Introduction: Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! by Terry Brooks is the July selection for the local science fiction and fantasy book club that I lead. So that’s as good excuse as any to do a full review on it, right? 🙂
The Story: Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is a work of high fantasy that’s completely separate from Brooks’ probably better-known Shannara books. Ben Holiday, the chief protagonist, decides to “buy” the realm of Landover after answering an ad in a department store’s holiday wish book. Little does he know that doing so means far more than having fun in a fantasy land – he actually becomes Landover’s new king! But Landover has seen its share of half-hearted, weak-willed leaders and now the land itself is paying for their indiscretions. Upon his arrival, Ben is thrown into the middle of dark magical forces that threaten to destroy Landover from the inside out, and he must decide whether to run away and save himself or stay and face certain danger, maybe even death.
My Take: Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is an enjoyable read. It isn’t epic like The Lord of the Rings but it’s not trying to be. Its world building is solid and believable and its characters are fun. Ben Holiday makes for a great, relatable protagonist with just enough flaws to keep him from being too perfect yet noble enough to keep him honorable. The secondary characters like Questor Thews (the court magician), Abernathy (the court scribe who was transformed into a dog), and Willow (the sylph), are interesting though they definitely fulfill some of the typical hero’s journey tropes (e.g. the wise old man, the comedic relief, the beautiful maiden, etc.). But Brooks can get away with that in this novel since it reads like a quasi-fairy tale, so having symbolic characters is okay.
While the plot has a few slow parts, the majority of the story is well-hinged and kept me invested. The friendships Ben makes are organic and two characters’ romance is sweet and innocent without being cloying. Another big plus for me was that the villains avoided being too cartoony, with Nightshade being the most interesting of the darker figures and I can definitely see her becoming a thorn in Ben’s side in the series’ other novels. My only issue is that I thought Ben was a bit too forgiving towards another character considering the gravity of the other person’s offense. But, overall, I found very few flaws with this book.
Lastly, the underlying messages of believing in the impossible and seeking to be set free from the fetters of the past and deep-seated fears were well executed. Where it would have been tempting for Brooks to preach, he instead weaves a slow thread that presents a satisfying conclusion yet leaves the door open for the series’ sequels. I finished this book eager to read more about Ben’s adventures and I will certainly try to get my hands on the other books in the series.
Writing Remarks: From a writing standpoint, Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is straightforward – it’s neither high-brow literature nor is it mind-insulting fluff. It’s engaging and descriptive without being overdone. This neutrality may deter some readers who are expecting to be wowed but I found no fault with it. Even though the story is told in third person, we chiefly glimpse events from Ben’s point of view. Since Ben is a simple (but not simpleminded) guy, it stands to reason the story should be easy to take. The tone and delivery are palatable, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that since it’s executed well. Think of this novel as a bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese – cozy, enjoyable, and fulfilling.
Content Breakdown: Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is a good, clean fantasy novel with minimal issues that should pose little to no problems with the vast majority of readers:
Language – Ben’s law partner likes to spout some choice PG and PG-13-level words but he’s not a main character except for some early chapters. Likewise, Ben sometimes makes profane exclamations in times of surprise or stress but these aren’t pervasive.
Violence – Minimal. There are scenes of peril but these are free from overt violence and gore. Elsewhere, most of the violence is typical fantasy-style violence that involves magic and sword play with no graphic killings or tortures.
Sexual Material – None. Ben undresses to bathe in a stream and sees Willow, naked (at a distance), standing in the water. This is a scene of pure innocence, so nothing is described in graphic detail and nothing sexual occurs between them in this scene or elsewhere in the novel. As a side note, I was impressed at Ben’s (and Brooks’) show of restraint as any other character (or author) would have just succumbed to temptation.
Thematic Content – Having faith in the impossible, believing in yourself, being rid of fear, and letting go of the past.
Recommended Reading Levels: In my opinion, I believe Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! stacks up this way (note that just because a book isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Not recommended. The novel’s general storyline and length would be of little interest to young children.
Independent Readers – Recommended, but with a child’s maturity in mind. Older independent readers who like epic fantasy stories full of magic, traditional characters, and adventure will enjoy this novel though some of the language, chiefly in the first few chapters, might be a put-off to parents or guardians.
Young Adults – Recommended. Teens who like epic fantasy with a slant towards the adventure side (more so than court intrigue) will find much to like here.
Adults – Recommended. This is Terry Brooks novel, so you can’t go wrong. There is much here story-wise to appeal to a wide fantasy audience base.
The Run-Down: Overall, Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is a fun, enjoyable read. It may not break new ground in its genre but it’s a really likable book. Thus, if the Shannara series scares you due to its expansive size, give this novel (or series) a try as a good introduction to Brooks as a story teller and world builder. You won’t be disappointed.