Having previously done a review on books made into movies, I decided this month to tackle books or book series that are currently in development of or in the midst of their first television season.
Shannara by Terry Brooks begins with the The Sword of Shannara and currently continues through The Darkling Child. Brooks’ primary work has been the Shannara series, but he is also well known for the Magic Kingdom at Landover series.
The Shannara series takes place on Earth, approximately 2000 years after a great nuclear holocaust has destroyed most of the planet. Over the years following The Great Wars, mankind evolves into four distinct races: Men, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls. In addition, Elves have emerged after centuries of hiding.
The television series begins with characters and events of the second book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara. The novel introduces the reader to Wil Ohmsford, (grandson of Shea, the main character in the first novel) Wil inherits the Elfstones and through 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 humans who live as gypsies).
Together the three, accompanied by Allanon, embark on a quest to save the Elcryss, a magical tree which keeps the Demons locked away from the Four Lands.
Brooks has long been a favorite of fantasy lovers, and the Shannara series makes it clear why. Long compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, Shannara pulls the reader into a world that is every bit as compelling as Middle Earth without the over verbosity for which Tolkien’s work is known. 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 has been frequently described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” The novel centers around Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior from Brooklyn. Quentin has long been obsessed with a series of books about a group of children who discover a Narnia-like 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. Here he becomes engrossed in learning magic and in the fight against a mythical enemy called “The Beast”.
There are significant changes from the books to the television series, including aging Quentin and the other characters from high school seniors to adults in their mid-20’s embarking on graduate school. In addition, in the television adaptation, more emphasis is placed on Quentin’s depression. In the opening of the television series, he is shown being released from a mental hospital. None of that occurs in the books where he is portrayed as simply being more aloof or disaffected than his peers.
The Magicians is at times a brilliant piece of parody, acknowledging and perhaps mildly poking fun at similar books such as the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia. At other times it drags slightly with the characters appearing overly negative or cynical. These issues are easily overlooked, however, against Grossman’s excellent use of dialogue and characterization.
Readers who grew up on Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia may find themselves drawn to The Magicians based on the obvious similarities, and indeed, it would be easy to dismiss The Magicians as a Harry Potter or Narnia rip off without deeper investigation, but readers will quickly realize that Grossman has created a darker, more grown-up world which acknowledges the fantasy of the other worlds but which also recognizes that being magical 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.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman centers around the idea that the ancient stories of gods and mythological creatures are real. Since people have stopped believing in them, they have faded into obscurity having been replaced by new gods of technology, drugs, and celebrity.
The novel opens with Shadow, a convict who, days before he is due to be released on parole, receives word that his wife and his best friend have been killed in a car accident. Consumed by grief, Shadow takes a job as a bodyguard for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who appears to know a great deal about Shadow’s life without having been told. Soon they embark on a journey across America where Shadow learns the truth about all the gods, old and new.
Gaiman is an established author known for books such as Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and the acclaimed graphic novel Sandman. In addition to American Gods, Gaiman’s Sandman spin-off, Lucifer has also been made into a current Fox TV show.
Gaiman shines throughout all of his writing and American Gods is no exception. From the easily imaginable physical descriptions, to Gaiman’s solid use of dialogue, readers will be drawn into the world of American Gods and Shadow’s life. As with many of Gaiman’s previous novels, American Gods draws on the idea that ancient legends and fairy tales have a foundation in reality.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane Gaiman created a world in which fairies co-exist with mortals. In Lucifer, Satan has become bored with ruling Hell and has instead taken up residence in Los Angeles as the owner of a piano bar. In American Gods a world is imagined in which the gods of Norse, Greek, and other cultures co-exist with mortals.
Readers starting with American Gods should investigate Gaiman’s other works such as Coraline, Neverwhere, or Good Omens (co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett). Readers familiar with Gaiman’s work may also want to consider John Dies at the End by David Wong or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams.
Each of these novels provides a good foundation for their TV adaptations, and readers should find something to enjoy in all of them.