The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
|Book Name:||The Elfstones of Shannara|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Release Date:||December 12, 1983|
Do you remember the first fantasy novel you ever read? Can you vividly recall how old you were when you first experienced the enthralling magic of an author’s words? Does it still hold its spell over you?
For me, that first book is The Elfstones of Shannara.
Set fifty years after the Terry Brooks’ premier novel The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara takes us to the mysterious and unexplored Westland, where we learn about the enegmatic history of the elves and the evil that creeps up from the depths of history. The Ellcrys, an ageless magical tree and the last prominent relic from the time when the elves were magical faerie creatures, is dying. The loss of such an enduring symbol would be tragic enough, but the Ellcrys is also the source that maintains The Forbidding: a barrier that holds back an endless army of demons who would delight in nothing more than stretching their legs and wiping out the mortal races of the Four Lands, especially the elves. Aided by the druid Allanon, the elves and what few allies they can find, muster to mount a seemingly hopeless defense against the coming tide. While Wil Ohmsford, grandson of Shea Ohmsford, embarks on a quest with Amberle, the last of a sacred group of Chosen, to find the source of life that could make the Ellcrys whole again, and stem the demons from their invasion.
Did you get all that, audience? Good, okay let’s go.
In many regards, the plot is relatively straight-forward and streamlined: we are given two groups of heroes to follow, both working towards the same goal, and relying upon one another to complete their independent tasks for the greater whole. However, the paths that they must take are anything but so straight and simple, as new places, people, subplots and challenges appear in a constant, steady stream that gives us plenty of action and entertainment without overloading our senses. Most support characters come and go as they run their brief courses, while others reappear at appropriate times to continue storylines that had been left previously unfinished, which helps give the piece a total sense of closure for the end. Although the heroes (especially Wil and Amberle) encounter many obstacles and dangers that would impede their progress or distract us, none of the characters ever forget the importance of the overall plot, and the consequences of what would happen should they fail.
The narrative is beautiful, colorful, and above all really engaging. Everything is told in a long, grand scale worthy of any epic. Although there are some bits that sound very Tolkein-esque and slightly flowery at times, they do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the piece. What does get distracting, however, is how frequently the events of the previous book are brought up throughout the story, and how much of the descriptions and events in this book are repeated. While I concede that there is a noticeable gap, and that any writer would want to bring readers up to speed of the previous events, I felt as though it was a bit too heavy-handed here, as if to pad out the story. This is an unfortunate characteristic I see in many of Terry Brooks’ works, though the worst offender I’ve seen is A Princess of Landover.
The ensemble cast we are presented with are well-suited for their job, with the main heroes all sharing traits with the Ellcrys. Much like the tree, Eventine Elessedil, Ander Elessedil, Wil Ohmsford and Amberle Elessedil are all caretakers and protectors of the land and people in their own ways, and despite their fears and self-doubt, all four bravely (if in some cases begrudgingly) take up the cause, if only because if they do now, all will suffer because of it. Even Allanon, who once again serves as Terry Brooks’ answer to Gandalf, is plagued with self-doubt and fears, as well as a sense of his own mortality. For the first time I can recall, we enter the mind of the stoic lore character, and see how he wrestles with the need to tell all, but the necessity to omit certain truths.
If there is one character who I did not truly enjoy throughout the novel, it had to be Wil Ohmsford, who feels very much the part of a secondary hero. We are introduced to the grandson of Shea Ohmsford seven (count them!) chapters into the story, well after everything else has been said and done. Almost immediately, Wil asks Allanon a host of questions, and during their journey to find Amberle, we are given the essential history of the elves and the time before mankind was little more than a smart primate. While I enjoy the exposition, I feel that it could have been done better. There were six chapters prior to meeting Wil where Ander and Eventine are scouring their people’s history; surely this could have been the right time to delve into that history, and provide us with the answers I’ve craved since rereading The Sword of Shannara. Even Allanon seems to get irritated during this palaver, and it doesn not help that these speeches often sound very much like the exposition speeches Gandalf gives throughout Lord of the Rings. In fact, when not running from the Reaper (Insert Mass Effect joke here) or getting Amberle and himself into more trouble, Wil is privy to exposition from all sides about the elves and various groups they run into; most particuarly the Rovers.
By no means do I hate the character, but he just feels very much like an avatar character for the audience, which is fine for an introduction into the Shannara series. I suppose since I’m so familiar with the setting, I notice this more than someone new would.
Overall, The Elfstones of Shannara is still as epic and enjoyable as it was the first time I picked it up a decade ago. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the best in the original trilogy, and definitely one of the best in the whole series. If you’re looking for a great novel that could be enjoyed independently, or with a series as it was intended, you can’t go wrong with The Elfstones of Shannara.
Narrative: Beautiful and descriptive, if somewhat Tolkein-esque and drags a bit at times. – 4/5
Heroes: A cast that is large, varied, and courageous even in the face of doom and their own uncertainty. Though one of the characters is a bit lacking for me. – 4/5
Villains: An ageless evil that backs up its threats by being a true menace. – 5/5
World: A unique, wonderful little fantasy world that is slowly opened up to us, revealing all the little wonders and perils as rewards for our dedication. – 5/5
Magic System: An interesting take at how power cannot be given without it taking something in return. Though everyone uses fire a bit too much. – 4/5
Plot: Dramatic, tense and epic at all the right spots. Thoroughly entertaining and suspenseful. – 5/5