Wishsong of Shannara: Chapters 17-24

Sara: We left the small band from Culhaven having just made it across the Wedge, blowing the bridge so that the Gnome army couldn’t follow them.

But unfortunately for them, its out of the frying pan and into the fire, for when they arrive at Capaal, another Gnome army is laying siege to the Dwarven fort. But the Dwarves can’t give up and escape into the tunnels, for the fort controls the lock system, which is all that’s keeping the poison from the Ildach from spilling out across the land, far and wide. No wonder the Gnomes want it so badly.

Their Dwarven companion, Foraker, decides to stay to help his bretheren, and, at the very least, warn them of the Wedge. He settles for shooting an arrow into the fort with a message to let them know. Unfortunately, that means getting pretty close, carefully navigating the cliffs around the fortress without being seen by the enemy army.

The message successfully delievered, they begin their harrowing retreat. They just barely make it away from the Gnome army besieging the fort when they run up against…another Gnome army. There are sure a lot of Gnomes around here.

Trapped between a rock and a hard place (literally in this case), the band of six begin their retreat, hoping to find secret tunnels into Capaal, where they can regroup and figure out how to continue north.

But their luck runs out, and they are spotted. As they flee for their lives and their freedom, they get separated: Jair and Jax leaping off a cliff into the river below, Foraker and Edain slipping into the tunnels, and Slanter and Helt bravely making their way straight through the army, Helt posing as a Mord Wraith and Slanter insisting the army make way for their master. This works impressively well, and they manage to convince the Dwarves to let them inside before the Gnomes can catch them.

Jair wakes up to Slanter impatiently shaking him, and they are deep inside the Dwarven fort. Jair is overjoyed his party has survived and been reunited. Except Jax, who has gone with Helt to scout a way through the army.

For some reason, the Gnomes have gone quiet and withdrawn outside, which has everyone on edge.

While they wait for Jax to return, Foraker tells them about a possible lead in navigating the Graymark, where they have to go on their quest for the King of the Silver River.

And we are introduced to a WHOLE NEW RACE THAT HAS NEVER BEEN MENTIONED BEFORE, getting their whole backstory. These Mwellrets are lizardlike, use dark magic to shape shift, and enslaved the Gnomes for a long time. Slanter is adamantly against speaking to him, but Foraker convinces him to at least try. The meeting goes horribly, though, for the second Jair speaks, the Mwellret knows about the Wishsong, and compells him to use it somehow. They rush out of the lizard man’s prison and decide to make their way without him.

Jax returns with news of a way forward. They are just about to leave, when they receive news that the Mwellret has escaped. If it could have at any time, why now? Well, Jair thinks he knows why.

Jax wants them to leave, anyway, but just as he’s insisting, the Gnomes start chanting, and three Mord Wraiths step forward to summon…

A KRAKEN.

The kraken comes up from the depths of the lake and attacks the fortress, breaking it apart so the Gnomes can overrun the Dwarves. Jair’s little company–all but he and Slanter–rush forth to meet the threat. Mord Wraiths take out most of them, as Garet Jax bravely fights off the kraken, causing it enough injury to sink back into the lake, taking the Weapons Master with him.

Slanter convinces Jair to flee, away from the retreating Dwarves, since the Gnomes are in hot pursuit. But as they make their way from the battle, the escaped Mwellret snatches Jair and disappears with him. Slanter looks for him without success, then reluctantly makes his way on his own, less than happy than he thought he’d be, being free of his obligation to the boy.

Then we check in on Brin and her little band. They are making their way from the now-vanished Paranor, toward the Anar at last. Brin begins to withdraw from her companions, feeling as if she is alone even around them. Allanon, however, finally opens up to the two, revealing that his time in the world is near its end. His adoptive father, Bremen, fortold his death when they visited the Hadeshorn.

As they make their way through what Allanon hopes will be a route the Mord Wraiths won’t expect them to go, it seems as though his time has finally come. A deadly, dangerous Jachyra, more dangerous than the Mord Wraiths themselves, blocks their way forward.

This section ends with Allanon squaring off against this deadly foe, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope that he will live through the battle…

August: We sure picked quite a cliffhanger to leave off on!

Sara: No kidding! I’m excited to dive right into the next section.

So, I’m still having a hard time with the characterization of Slanter. Everyone keeps insisting he likes Jair, but he sure doesn’t act like it with the things he says and the way he treats him. There’s a disconnect there that I’m really having trouble with, and I can’t figure out why Jair likes him. But I get the feeling we haven’t seen the last of him, even though he seems to be going his own way, now.

August: I don’t have much of a new opinion on any of the companions really. Slanter gets the most page time, but I pretty much agree with you. So far, this group of adventuring companions isn’t as interesting as the group in Sword. How much of that can be attributed to the length of the book. Wishsong is over 200 pages shorter than Sword, and while I appreciate a more streamlined narrative, I wonder how many side stories that would have fleshed out some characters were left out.

Sara: Knowing Brooks, he’d probably just describe the weather of wherever they came from instead of developing characters.

As far as the Mwellrets go, I think it’s an interesting backstory. My only minor issues with their introduction is that it’s like the Wing Riders last book: there was a huge info dump for their history, and it seemed like Brooks was trying really hard to justify the fact that they hadn’t been mentioned before. I would have dealt with that differently, as a writer. Like, if the characters had maybe at least heard about them even if they didn’t know anything about them, it would have felt less like him making excuses and introducing a brand new thing and being like NOBODY BUT THE GNOMES KNEW ABOUT THEM. Seemed like an attempt at misdirection but I didn’t fall for it. Still interesting though. I’m curious how it’s going to pan out for Jair as a prisoner of one. Or “friend” as he insists.

August: I’m not too bothered by the introduction of the Mwellrets. I don’t expect Jair, who’s still a kid from a small village, to know too much about most things. The dwarves and gnomes seem to know about them, and that’s good enough for me. The one we’ve met is a pretty creepy character, and I usually like lizard races in fantasy as long as they are mysterious and creepy. Hmm, maybe this book is why I prefer that portrayal?

Sara: Something I noticed yet again in this section is that Brooks writes a lot about weather. A lot. Like, each chapter tells us what the weather is doing. I can see how influential Brooks was on my writing, because a lot of my early novels always open talking about the weather. Turns out unless weather is significant to the plot, readers don’t care all that much. That being said, I do, as always, really like his descriptions of places. I really felt like I was standing on the edge of the cliffs overlooking Capaal. And the Wolfsktaag mountains were very atmospheric. The Chard Rush was very vivid in my mind.

August: I’ll admit, sometimes I tune out of the descriptions. They are very evocative, and always very well done, but there’s always so many of them, it takes an extra effort of focus to read them. I never regret focusing and reading them closely, but seriously Terry Brooks: some of us have other things to be doing. I’m pretty sure this is one of those Tolkien inspired things that has gone out of style though, so I try not to be too critical of it in a 33 year old book.

Sara: Yeah, fair enough.

So, when we started following Brin and company again, I was not shocked when we got an Allanon infodump. Although it sounds like it might be our last one! It was kind of nice to have Brooks talk about the changes in Allanon, not just the physical, where he’s clearly aged when he hasn’t before, but also that he finally feels like maybe he doesn’t have to die with all the secrets in the world. Just some of them. Shows some personal growth, there, that he finally told his unsuspecting companions something of what was going on. And we finally got confirmation that Allanon is more Bremen’s adoptive son than birth son. I think, anyway. The way it was worded was a tad vague, which makes me wonder if even Brooks isn’t entirely sure where to come down on that.

August: I enjoy getting a rare look into Allanon’s thoughts. That’s one advantage of having a more free-wheeling perspective as opposed to more modern fiction, which is usually more tightly bound to one perspective.

Sara: I’m looking forward to Allanon’s final battle. Brooks is so good at the terrifying creatures, and the Jachyra I’m sure will be no exception. Although I am a bit disappointed in the kraken. I had a hard time reconciling what I thought of as a kraken with his descriptions of the thing, and almost would have preferred it be some lake creature or demon, not an ocean dwelling creature that magically showed up to crawl all over the land and live in fresh water. Still. It made for a good action scene, and I’m curious to see if Jax survived it.

August: I disagree a little, I enjoyed the kraken even if it doesn’t fit what we usually think of as a kraken. Maybe it would be easier to call it something else, but Brooks has been subverting our expectations for typical fantasy races and creatures since the beginning, so I’m okay with it. Also, I am absolutely terrified of giant sea monsters. I blame Sphere by Michael Crichton. Any kind of giant sea tentacly beaky monster has my number. Shove a spear in it’s stupid eye, Jax.

Sara: I mean, you’re not wrong as far as Brooks and expectation subversion. Although maybe that’s why I didn’t like the kraken here. Crichton did such a great job with the his giant squid monster. Not even Brooks, in all his descriptive glory, can hold a candle to that terror. Man, now I need to go re-read Sphere. BRB.

After I go read what happens to Allanon, that is. Onward!

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