Jarka Ruus: Promising start to a new Shannara series

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Brooks High Druid of Shannara Jarka RuusJarka Ruus by Terry Brooks

“The One that Plays the Others as a Master Does his Puppets…”

It’s been twenty years since the events of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, in which a combined group of Elves, Men and Dwarves sailed under the leadership of the Druid Walker Boh in an attempt to reclaim archaic knowledge from lost islands far to the West. Though the mission failed in this respect, it did achieve one of Walker’s chief desires; to redeem the life of Grianne Ohmsford. Kidnapped from her family when she was a child, she was raised as the evil Ilse Witch and only made aware of her true identity by the intervention of her brother Bek Ohmsford.

My assessment of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy was not a favorable one, as I ultimately felt it was nothing more than an introduction to ideas that Terry Brooks planned to go into more detail on in later books; namely the persona of Grianne Ohmsford and the reforging of the Druid Council in the Four Lands. After reading THE HIGH DRUID OF SHANNARA trilogy, I felt this was a pretty fair judgment. All the major characters and plots here had their roots in THE VOYAGE series, and one can almost see in the writing that Brooks is far more interested in his subject matter here than he was in THE VOYAGE. This of course adds up to a much more satisfying read and, for the first time, Brooks is brave enough to veer away from some of his more predictable story structures.

For instance, the primary objective of the protagonists in this book is not to fight already-existing villains and monsters, but to halt an unraveling plan of evil-doers before it even reaches fruition. For the first time there is no back-up from the Leah family or the Sword of Shannara. The time difference between this and the previous series is also markedly different; a mere twenty years rather than several hundred. Most importantly, allies and enemies are not so clear-cut this time around; there are positive and negative factions to each organization and species that are included here; and even the undisputable bad-guys are only trying to reclaim what was technically theirs to begin with.

However, Brooks still hangs on to some tried-and-true methods. The main character is still a young Ohmsford — here called Penderrin, the son of Bek and Rue of the previous trilogy — who is given a task by the mystical King of the Silver River and is joined by representatives of other species (Trolls, Elves, Dwarves and Rover-men) in order to complete it.

Grianne Ohmsford has put her past behind her, and established the third Druid Council in an attempt to bring wisdom and peace to the Four Lands once more. Unfortunately, though it started out hopefully, the Council is slowly breaking apart with several mutinous Druids plotting against Grianne. One group in particular, led by the treacherous and ambition Shadea a’Ru has come up with a plan to rid themselves of Grianne forever (and no, I won’t share the details!) With her disappearance, Shadea seizes control of the Council and begins to org anise her enemies from her allies. Long allied to Sen Dunsidan, Minister of the Federation, Shadea pledges her support in the elimination of the Free-Borns, whilst sending out assassins to dispose of her greatest threat: the Ohmsford family.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhilst his parents are away, Pen is enjoying his freedom… till he’s warned of the danger he’s in and given a task to perform in order to save his aunt Grianne. In order to free her he must find a talisman called a darkwand, obtainable only from the living, conscious tree called the tanequil, found on an island in the mountains. Aligning himself with the dwarf Tagwen, uncle-and-niece duo Ahren and Khyber Elessedil and an airship of Rovers (including love-interest, the blind and beautiful Cinnaminson), Pen sets off on his journey to rescue his aunt.

Brooks juggles a lot of separate story-strands, from the central quest of Pen and his friends, the intrigues that go on concerning Shadea and her band of Druid allies (each with their own agendas), the war rising between Federation and Free-Born armies, and Grianne’s toils when she discovers the horrifying truth as to where she’s been exiled too. Among these tangled threads, Brooks cleverly hides a deeper plot at work that all — heroes and antagonists alike — are ignorant of; unbeknownst to all of them, they are being played by a greater power with plans of its own. Not since The HERITAGE OF SHANNARA quartet has Brooks set up such a sophisticated mystery at the core of his story, and here’s hoping it will be sustained throughout the next two installments.

As mentioned, Pen is a typical Brooks hero; young, inexperienced, naive, impulsive, optimistic — you get the idea. As such, he can be a little annoying at times, but his heart’s in the right place and he’s backed up by a strong cast of supporting characters. However, it must be said that in this case the antagonists overshadow the heroes in terms of strong characterisation, motivation and reader-interest — whenever Shadea or Sen Dunsidan show up on the page with their twisted mechanization, we forget all about what Pen is up to.

Jarka Ruus is a promising start to a new SHANNARA series, with plenty of intrigue and adventure, strong characterisation and steady pacing. Because it is set so closely after the events of THE VOYAGE we get updates on several characters, and many of the problems and situations dealt with (such as Grianne’s past as the Ilse Witch, or Sen Dunsidan’s role in the Federation War) have more weight to them given our prior familiarity with them. However, this does mean readers may miss certain characters of that trilogy that do not make an appearance here — Quentin Leah and Redden Alt Mer for example — and those who are new to the SHANNARA world are best advised to start way back with The Sword of Shannara, considering this is the twelfth book in the overall series!

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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