As she's driving she is inexplicably drawn to a small town called Dale, and once she's there, she finds herself auditioning for a summer theater company.  She gets parts in all three of that summer's productions--Brigadoon, a new play entitled The Sea-Wife, and Carousel--and soon finds herself immersed in a world that seems a bit too good to be real.

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Whose Hero Is It, Anyway?

The Mistborn TrilogyA few months ago, I wrote about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first novel in a trilogy. I noted that the series got off to a bang with an epigraph from someone nervous about their role as the prophesied “Hero of Ages,” and then showed a powerful magician named Kelsier encouraging slaves to rebel against their masters. The book then followed Kelsier to the capital of the “Final Empire,” detailing his plans to overthrow the regime, and his allusions to more secretive plans, such as assassinating a thousand-year-old despot, the “Lord Ruler.” Sounds pretty heroic to me.

But, I found to my pleasant surprise, Kelsier is by no means the main character of the book. That honor could just as well fall to Vin, Kelsier's new protege from the streets. Getting one expectation—oh, this book is about Kelsier the prophesied hero!—and quite a different result—never mind, it's about Vin who develops from a distrustful criminal into a powerful magician, capable of love!—is very often the sign of a well-written book.

Sanderson agrees with me. In an essay I'll discuss more later, he writes, “I’ve often said that good writing defies expectations. (Or, more accurately, breaks your expectations while fulfilling them in ways you didn’t know you wanted.)” In challenging my expectation of who the protagonist was, Mistborn succeeded. Over the course of the trilogy, however, a lot more bait-and-switches emerged, beyond just the identity of the Hero of Ages. The series provides another warning about judging a book by its cover. Literally. [note: this post contains major spoilers about the entire trilogy]

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Resistance is...not futile?: The Falling Skies Season Finale

Maggie and AnneAlthough I was fairly hard on Falling Skies in my initial look at the series, I have been enjoying watching it this summer.  The story arc about Ben and his post-harness changes has been an interesting one, and the evolution of Pope from a bad guy to a bad guy with (maybe) a heart of gold has been intriguing as well.  The two-episode arc where the children are taken to a safe place that ends up being, well, not at all safe ("Sanctuary," parts 1 and 2) was particularly provocative, as it introduced another shade of gray into the "humans good, aliens bad" dichotomy.  I have also been pleasantly surprised that a number of episodes have passed the Bechdel test--my favorite one being "Sanctuary (part 1)" in which Maggie teaches Anne how to shoot a gun.  And perhaps most importantly, the characters have made strategy choices in their fight against the aliens that make me think that they are perhaps not completely without common sense after all.

So, coming into the two-hour season finale, I had a number of expectations [spoilers after the jump]:

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