Monday, July 2, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Magic

What is this? A book review?? Well, with all the books I've been reading lately, figures that I would pick at least one to do a proper review of.  And, Dear Readers, this one's a treat!

Title: Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold!
Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Random House (Omnibus)
Publication Date: 1986 (Omnibus published 2009)

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention. Such as the fact that the kingdom was falling into ruin. The barons refused to recognize a king and taxes hadn't been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, was laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, was plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren't enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learned that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death - a duel no mere mortal could hope to win. But Ben Holiday had one human trait that even magic couldn't overcome. Ben Holiday was stubborn.

My Review:

Back In The Day (senior year of high school - the last time I really had time to read whatever I pleased), I read a good chunk of Terry Brooks' Shannara novels (good grief, my fingers cannot spell today) and I rather enjoyed them.  Our high school library also had Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold!, and I always meant to pick it up and read it, but I never did.  Now, with my lovely library job and access to all kinds of great stuff to read, I finally picked it up.  Well, I picked up the audiobook, but that counts!

People who read fantasy, back me up on this one - Who doesn't sometimes thinks "Gosh, wouldn't it be cool if there was a magic wardrobe/hidden train platform/time-and-space machine that I could take and visit a world no one's ever seen before or even believes in?"  So, I get the premise of of Magic Kingdom for Sale and I buy into it wholeheartedly (no pun intended).  Ben Holiday is a tough-as-nails lawyer who's still dealing with the death of his wife two years previous.  He finds a department store catalog with an ad for the throne of a fairy-tale kingdom called Landover complete with dragons and fairies and witches and whoever has a million dollars and passes the screening process can have it.  In a moment of pure whimsy (that does nothing if not give me a little bit more faith in the legal community), Ben comes up with the money and buys Landover, thinking it's going to be a nice vacation and a chance to get clear of all the stress and inner turmoil in his life.

Well, if Ben was looking for a place free from stress, Landover ain't it.  The kingdom has been without a king for years and the land is dying because of it.  The people are distrustful of each other and demons have been chomping at the bit to take over Landover for themselves and - oh yeah, the guy who sold Landover to Ben has sold it before and always to some weenie who didn't care to step up and take responsibility, so the Landoverians who would have helped Ben don't trust him because (to them), he's just one in a long line of pretenders just out to have a good time and never mind who gets hurt.

And this, my friends, is where Ben Holiday becomes a hero.
Nightshade? Strabo? Iron Mark? Bickering lords? Puh-lease...
For the first little bit, Ben just rolls with whatever he's told he's supposed to do.  He's pretty much reacting to what gets thrown at him and there's very little character development on his part.  He leans a lot on Questor Thews (the court wizard of Landover, who's not a very good one) and Abernathy (court-scribe-turned-dog... don't ask) and while those two are great for quick information, neither of them know much about ruling a kingdom (to be fair, Ben doesn't know much either).  Most of the first half of the book sees Ben reacting to everything and nothing goes right for him - with the possible exception of meeting Willow, the sylph from the Lake Country who is also the River Master's daughter and who really ought to be annoying but somehow isn't (I admit - I cheered when she showed up to rescue Ben and the others from the trolls.  Cheered even more when Ben let her stay with him. They're too cute together).  It's when Ben finally knuckles down and decides he's going to be Landover's king that things get really entertaining.

First of all, Ben starts a "school" of sorts in order to learn everything he can about Landover - history, culture, geography, the whole nine yards.  Then he starts going to all the really scary characters to get them to pledge to him - much to the chagrin of everyone except Willow and (quite possibly) the G'Home Gnomes (who are about the funniest little guys on the planet).  This, of course, is where Ben faces down stuff much scarier than some old dragon or a witch... and if I told you what it was, that would spoil the ending so I'm going to leave it.

Okay, yeah, this story's pretty predictable in where it's going (there are five more Landover novels, so of course Ben's going to survive!), but it's the getting-there that's the fun of it.  Honestly, I didn't know how Brooks was going to have a character go from being a world-weary, cynical lawyer in the real world to becoming the sovereign ruler of a fairy-tale kingdom, but it works.  Even more fun that Ben accepts all the craziness going on around him and takes it in stride - more than just accept it, he embraces it and claims it as his own!

Bottom Line: Forget combing the train station for that hidden platform - where's the high-end items in the Sears Catalog??

PS - The cover image is actually the 2009 Omnibus re-release that also includes The Black Unicorn and Wizard At Large (there's a second Omnibus with The Tangle Box and Witches' Brew. The most recent offering, A Princess of Landover, is currently available on its own)  Considering what the covers originally were, I have to say this is a marked improvement (I'm glad fantasy cover artists are getting better at their work).

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