Monday, August 6, 2012

Book review: "The Elfstones of Shannara" by Terry Brooks

I had a pretty busy week, so I was slow with my reading and then late with writing this review. Also, I wasn't much into reading it after the disaster that was "The Sword of Shannara". Thankfully, I again remembered to make some notes. So, here is my review of the second book in "Original Shannara Trilogy" by Terry Brooks: "The Elfstones of Shannara".

Events in this book take place some fifty years after the defeat of Warlock Lord in tSoS. There were no major problems in Four Lands for some time now: Gnomes kept themselves peaceful, Elves and Dwarves were nurturing they friendship, and even the Trolls were slowly getting friendly with others. Humans drifted a bit toward the isolationism, but they were at least not bothering anyone. But this is about to change. Ellcrys, a sacred tree of Elves, one which even they forgot the true reason of existence, is dying. And with its death, Deamons of the old times, times even before human dominance, kept away by Ellcrys and its spell of Forbidding, will be released from their prison. The only chance Elves and other races have, is to plant a seed of Ellcrys. Amberle, granddaughter of Elven King Eventine Essendil, unwillingly set on a journey to find a mythical Bloodfire, and by immersing the seed in it, restoring the Forbidding. On this quest, she is guarded by Will, grandson of Shea Ohmsford, sent by Allanon as the only person who can wield the Elfstones and thus protect Amberle from the Demons. Meanwhile, Allanon and the Elves, with every allies they can find, will try to stall the Demons from overrunning the whole land...

The start of "The Elfstones of Shannara" makes brighter promise that "The Sword of Shannara". It introduces a new and original story, more distinctive and powerful main enemy, new and larger cast of characters... After few dozen pages, you get the feeling like someone else wrote this second book - humor, women, not everyone is noble... there is even seduction - which would be impossible in "The Sword of Shannara", at least for simple reason that there wasn't any women. Compared to tSoS, this is a big improvement. For me, most interesting part was in later stages of the book, when they were first exploring the Wilderun. I was surprised with somewhat abrupt ending.

But considering this book alone, there is still much room for improvement. Even though this plot is original (as in not copied from some other writer) it is still a common fantasy story. Maybe it was fresher when it was originally published in 1982, but nowadays it sounds like something from a bad fantasy movie. Also, it is quite dour fantasy - there is not much humor, almost everybody is noble and serious.

There is still some problems with setting, although not as much in tSos:  years don't match; Elves live longer, but Essendil and few other Elves are old with 80... Also, a missing community of Elves would be much more convincing if they didn't live 3 days from the rest of their people; also, wouldn't someone see the giant elf-carrying birds? Characters are also better, but as I said, they are too dour and serious. Allanon is irritating instead of mysterious, as he is constantly referred to.

I also realized one of the things that were bothering me. Why are all the bad guys mute? Introduction in the book, featuring the Dagda Mor, made me hopeful, but he proved a bit disappointment, same as the Changeling and the Reaper. I understand that is classical epic fantasy, but some more understanding and exploration of the other side would be appreciated.

One curious note: when Brooks first introduced Rovers, my immediate action was to compare the release dates of "The Eye of the World" and tEoS, and a to think "Why would Jordan stoop so low of base his Tinker of Brooks' Rovers?!". Continued reading made me realize they are not SO much similar. Nevertheless, I am curious whether Robert Jordan really made homage to Brooks, or they are just both based on Gypsies or some other source?

Again, comparing "The Elfstones of Shannara" to "The Sword of Shannara" makes the former a dramatic improvement, but considering today standards (even though this can't be taken as mitigation, since "Lord of the Rings" was published almost 20 years earlier and is still a fresh book), this is not very good book. But if this trend continues, fourth or fifth sequels could be good.

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