seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

REVIEW: Running With the Demon -- Terry Brooks

When I saw Terry at Albacon, I asked him which of his later (for large values of "later") books he most recommended. This was the one he directed me to. During this hectic "travel all week" week, I got time in isolated hotel rooms, which permitted me to finish the book finally.

Capsule Summary: Rating: Excellent. A "positive horror" novel which is well-written, well-paced, and clever.

The spine of the copy of Running With the Demon that I have just says "Fiction"; associations with the author's name invoke a general "fantasy" expectation. Running With the Demon could be considered "urban fantasy", but to me, it's clearly in another genre.

This is modern horror. This is Stephen King's bailiwick. I found myself thinking a LOT of King's work while reading Running With the Demon, and King suffers badly in the comparison. In this book, Brooks gets to show off a somewhat different style of writing, and demonstrate his skills depicting "regular people". The Shannara books take place in an entirely different world (albeit with the conceit that they are actually this world, after a sort of mystical apocalypse), and the Magic Kingdom books have a comedy slant which drives much of the character action.

Here Terry is writing a serious "Novel of Good and Evil", and his characters have to ring true. They have to be people we can imagine living in this world, even if underneath the world we know there is Something Else. And those who are connected to the Something Else we have to at least believe as residents of this world, as capable of hiding their presence from the mundanes.

Running With the Demon presents us with a world like our own, but one that is, unbeknownst to most people, under seige; a battleground between Good and Evil, or perhaps between Growth and Creation and Decay and Destruction. The Creator-power, God if you will, is the Word, and the destructive is the Void. Agents for each are selected, or select themselves through their choices. The "demon" of the title is a man who has become a demon, something inhuman, through his own choices. His general approach is to manipulate others to perform destructive acts. His main adversary, a Knight of the Word named John Ross, was chosen for this duty by a sort of manifestation of the Word called the Lady (with connections to imagery from Welsh history/myth and, at least in general imagery, seems related to the Arthurian cycle as well).

In a sense Running With the Demon seems to be almost a combination of two King novels, or rather two King novels as they might have been written by a better writer. This is The Stand meets Needful Things, because we have both an apocalyptic threat, a confrontation which may lead to the end of the world, and a story of small-town events, of the ways in which evil can use our own fears and desires against us -- possibly with a soupcon of "The Dead Zone", because John Ross can see visions of possible futures -- terrible futures, usually, which it is his job to prevent, but for which he has only the most cryptic of clues as to HOW to prevent them.

But Running With the Demon is BETTER than these books. The Stand, in the end, had to use a literal Deus Ex Machina, or possibly Machina ex Dei, the Hand of God, to finish off everything -- and in doing so made virtually all the efforts of the people useless except as symbolic acts (i.e., choosing good over evil). Needful Things allowed the main hero to survive, but at the expense of not merely a few other people but an entire town. Running With the Demon is at least as well WRITTEN as anything King's done -- and if you have read "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", you should know that is high praise indeed -- but more importantly for me, it's a more optimistic book. The choices of humans -- even ordinary, non-powered, non-Chosen humans -- MATTER. Yes, evil is dangerous, and in any fight against it there will be costs, there will be sacrifices, but there can also be victory, and not just Pyrrhic victory, either. There are indeed losses on the side of Good, and several of them are painful, but none of them are without value. This is a book that brought a tear to my eyes at a few points, and at one ultimate moment a triumphant and appreciative "YES!" for the cleverness of one part of the final resolution.

Thank you, Terry. That was a damn good read.

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