on November 17, 2011
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.
on November 5, 1999
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.
on June 10, 2004
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.
on April 24, 2016
I should start this review by saying that fantasy is not one of my favorite genres. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series and really liked them but never could really get into the whole fantasy thing. The MTV show intrigued me so I started to watch it. I had no idea who Terry Brooks was or concept of the Shannara fantasy world.
I ended up really liking the TV show so I thought I should start reading the series somewhere near the beginning...I realize there are other books perhaps earlier in the timeline but this one was far enough back for me.
I had read some of the critiques of this book and how Mr Brooks likely patterned it after The Lord of the Rings and anyone will tell you that from a character perspective, this is true but for me, that is where the similarity ends. The Shannara world is very different from Middle Earth. Allison is no Gandalf. The Shannara world is one that contained the world of men and was devastated by war and men are waning in power. Middle Earth was turning into the opposite at the end of the trilogy.
I really liked this Shannara world. In many ways, it is more real than Middle Earth. I intend to read a few more of the books in this series to see if this world keeps me interested. I highly recommend this book. A good read.
on August 4, 2005
I purchased the hefty The Sword of Shannara five years ago and have since failed twice to get past page twenty without wanting to call Terry Brook's editor and scream. The reason? The over-use of adjectives. Terry Brooks uses every opportunity to over-explain each noun and verb. If this book was a slab of meat, 2/3rds of it would be fat.
The over-use of adjectives and adverbs kills The Sword of Shannara for me. The bloated prose trudges along like a pig attempting to walk on ice: it is slow and keeps falling on its face.
How this book got published in the shape it's in baffles me. Anyone who is slightly familiar with the publishing industry will agree. It's not that The Sword of Shannara didn't have a chance to become a cash cow for a publisher, because it sure did. I'm not baffled that the story got published. I'm baffled that 700 pages of bloated verbiage didn't get trimmed down to under 400 pages. This book could easily be trimmed down to half its size without losing anything meaningful to the story. In fact I would bet my house that The Sword of Shannara would be a faster, more enjoyable read if it had an editor who didn't get paid for every tree they killed.
Ultimately, the book has many familiar, and potentially likable aspects, but they are lost in a see of big, expansive, deep blue, trembling, over-used adjectives that exceedingly, and with great skill, drown out the verbs leaving the story a rotting mess.
I know little about writing, but I do know this: if your nouns and verbs need excessive modifiers, then they weren't the proper nouns and verbs to use to convey your point in the first place.
Save a tree, buy a different book.
on February 1, 2016
This applies only to the Audio book. I loved The Sword of Shannara, and read it in hard back many years ago. Wanting to revisit an old favorite, but with limited time for reading I bought the book from Audible. I've always heard the name of Shannara pronounced Shuh-narr-uh. Even the new TV series pronounces it this way. The Narrator Scott Brick, pronounces it Shann-uh-ruh. I know it's silly, but it's very jarring, and takes me completely out of the book every time I hear the name, and the name is said very often, as that's the focal point of the book.
on December 27, 2001
I first read "The Sword Of Shannara" in 1980. I was 14 years old and at the pinnacle of my fever for Tolkien and fantasy board and role-playing games and miniatures. Brooks' novel certainly fueled my imagination, as well as reminded me how grateful I was to Tolkien's ground-breaking Middle-earth stories and world, of which Terry Brooks certainly modelled his fantasy world and story after. What increased my enjoyability of this book was the cover and interior artwork by my favourite fantasy artists, The Brothers Hildebrandt.
The Sword Of Shannara is really nothing short of, nor more original than the heroic quest given to us by Tolkien in The Lord Of The Rings: the small and physically-weak, but pure and stout of heart protagonist (Shea Ohmsford), who is the only real hope the land has; the faithful companion to the protagonist (Flick Ohmsford); the quest surrounding a powerful magical object (The Sword Of Shannara); the aid of the wise, powerful, and mysterious Druid (Allanon); an organised company of men, elves, and a dwarf to aid and protect the protagonist in his journey; the evil Warlock Lord (Brona); the Warlock Lord's powerful minions who are seeking out the protagonist (Skull Bearers); the Warlock Lord's evil and viscious armies (Gnomes and Trolls); armies of Elves, Men, and Dwarves unified for survival; etc. The characters in "The Sword Of Shannara" mirror in many ways the characters in "The Lord Of The Rings". But despite this, there is a great deal of originality and surprising twists in the story; and Brooks' descriptive writing skills and vivid imagination, aided with The Brothers Hildebrandt's amazing artwork, paint a fantastic journey well worth taking. My only complaint about Brooks' writing is in the dialogue: perhaps too modern? too simple? too American? I'm not exactly sure, but it certainly isn't written in an "archaic" or "other-worldly fashion" like other Mediaeval-fantasy writers normally write in. However, this is a very minor complaint.
I'm 35 now and have recently bought an old 1980 PB copy of "The Sword Of Shannara" to read again. I enjoyed the book just as much the second time round many years later as I did when I first read it. However, I highly recommend buying a used copy of the first edition of the book, as the the first edition has the cover art and a wonderful fold-out painting by The Brothers Hildebrandt, whereas most future editions do not--especially the version out now.
If you're a fan of mediaeval fantasy and/or of Tolkien's Middle-earth, I highly recommend this book.
on April 6, 2006
This story might have worked even WITH the comparisons to Tolkien. After all, the Hero's Quest for a magical object, either to retrieve or destroy it, is hardly a new idea, and people will hardly stop using it simply because Tolkien did it so well. Even J.K. Rowling appears to be planning the Hero's Quest for Magical Object(s) in the seventh Harry Potter book! The characters in the book are likable and their story is interesting enough.
But what ultimately made this book weak to me was the clunky and repetitive writing style. It's as if he tried to write in a "magical, whimsical, majestic fantasy style"-but he just doesn't succeed. The constant references to the "Elven brothers," the "Valeman", the "Borderman", the "Talisman", etc. just grated on me. We shouldn't need these reminders if we care about the characters enough to know who they are. The descriptions of characters, settings and situations are not rich or vivid or creative, and they do not draw one in. I didn't really FEEL the peril of their situation, nor did I really get a clear mental picture of their world. I just felt the whole book was flat, and it didn't capture my interest or imagination. I will not be reading any more in this series.
on December 28, 2002
So, that makes me a whopping 37 years old. I remember, clear as it was yesterday, begging my mother to buy this for me. Now, back in those days, $.$$ for a book for a 12 year old kid was a lot of money, and my mom made a deal with me - she'd buy it for me, and pay half, but I'd have to give her half my allowance each week to pay it off - a whopping 25 cents (so it took about 4 months to pay it off). Whether she was doubtful that I'd really read the book (length, subject matter, a 12 year old girl's attention span) or simply wanted to teach me that I'd value more the things I really wanted if I actually earned the money to pay for them, I'll never know. I do know that this was my absolutely favorite book in the whole wide world for years. I read it over and over, until it fell apart. In fact I was so upset, I wrote a letter to Random House explaining how I paid for the book and that I was devestated that it was so shoddily made that they actually sent me a new copy (I think the handwritten letter on pink stationary got to them). I read that one to pieces too.
Eventually, my interest in the story waned - to me, the sequels never lived up to the story in the original, and I grew out of the whole sword and sorcery genre by my early twenties (although 15 years ago, when I found a clean copy on a remainder table for $.$$, I didn't hesitate to buy it - that second copy was missing pages).
The book has been sitting in my bookcase, untouched for years - but since I just saw LOTR - The Two Towers this afternoon, and since SoS is really a pastiche of Tolkien's saga, I thought I'd see how it stands the test of time. Twenty pages in, and I'm as hooked as that 12 year old girl - don't know if its the whole nostalgia thing working. The original artwork by Tim and Gregory Hildebrandt (which was missing from the sequels) was a very powerful part of the experience (I still doodle the towers of Paranor in board [or should I say bored] meetings).
This book made a very strong impression on me and after 25 years, it still holds up, as a well crafted story. I may even revisit the sequels and read the rest of the Shannara books - I think there are 10 or 12 of them now? Or maybe not - and let this be a special moment in time - to be that 12 year old girl who wanted to grow up and become Allanon.
on August 30, 2001
I was introduced to fantasy when my dad bought me Tolkien's Lord of The Rings when I was very young. I have since then over the years read over a hundred fantasy and sci-fi books by numerous authors with varying styles and levels of maturity.
I have until now never, NOT ONCE, bought a fantasy book that I didn't finish. 112 pages into this book I just could not take it any more. I gave up and returned the book to the bookstore.
Here is why I think you should spend your time and money on something else:
o Brooks use of language in this book is just irritatingly bad. Time after time I had to re-read a paragraph in disbelief just to make sure I hadn't misread the text. Brooks has a need to show off with unnecessary flourish in every other line. Every time Menion does anything Brooks adds "his lithe body" to the sentence, no character can do anything without at least two out of place flourishingly descriptive adjectives attached to the action, Brooks insists on trying to invent new names for the characters (The Prince, Menion, The highlander, etc for the same person) and switching between them without reason within the same paragraph...
o Brooks assumes zero intelligence from his reader. He explains every intention, thought, plan etc. He even explains when the characters fail to think about something! This is insulting in the long run.
o Who is telling the story? From paragraph to paragraph Brooks switches between describing the thoughts of different characters. This hinders the flow of the story and rubs your nose in the fact that you are reading a story and not living it.
o As a few people have already pointed out, Brooks states rather than shows in his writing. This is like reading a description of a movie instead of seeing it. Example: "He watched Shea push clothing and camping equipment into a leather pack, and when he asked his brother why he was packing, he was told that this was just a precaution in case he did have to flee suddenly", instead of having a dialogue between the characters.
o The characters lack consistency. They switch between thinking about political activism to being childishly stupid and helpless in the face of the smallest obstacle.
o And yes, there are a few too many parallels with Tolkien's tome here.
I've read a lot of the reviews posted here and I would categorize the writers into two categories:
A) People who are fairly new to fantasy. A lot of these people have not read LOTR and are somewhat younger.
B) More seasoned fantasy readers. These readers are older, more critical, picky about their authors, allergic towards run-of-the-mill fantasy, and get irritated by misuse of language and stupidity in the characters.
If you are in category A and you don't mind the use of language you will probably enjoy this book. If you fall in category B, PLEASE FOR GODS SAKE DON'T BUY THIS BOOK.
In Brooks defense, I believe this was one of his earlier (first?) books published in 1977. I also read First King of Shannara (1996) which was an ok run-of-the-mill fantasy book and most of the problems mentioned above have disappeared. I guess 20 years of fantasy taught him something.