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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 fantasy.

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.

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