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Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! – review

January 29, 2012

A while back my wife got interested in the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels, of which there are about forty. Being the helpful sort that I am, I searched around and found two volumes that contained books 1-6 of the Terry Brooks Landover novels. It wasn’t until I presented them to her that she pointed out my mistake: Terry Pratchett’s novels are fantasy-comedy-parody, while Terry Brooks’ novels are “epic fantasy.” D’oh!

So I’ve had these Landover books hanging about, promising some sort of faerie tale adventure with castles, maidens, dragons, and the like. I had just finished reading the dense and engrossing Red Mars and felt it was time for a lighter style of prose, something to wash my brain out before the next big book. My instincts told me Landover was the place to be and that’s how my adventure began.

Ben Holiday is a big shot trial lawyer from Chicago. Since the recent death of his wife, life has felt empty for Ben. He needs a change. He finds a mysterious advertisement touting the sale of a magic kingdom. One thing leads to another and skeptical, logical, reasoning Ben finds himself in the real honest to goodness magic kingdom of Landover. His purchase includes his right to be king, but there’s a catch: the kingdom is in bad shape, the magic is fading from the land, and nobody is impressed with his walk-on role as “play-king.” Ben must figure out a way to restore hope and return magic to the land before the demons overtake Landover.

I had a problem connecting to this story because Ben continually struck me as “unsympathetic.” He was a jerk. A rich jerk who acted like a jerk toward the people trying to help him and then, maybe, felt bad about it, inwardly, and then soldiered on. I wanted this guy to get his ass kicked. I wanted to see him change.

Terry Brooks is an accomplished novelist. By that I mean he’s written a lot of books, he’s got a huge fan-base, he’s been on the New York Times Best Seller’s list.

Brooks’ Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! reads like pulp-fantasy. It’s a rocket ride from inciting incident to denouement with no patience for subtlety. It’s a straight forward novel where each event is the direct and obvious cause of the next event. There’s no room for wonder. It’s well-plotted but does not swerve, despite prose tricks that imply challenges to the main character, like: “Ben peered through the mist and trees. He couldn’t see a thing. He peered harder. Now he caught a glimpse of something flickering against the gloom–a sort of light that reflected on the mist.” He couldn’t see a thing, so he peered harder, and then he could, and we move on to the next thing.

In short, this was exactly the book I was looking for. Hey, it can’t all be Shakespeare, and we wouldn’t want it to be, right? It’s a good read, if you’re looking to scrub your brain clean and re-up your thirst for weightier explorations of human emotion.

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