Wishsong of Shannara: Chapters 41-48

August: This is it. The climax to not only Wishsong, but of the original Shannara trilogy. It has to wrap up not only the story of Jair and Brin, but also bring the three-book arc to a satisfying close. Does it do it? Let’s find out.

Jair and the Culhaven Six (I decided that’s the name of their group), storm through a courtyard in Graymark. Though they reach relative safety behind a portcullis, Helt the Borderman, already wounded, stays behind to bar the way so the pursuing gnomes can’t reach them. They meet more gnomes though, and fight their way through them, but Edain the Elf and Foraker the Dwarf take wounds, and make a last stand at the top of a stairway to buy Jair more time. Jair, Slanter, and Garet Jax reach the Croagh, a stone spiral staircase that winds around until it reaches Heaven’s Well, their destination.

The three of them race up the stairs, and reach the summit. There, Garet Jax finds his destiny. A Jachyra is guarding Heaven’s Well, the same beast that killed Allanon, and Jax knows this fight is why he has accompanied Jair this whole time. Slanter has to drag Jair away as the weapon master and the demon duel to the death. The last two remaining members of the Culhaven Six reach the poisoned Heaven’s Well, a large bubbling spring, and Jair throws in the dust the King of the Silver River gave him. The water turns clear and fresh, and Jair has accomplished the mission the king gave him. Throwing in his vision crystal, the water turns into a seeing pool, and Jair finds his sister.

Brin walked through the Maelmord alone, the jungle an evil presence that weighed on her. Only with the power of the wishsong was she able to pass, by cloaking herself as kindred to the evil that dwelled within, by using her magic to show there was no difference between her and the evils of the Ildatch. She could feel herself be swept away by the magic, losing her sense of who she was as she journied deeper into the Maelmord. But there was no other way to reach her goal.

She finds the Ildatch in a tower rising from the jungle. a huge, ancient tome laying on a dias. And it begins to talk to her. First it makes a connection. The two share a magic after all. Then it begins to tempt her.  It gives her a taste of it’s dark and terrible power, before snatching it away, all while telling Brin she is the one who it has been waiting for. She struggles to maintain control over herself as the Ildatch worms its way into her psyche. It tempts her with knowledge. After all, what is it except a book of other people’s wisdom, neither good or evil? It tempts her with power. With the combined might of their magics, she could be more powerful than even the Warlock Lord. Finally, it tempts her with danger. Mord Wraiths descend upon her, and almost reflexively she turns to the power of the Ildatch, and crushes them. And with that, Brin is the dark child, and lost.

Jair watches through the still waters of Heaven’s Well, horrified, and remembers the third magic the King of the Silver River gave him. One time, and only one time, he can use the wishsong to create something real, not just an illusion, and he knows what he needs to do. He begins the sing, and finds himself no longer at the Well, but in front of the dark child. He has to find his sister, to do something to reach her and help her.

The dark child, with the Ildatch whispering in her mind, tries to kill him, striking out with her magic. Jair avoids it, creating illusions to hide behind, but can do little else to get the book away from his sister. Eventually he creates clones of himself, dozens of Jair Ohmsford to swarm over her. The dark child disintegrates them one by one but then feels the real hands of her brother on her, holding her tight, singing to her the memories of their childhood. Jair finds Brin, bringing her back, banishing the dark child. Brin Ohmsford casts the Ildatch behind and uses the wishsong to destroy it.

Meanwhile, Rone, Kimber, Cogline, and Whisper are dicking around fighting some Mord Wraiths.

With the Ildatch’s power broken, it’s creations begin to fall apart. Everyone meets on the Croagh and escape, but not before Jair and Slanter find the bloodied body of Garet Jax the Weapon Master. No sign of the Jachyra remains, but Jair is convinced Jax defeated the demon before succumbing to his wounds. At any rate, they escape, and begin the long journey home. They stop at the Chard Rush, the place where Allanon fell, where his shade waits for Brin. He tells her to take it easy, that there will be a time when the wishsong is needed again, but not in her lifetime. But the next time evil threatens the land, the children of Shannara will be ready.

Whew, that was quite an ending climax!

Sara: It was! There was definitely a moment where I wasn’t sure if Jair would be able to pull it off. It all fit together very nicely, though. The battle of sibling verses sibling was really intense. It was weird to not want either one to lose!

August: For various reasons, I’ve been a little down on Wishsong as a whole, but I loved this ending. One by one, companions fall in the line of duty, the climatic brother vs sister struggle, the corrupting Ildatch probing Brin’s psyche to find weakness. A lot happens in a short amount of time.

First though, what didn’t work? The parts with Rone and company fighting Mord Wraiths felt pointless. It was just to give them something to do while the real drama went on without them. This sort of thing is pretty common in the genre unfortunately. When you don’t have anything for some people to do, have them fight something while the main characters do the important stuff.

Sara: Yeah, Rone stayed utterly useless to the bitter end. What a disappointment, for cat’s sake. Heh. But at least we still have the sword of Leah all enchanted. Means to an end, I guess.

August: And while I thought the deaths of the Culhaven Six were effective at building tension, it would have been more effective if we liked the characters better. This has been a constant complaint about Wishsong, and it comes to a head here. You don’t really care about them like you do the more fleshed out companions in Sword. This group is more like the Elven Rangers in Elfstone. The rangers were killed slowly though, to draw out the horror of the demon hunting them. This group is killed in the span of just a few pages, quickly and mercilessly, without any time for Jair to mourn them. It does well in really keeping the action moving, but I just wished they had more character time.

Sara: Yeah, the characterization for the Culhaven Six (love it, by the way) is one of my complaints, as well. Slanter is really the only one who is developed at all, and he actually lives. I actually really grew to like Slanter a lot, by the end. He reminds me of Hoggle from Labyrinth, hehe. And Whisper! I loved Whisper. He’s the real hero here, since without him, Brin would have died more than once. Also, Brooks managed to give a moor cat that doesn’t talk more personality than the rest of them. So we know he’s capable of it, he just didn’t do it for the Culhaven Six for whatever reason.

That being said, I have to hand it to Brooks for killing off most of Jair’s party. With the first two books, there were very few casualties (aside from the Elven Rangers in Elfstones, who were clearly Redshirts to begin with). I wasn’t exactly ready for them to all sacrifice themselves, although like you said, it built great tension. I do wish I’d connected more emotionally to them, but in a way, this establishes that Brooks is not afraid to kill prominent characters. Which is one of the things I remember about his writing. So this may be the end of the first trilogy, but it’s only the beginning of Brooks brutally murdering characters.

August: I wonder a little bit if he left their characters vague on purpose because he knew he was going to kill them all. Maybe he thought readers weren’t ready to invest a lot in characters who were going to die by the end. After all, looking at the Tolkien influences, almost none of the heroes die. Of course, George RR Martin would prove this wrong a decade or so later, but still.

Sara: One last thing about the Culhaven Six deaths. I’m actually kind of glad he cut away for Garet Jax’s final battle. Even though it took away some of the emotional impact, I think there’s something poetical about it being left to the imagination rather than a play-by-play of the fight.

August: I agree, partially because these sort of epic one on one fights aren’t Brook’s strong point. They are fine, but they always pale in comparison to his larger scale battles. If this was Salvatore or someone else who excels at these kind of duels, I would be disappointed, but this was more than acceptable.

I also really liked the encounter with the Ildatch. To go back to Tolkien (will we ever really leave him?), this felt very much like the One Ring tempting its bearers. I liked that it tried different approaches to tempt Brin, playing on her innocence and insecurities about the wishsong until it finally just threw some monsters at her. I like that it ties the trilogy together, that it was the cause of the Warlock Lord’s rise to power, and it took the magic fused into the wishsong by the elfstones to destroy it.

Sara: I actually missed the Tolkien parallel there. It makes me like that scene a little better. I kinda felt like that whole tempting thing was a little long and drawn out. I ended up rolling my eyes a bit by the millionth time the Ildatch called her the dark child. The fight between the siblings was way better. The stakes were pretty high, since we want both of them to stay alive.

August: The ending of Jair and Brin’s fight is a little cheesy, but still effective. The power of love overcoming evil is a bit cliche now, but Brooks is always subverting obvious solutions. The Sword of Shannara destroys because it reveals truth, not because it’s a blade, and the Ildatch is defeated because of family, not because of powerful magic.

Sara: And the demons are trapped because a girl turned into a tree! Heh. Not quite the same. Sorry. But yes! I do appreciate that the true obstacles in these books are often the insecurities and lies of the characters trying to save the day, not the villans they are having to face.

Also, I thought that after Allanon died, we were finished with the Allanon infodumps. Turns out, we got another one from him beyond the grave. At least it was short this time.

August: Last thing. The Ildatch mentions the Word when it tells of it’s creation. This is an early glimpse at the large Terry Brook’s universe, and I love little teases like this.

Sara: Yes! It was so long between my reading of the Shannara books and my reading of the Word and the Void series that I totally missed this connection. I got really excited when I saw that. And now I’m really looking forward to re-reading the Word and the Void. Eventually. When we get to that point. In a decade, maybe, haha.

But hey, here we are, end of the first trilogy. We did it. Yay!

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