The Elfstones of Shannara
Reviewed: November 10, 2006
By: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Rey Books
576 pages, $10.99
There is bound to be a certain repetitive
quality to quest sagas. The trick is to shake up the plot lines a bit, introduce
some new characters, provide some additional back story, and come up with
a different way to win the war.
Terry Brooks tried to do all of this
in his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, and wisely decided not to
pursue the problem of an immediate sequel when he went to work on his second.
Instead, he moved events ahead almost two generations and changed the focus
of the problem.
He also took what had been essentially
a male dominated genre and introduced some strong and interesting female characters
into the mix.
Wil Ohmsford is the grandson of the
first book’s hero, an elf-human hybrid with just enough of the elvish bloodline
in him to make him up to the task of helping to save the world. Like his grandfather,
he is a reluctant hero, sworn to be a healer rather than a warrior, and when
the fabled wizard, Allanon, turns up in the village where he is studying his
art, Wil wants nothing to do with him.
The trouble is that events are already
in motion, and trouble is coming for him whether he wants it or not, simply
because of who he is.
Trouble has already struck the elven
kingdom, as the legendary Ellcrys has begun to die. When this silver tree,
in the heart of their capital city, ceases to be vital, then the Forbidding,
a spell which has banned demonic evil from the world for centuries, will be
broken, and the demons will return. Some have already broken through, and
are actively working to make sure that the spell of renewal by which the Ellcrys
can be restored can never be activated. Near the beginning of the book all
but one of the Chosen, the elves who were the servants of the great tree,
are murdered by one of these demons, the Reaper.
The remaining Chosen, Amberle, granddaughter
of the Elf King Eventine, has gone into exile years before, apparently abandoning
her role as one of the Chosen, one of the few females ever chosen to serve
the tree. To her now falls the task of carrying the Ellcrys’ seed to the mysterious
place of the Bloodfire and activating the spell which will renew the Forbidding.
The novel follows two basic plot lines.
The first deals with the quest by Wil and Amberle to carry out her part in
saving the Four Lands. We follow them through country we have not seen before,
meet a number of interesting people, and see them through to the end of their
quest. Of special interest are the gypsy-like Rovers and Eretria, the young
woman who sets her mind on capturing Wil’s heart.
The second plot is about the war to
hold back the demon hordes. Once the Ellcrys has given her seed to Amberle,
the Forbidding Wall collapses entirely, and it is up to Prince Ander Elessedil,
the second son of Eventine, the lead the armies of the Four Lands in a seemingly
futile attempt to hold back the demon hordes until Amberle and Wil can return.
As with the quest plot line, there
are some very interesting characters introduced here, especially Stee Jans
and his Legion Free Corps.
Brooks is a sneaky fantasy writer.
In the first book it turned out that the sword was important not because it
was a sword, but because it was embrued with the power to make people see
themselves as they really were, stripped of all illusions. Evil is vanquished
when it is forced to face its true nature rather than by being hacked to bits.
Seldom has self-awareness been used as the ultimate weapon in this type of
Self-awareness and self-sacrifice are
at the heart of the solutions to all the problems in Elfstones. Ander
has to overcome his second-son status and grow into his role as heir after
the death of his elder brother. Wil has to accept his destiny, but tweak it
so that he is still true to himself. Amberle has the most to learn, and the
most to lose, and has to come to terms with all of that.
Having read the novels in the Word/Void
trilogy, which are set in our world and time, I can see the connections that
Brooks is setting up between our present world and the world of Shannara.
Unlike many fantasies, which take place in alternate worlds or in some dim
past, the Shannara saga takes place mostly in Earth’s future, after a cataclysm
of some sort has changed the very balance of power and the laws of nature.
Apparently his current hardcover novel, Armageddon’s Children, is the
first in a sequence which will stitch the present and the future stories together.
I’ll be interested to see how it works out.
Elfstones is currently available either as an
individual book or as part of an omnibus edition which contains the first
Shannara trilogy. This can be purchased in hardcopy or in electronic form
as an e-book download.