Book: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy (includes: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara)
Series: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy
Author: Terry Brooks
Genres: high fantasy, epic fantasy, adventure
Synopsis (from Amazon book page):
“Twenty-five years ago, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks wrote a novel that brought to life a dazzling world that would become one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world. Ten more Shannara books would follow. Now, for the first time in one elegant collector’s edition hardcover, and featuring an introduction by the author, here are the first three novels of that classic series: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara—the beginning of a phenomenal epic of good and evil.
The Sword of Shannara
Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.
The Elfstones of Shannara
The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost.
The Wishsong of Shannara
An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death. Thus begins Terry Brooks’s thrilling Shannara epic, an unforgettable tale of adventure, magic, and myth.”
Notes of Interest:
I have never read any Terry Brooks books until now, but they have kind of always been on my “someday/TBR” list, so last year I bought The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. Over the course of the past year, I have read each of the books and just finished the last one as my last book for this year. I have decided to review all three books as a set this time, rather than reviewing them individually. This is partly to save time for me. But it’s also partly because I bought them together, and my feelings regarding all three books are the same. They are very similar in style and content, but where I noticed differences, I will point that out.
I decided to buy this trilogy after watching the Shannara Chronicles TV series — one of the few times that I’ve purchased a book after watching a visual media production. So, let me say here that they are very different. The TV series is based on the books, but it doesn’t follow them. The TV series is mostly based in the second book of the trilogy, The Elfstones of Shannara. The books are, of course, more intricately detailed with more content. But the TV series makes good use of the main content in its visual adaptation.
What could have made it better for me:
The one big fault I found with the series, particularly the first book of the trilogy, was telling more than showing. Brooks even mentioned this in the forward of book 2 or 3, admitting this was something that had to improve with time. I happen to be big on character interactions and backgrounds, so I really wish I had seen more showing than telling when it came to character interactions. As a result, the characters are developed with potential for standing out as unique personalities, but except for a few, most are more like archetypes for the hero quest. We are told about their actions more than we see their personalities drawn out by interacting with their travel companions. This makes for a good action-adventure story, but I, personally, need more character dialog and interaction to prevent stories from being “just” hero quests.
Also, my favourite aspect of this series, is underplayed: the setting of the world itself. These are high fantasy stories that take place on an earth where modern civilization as we know it has had a great war that spawned new races and reshaped the land itself. Some of those races (elves) are from the age of myth and magic, but have magic no more. Some of the races come from evolved forms of humanity. A few references are made to things like torches with no fire or earth magic in the form of a black powder. But the TV series makes better use of this concept for a post-modern earth, in my opinion. Again, I see so much potential, so it’s a little disappointing more wasn’t done with it. Without emphasizing fallen freeways, steel towers in ruins, or rusty cars in overgrown streets the books feel like an ordinary “Medieval/ Middle Earth” type fantasy setting full of dark forests, bleak mountain passes, and foggy swamps … which works well for any fantasy adventure story.
Lastly, book 1, The Sword of Shannara, was a bit confusing with the point of view for the narrative.
What I liked about it:
One of the characters that stood out to me the way I like characters to stand out was the dark druid Allanon. He appears in all three books as a mystic druid that raises more questions than he offers answers for. So though he doesn’t say or reveal much, the lack of background or intent from him suits his personality and purposes well. Another character that stood out to me was a minor character, Cogline. He’s a crazy old coot with a penchant for explosives, and if that doesn’t set him apart right there, his dialog will do it.
Brooks has a talent with describing scenery well. A lot of the word count is dedicated to setting the atmosphere of the settings, so you get a real feel for the changes of the seasons, the darkness of the abandoned keeps, the bleakness of the mountains, the horror of the monsters encountered, etc. The descriptions of the monsters as evil incarnate are particularly well done, so the challenge for each set of travelers is never underestimated.
The plots are fairly straight-forward, so pages turn quickly; but in each plot there is a price to pay for victories had. That’s not to offer spoilers, but to say Brook’s world is one in which magic itself is something rare and to be reckoned with. It does not come easily or freely to those capable of wielding it … which I think is a nice touch we don’t see very often in fantasy. In most fantasy worlds, magic is a given staple.
Which brings me back to my comments about the new earth setting. It reminds me a bit of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, in which a modern civilization fell to ruins and humanity divided and evolved into different races of predators and prey, both of whom have lost important, forgotten knowledge about their past. I love these kinds of concepts because of the way they blend dystopian and paradisaical elements of a new civilization rising from the ashes of something that literally destroyed the world as we know it today. These survivors often must hunt down something of great value that we take for granted in present times because it’s so common we don’t see the value in it, but in the case of the Shannara series it is the attempt to reclaim magic from before the age of man while living in the ruins of the age of man. I am disappointed this setting wasn’t milked for everything it was worth, but it’s a brilliant concept that I adore.
I found very few errors in these books; technical distractions were not a problem. The plots are solid. The style is fluid and easy to follow. These are good, basic heroic fantasy genre books that offer the adventure quest, escapism into new lands, and battles between good and evil that high fantasy and epic fantasy tales are best known for.
If you like Tolkien-style, epic, high-fantasy quests, but have a hard time muddling through the old-fashioned wordiness of Tolkien’s overly detailed world building, Brooks might be more your style. The characters are solid, the quests are challenging, and the journey itself is a large part of each story. But the poems, song lyrics, fictional languages, and histories of whose fathers were fathers of fathers and so on is minimized. I’m glad I bought the trilogy because over the course of all three books, Allanon’s life is presented as more of an arc over three mortal lifetimes. It was also nice to see how previous generations affected the futures of those who left with the consequences of their actions. In this way, it builds the world history as you read and see it happening. I liked these books. They’re a good “classic” addition to my bookshelf.