The Druid of Shannara: The best of Shannara

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Druid of Shannara Heritage of Shannara reviewThe Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks

“I Envy Your Past… I Have None…”

The second book in the four-part series THE HERITAGE OF SHANNARA focuses on Walker Boh, the most unique and intriguing character that Brooks has ever created. In an ongoing series that is filled with grim wizards, plucky farm-boys, feisty love-interests, and bland members of the Leah family thrown in for good measure, Walker Boh is a breath of fresh air and makes a compelling protagonist for the best installment of Brooks’s best SHANNARA-based series.

In the previous novel The Scions of Shannara, three members of the Ohmsford family were summoned by the shade Allanon to complete three specific tasks in order to combat the rising threat of the mysterious Shadowen: to find the lost Sword of Shannara (Par), discover the hiding place of the lost elves (Wren) and restore the Druid Keep of Paranor — the mission appointed to Walker. But unlike his nephew and niece who accept the tasks, Walker has no interest whatsoever in doing what Allanon requires. Suspicious of manipulation and secrecy, he furthermore has no desire to help a world who treated him like an outcast.

But unforeseen circumstances are occurring at the edges of reality; the King of the Silver River as created a daughter out of his domain who is sent out into the world with a mysterious plan in play to assist the scions of Shannara. Her name is Quickening, and she gathers together a small band of followers to travel with her into the realm of Uhl Belk the Stone King, the King of the Silver River’s brother, in order to retrieve the Black Elfstone that he so long ago stole from the Druids.

It is this Elfstone that is essential in Walker’s task to restore Paranor to the physical realm, but it is also the talisman that has heightened the Stone King’s power; the entire land of Eldwist has gradually succumbed to stone around him. But Quickening is resolute in her determination to gain possession of the Elfstone, and soon has recruited three men whom she says will be essential to the success of the quest: Walker himself, Morgan Leah (a friend of Par who was separated from him in the last book) and Pe Ell, a shady assassin who has been sent by the Federation to dispose of Quickening — but who has decided to halt this plan till he has ownership of the Elfstone. With each of these characters distrustful of each other, and yet inexorably bound to Quickening, they set off on their journey into dangerous territory.

The Druid of Shannara is a success because of its character motivations and interactions; in particular Pe Ell and Quickening, who have deeply laid secrets at work within the story. The uncovering of these secrets and the unraveling of the travelers’ journey into the deadly Eldwist keep the reader sustained for the entire length of the book. There are a couple of side-issues that aren’t really of much importance to the overall story arc (such as a character called Carisman who has been made king of a group of primitive gnomes; it doesn’t really add much to the story) and a few silly bits (giant rats?!) but on the whole the threats are both credible and frightening. The city of Eldwist is haunted by the Stone King’s monstrous child whose creeping influence changes everything around it to stone, as well as the formidable Rake, a creeper like the one seen in the previous book — only worse.

As well as this, a few chapters are devoted to what’s going on with the other scions: Par is hiding out with the lovely Damson in the sewers of Tyrsis, convinced that he’s responsible for the death of his brother Coll, whilst Wren and her companion Garth arrange a meeting with the mysterious Addershag who has information on the missing elves.

It is probably through Morgan’s eyes that we witness most of the story, and though he isn’t quite as interesting as Walker, he’s a nice enough guy and has a crucially important part to play throughout the progression of the quartet (as opposed to other members of the Leah family that pop up in other books), and there is a bittersweet romance at work between Morgan and Quickening that is handled surprisingly well by Brooks (who tends to get corny when dealing with love-stories). Quickening herself is an enigma, childlike and yet devoted to her purpose, and her relationship with the members of the groups (not just Morgan, but Walker and Pe Ell as well) make for interesting character interactions.

Unfortunately, The Druid of Shannara suffers from a continual defect that appears throughout Brooks’s work: a tendency to waffle on. If Terry Brooks is going to remark on something within the text, he’ll compose a lengthy paragraph that ends up repeating the same point several times. Take for example Walker’s dialogue on the advantage they have over Uhl Belk:

It is true that we appear to be little more than beggars off some Southland city street, that we have nothing with which to threaten Uhl Belk, that we are as insignificant to him as the smallest insects that crawl upon the land. But that appearance may be an illusion we can use. It may give us the chance we need to defeat him. He sees us as nothing. He does not fear us. He disdains to worry about us at all. It is possible that he has already forgotten us. He believes himself invulnerable. Perhaps we can use that against him.

This is but one example, but it is a trait that shows up in every single story that Brooks has written; a long-windedness that bloats the length of the books, repeats the obvious and almost makes it seem as though Brooks considers his readers idiots who have to have certain points hammered into their heads. It’s intensely frustrating, especially when all Walker needs to say is this: “Uhl Belk considers himself so powerful that he’ll underestimate our chances. We should use that to our advantage.” There! I’ve probably saved at least seven trees!

But despite the fact that Terry Brooks needs a more ruthless editor, The Druid of Shannara is good stuff, the best installment of the best quartet within the SHANNARA saga.

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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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One comment

  1. Sultros /

    Having read most of this series in the 90’s, this is the book I remember most. While Brooks does tend to waffle, he pales in comparison to Robert Jordan. I read through Eddings, Brooks, then got to Jordan and continued to read Jordan until I could no longer take slogging through endless chapters dedicated to the history and heritage of the roofing shingles that happen to be slapped onto whatever building in yet another town town the characters stumbled into. Ive never read a book or a series that I actually skipped chapters and haven’t since.

    Great review.

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