The Sword of Shannara: Too derivative

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Brooks Sword of ShannaraThe Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Shannara was a very popular book back in the 70s right after the huge success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS when everyone wanted to read more fantasy. I wasn’t old enough to read it back then, so I came to it much later. I read part of the first book and, knowing how popular it had been, and feeling like it was a classic, I was prepared to enjoy it. About half way through I gave it to my ten year old son.

The weird thing is, it’s so like THE LORD OF THE RINGS, at the same time that it’s not. I don’t mind a few common fantasy elements (especially in works written before they were cliché), but Brooks plot and characters come almost straight out of Tolkien. This may have been acceptable if the writing had come straight out of Tolkien, too, but Brooks style is clunky, wordy, and awkward. Adjectives and adverbs are used without restraint. I mean there are constant repetitive superfluous unnecessary redundant profligate excessive numbers of adjectives. And did I mention the weirdly-placed adverbs which are used unsparingly, unrestrainedly, extravagantly, and immoderately? And annoyingly?… When I couldn’t care less whether Shea and Flick (they’re the hobbits — I mean the heroes) live or die, then the characterization is weak. Actually, I was kind of hoping that they would die. If they died, the book would have to end, right?

Conclusion: These are fine for kids (at least this one is, I can’t say if all of the later SHANNARA books are — probably not). But, do you really want to teach them to write like that? If not, give them C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Susan Cooper, and Lloyd Alexander. To be fair: This series is wildly popular. Perhaps the writing gets better (it has been 30 years, after all). I have heard that only the first book is too much like Tolkien. But I’ll never know for sure because I can’t make it through the first one.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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4 comments

  1. Kevin S. /

    Oh my goodness. How did this book get so popular and well known when it is so bad?? The story is unoriginal (see Kat’s review) and the writing is somewhere between the 3rd and 5th grade reading level. Ugh.

    The sad thing is I feel obligated to finish it because my son got me the next book in the series for my birthday. I have to somehow find the strength to finish this debacle so he can see me reading the next book, which I pray is better than Sword of Shannara. Onward and upward!!

  2. I have to guiltily admit I liked Sword of Shannara back in junior high to get my Tolkien fix, but I will claim youthful ignorance of good writing and originality. What I was stunned to discover is the endless series of Shannara spin-off series that have followed. The same applies for Raymond Feist’s Riftwar series, and David Eddings’ Belgariad series. Moderately entertaining original series that spawn endless follow-ups. I guess there are fans who want to read essentially the same kind of story again and again, but it seems like such a waste when there are so many more original and well-written books in the genre that deserve wider readership.

  3. Kevin S. /

    I started the Riftwar series but it didn’t do much for me. I did enjoy the Belgariad series but I admit it could have been cut down to 4 or even 3 books.

    I can see how someone would like Shannara if they haven’t read the LOTR books or seen the movies. I kept thinking of LOTR characters as I read Shannara. Plus, the writing was kind of dry and dull IMO. Not much originality in many of these stories.

  4. Rebecca had some nice things to say about Elfstones, so I’d give it a try, Kevin:

    http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-elfstones-of-shannara/

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