BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Terry Brooks's The Measure of the Magic.
Living in peaceful Shady Vale, Shea Ohmsford knew little of the troubles that plagued the rest of the world. Then the giant, forbidding Allanon revaled that the supposedly dead Warlock Lord was plotting to destory the world. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness was the Sword of Shannara, which could only be used by a true heir of Shannara--Shea being the last of the bloodline, upon whom all hope rested. Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flew into the Vale, seeking to destroy Shea. To save the Vale, Shea fled, drawing the Skull Bearer after him....
After reading one of the later Shannara books several years ago, and after recently reading Brooks's stale rendering of the new Star Wars movie, I was not expecting to warm up to his first novel. Boy, was I surprised. I couldn't put it down, for all 726 pages. The book is just one adventure after another, all involving the search for a special sword needed to defeat the evil Warlock Lord who seeks to rule the world. The only man capable of using the sword must embark on a quest to find it, with only a few magic stones as protection against the dreaded Skull Bearers who are after him. If you think this doesn't very original, you're right. But there's one interesting twist: this story takes place in the future. At least that's what I understood. My friend, who read the book years ago, disagrees. Sure, it appears to be the standard quasi-medieval setting with its kings, its dungeons, and its primitive technology. But one character describes a time in the distant past when humans mastered "a science of machines and power" but ended up unleashing technology in a series of wars that altered the planet and destroyed most of the life on it. Doesn't this sound an awful lot like nuclear holocaust? Society was in ruins, but humans eventually reeemerged along with other "races" they dubbed as gnomes, trolls, dwarves, elves, and the like, all adapted to different lifestyles. They also discovered magic by harnessing the power of the dead. Other than this curious rationale for a world populated by mythical kinds of creatures, the book rarely strays from the conventions of the genre. Usually when I'm reading fantasy, I expect a story either to have some connection with history, like the King Arthur tales, or to invent something entirely new, like Tolkien's hobbits. Brooks does neither, but I did enjoy the vividness of the world he created. When we first encounter a troll, the creature is described as having bark-like skin like that of a tree. It's that keen attention to detail that brings this world to life. Even though it's not original in a broad sense, Brooks is a resourceful storyteller. About midway through the book, I found one plot twist so surprising, I laughed out loud. What this novel lacks, besides the slightest trace of humor, is strong characterization. The book has a lot of characters, and I would have liked to see their personalities distinguished more. My favorite characters are a pair of thieves who reminded me a bit of Han Solo and Chewbacca. But Brooks has an unfortunate habit of stating things instead of showing them, which makes it far less interesting. For example, he describes the character of Menion as having strong morality, but I didn't find this trait as noticeable through his actions. There don't seem to be any women in the story until about two-thirds into it, when one of the characters stumbles upon what else? A beautiful princess. And that's all we ever learn about her. Brooks's portrayal of women is one of the things which made me dislike some of his other books. By now, I'm starting to forgive him for these flaws. What's more, I'm slowly becoming a convert to his verbose, cliché-ridden, dead-serious, and highly enjoyable fantasy epics.Read more ›
I finally forced myself to finish this book. I purchased the trilogy and, despite grimacing at nearly every turn of the page, here I am. I like Terry Brooks in the present. Terry Brooks in the 70's, when he wrote this, was frightening. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is rehashed Tolkien by a less skilled hand. In fact, the last time I wrote on this book, I hadn't even finished it yet. The similarities became even more blatant and, yes, pathetic, as I read on. The reason for it being pathetic, of course, is that Brooks tries to cram into 400 pages what Tolkien did in over 1000. Witness Shea, our token Frodo with his Sam, now known as Flick, loyal to a fault. Shea/Frodo is no hero, but he's got strength of character and will see this thing through to the end. Withness Allanon/Gandalf, the wise and ominous figure who knows so much and is a friend to all throughout the lands for he is so wise and blah blah. Witness Aragorn/Balinor, the heroic man of royalty who..suddenly because Faramir/Boromir near the end of the book when we see that his brother, under the influence of the villanois Stenmin/Grima has ventured to take the throne from the king who is slowly being poisoned to death by Stenmin/Grima. Gasp. Never forget Gimli/Hendle and then poor Legolas who gets turned into two generic elves who are utterly and totally pointless to the story in its entirety and serve only to remind you that yes, Elves exist here. And then Menion Leah, who really has no parallel in Tolkien. That must mean he's original, right? Marvel as they journey through the creepy mountain that is not Moria. Witness Allanon fight a Skull Bearer that is not a Balrog, only to smite the beast but have it grab him at the last second and pull him to a fiery doom. Except that he miraculously survives. And is not Gandalf. Behold the Gnomes who are certainly not Orcs as they lay siege to the imepenetrable human stronghold that is set into a mountain and is not the same one from Lord of the Rings. Wonder why the Sword of Shanarra, that is not the Ring of Power, winds up in the hands of a Gnome who is not Gollum, who goes crazy and fights to keep his precious sword, who is forced by madness to grasp it even though it is killing him, and he dies for it. Finally, cringe when you notice that in every chapter in the last third of the book, the characters reflect on their journey thus far. Every chapter and every character, reflecting on events that you read only 100 pages ago and therefore don't care to relive because you only read it 100 pages ago. That this book was published amazes me. The writing is poor, the characters are all underdeveloped and the blatant influence of Tolkien is unforgiveable.Read more ›
Terry Brooks' first novel, "The Sword of Shannara," fulfills most of the tenets of an old-fashioned fantasy story and the structure of Western classical mythology. In many ways, the adventures of Shea Ohmsfold and the company from Culhaven is analogous to Frodo Baggins' adventure with the Fellowship out of Rivendale. That Tolkien heavily influenced Brook's narrative is without question; but that doesn't detract from my assessment that Brooks is an excellent writer.
Brooks is a master world-builder and his greatest talent is capturing the right words to paint a canvas in the reader's mind, illustrating every scene with powerful and distinguished clarity. We enter the Four Lands of Brooks' debut novel, immersed in every excruciatingly detailed scene, as would characters that have never left their own backyard. Yet as with many first-time writers, Brooks is still finding his groove and his descriptions are often long, often uneconomical. Streams of paragraphs seem to flow down the page before any action or dialogue even takes place. But his ability to paint scenes serves him well in depicting the climactic Battle of Tyrsis. Brooks weaves story threads gracefully, building up dramatic tension, and culminating in a battle that his writing portrays as both epic in scope and tragic for those involved.
In his later novels, over time, Brooks becomes more adept at characterizations and diversifying their point-of-views. In "Sword", some characters, though not all, suffer from a lack of inner complexities and unstrained development. My favourite characters are arguably the most original and well-developed. Panamon Creel is the brave, if morally ambiguous, rogue who despite being a thief, is anchored to the side of good by his code of honor. In his reluctance to accept a higher calling in being Shea's protector and companion, he reminds me of the swashbuckling Han Solo from "A New Hope." Like Han, Panamon rises beyond his own expectations and is selflessly transformed by his heroic actions to serve the greater good. I liked that he dresses much in red, a traditional color for heroes in Japanese culture, foreshadowing his role late in the novel. His mute Troll companion, Keltset Mallicos, is stoic and introverted. He is the embodiment of integrity and a steadfast will. Unlike vast numbers of his race who've surrendered to the Warlock Lord, Keltset chooses exile rather than be converted to the ranks of the Skull Kingdom, even after the rest of his family was slaughtered, and because of his strength of will, his tongue was cut. Keltset demonstrates that his actions forever speak louder than words. These two are Brooks' most complex characters in "Sword of Shannara," because unlike the others who wear everything out in the open, these two are layered in their emotional intricacies and multifarious traits.
While reading "Sword of Shannara" will likely remind you of "Lord of the Rings," I recommend this epic narrative to anyone who loves modern fantasy. Terry Brooks is a master at work. Near the last third of "Shannara," Brooks' narrative and style begin to identify themselves, and we see the seeds of growth from a writer whose skills certain flourish into creating some of the most entertaining and enduring fantasy stories ever written.Read more ›