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For some reason, the Gnomes have gone quiet and withdrawn outside, which has everyone on edge.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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Wishsong of Shannara: Chapters 9-16

August: Allanon, Rone Leah, and Brin arrive at the Hadeshorn. Allanon must consult with the shade of his father before they proceed East. He learns the usual cryptic secrets, but also that Paranor, the Druid Keep, has fallen to the Mord Wraiths. Before they proceed, they must deal with this threat. Rone is vehemently against this dangerous plan, but Allanon as a solution. He dips the Sword of Leah in the waters of the Hadeshorn, then blasts it with fire, turning the blade black. Rone is tested almost immediately, as they are ambushed by a Mord Wraith. The sword draws the magic of the Wraith to it, absorbing it, leaving the Wraith open to Allanon’s attack. Working together, they destroy the Wraith.

They travel to Paranor, and Allanon tells them what must be done. It is time for Paranor to pass from these lands. They sneak into the castle, avoiding the Gnomes and Wraiths so Allanon can take one last look at the secret Druid histories. With that done, Allanon casts his fire into the deepest part of the keep, awakening Paranor’s doom. A green mist fills the castle, killing all it touches. Allanon and company race outside and watch the mist consume the castle. When the green mist dissipates, Paranor is gone.

Further south, Jair, Slanter, and Garet Jax leave the Black Oaks and camp along the Silver River. It’s a pretty unfriendly party. Slanter doesn’t want to be there, and Jax has his own mysterious purpose. Jair dreams of our favorite deity allegory, the King of the Silver River. The source of the Silver River is being poisoned, and the King’s power will fail. Even worse, he has seen Brin’s quest, and seen that it will not succeed. He gives Jair a bag of dust that he says will be cleanse the taint if used at the source.

The King has another request. The Eflstones are useless to Jair because they were not freely given. In exchange for them, the King gives Jair three magics. One, a crystal that will show Jair where Brin is when he sings to it. Two, strength for Jair and his companions, and protection of Garet Jax. The third magic is the most powerful. One time only, Jair will be able to use the wishsong and produce not an illusion, but the real thing. Neither Slanter or Jax believe him when he tells them this, so he uses the crystal as proof, and it works.

The three of them reach the Dwarven city Culhaven. Jair goes before the Dwarven Council and it’s allies and tells them his tale and his needs to go East. The last time an Ohmsford requested aid in Culhaven, a party was formed, and this goes very similar. After much debate about how much aid can be given since the Dwarves are in a fierce war with the Gnomes, a party of six is chosen. Jair Ohmsford is obviously going. Slanter is very reluctant, but knows the Eastlands better than anyone and feels he has no choice. Garet Jax is going as well, and they are joined by three others: The Elf Edain Elessedail, son of King Ander; The massive Borderman Helt, a former Tracker; and the Dwarf Elb Foraker, a former companion of Jax. Together, the six depart Culhaven.

They plan to follow the Silver River, more and more tainted the further east they go, to the keep of Capaal, where a Dwarven Army is stationed. To do so, they must cross a massive gorge called the Wedge, but are dismayed to see the only bridge taken over by Gnomes. How did they get past the army at Capaal is the question on everyone’s minds. They devise a risky and complicated plan to get past the Gnomish camps before Jair remembers he has magic and can disguise them. They cross the bridge and collapse it behind them, and the six of them vanish into the night…

Sara: Dude, the next person who wants to cross that bridge is going to be very put out when they find it collapsed (and why do I get the feeling the next person is going to be Allanon and company?)

August: One of the biggest events of the entire Shannara canon happens in this section with the magical enhancement of the Sword of Leah. The sword comes around just as much as the Elfstones in later books, It is probably my favorite item in the books. An all black sword with the power to cut through magic is really really neat.

Sara: I had actually completely forgotten about that part until reading it. But it makes sense, now, because when we did the Sword of Shannara re-read, I had it in my head that the Sword of Leah was magical. When it was just a normal sword, I thought that maybe I’d remembered wrong. So that was a nice surprise!

August: And more time with the King of the Silver River. You know he’s my favorite. I do wonder what plans he has for the Elfstones. I know at some point they come back, but I do not remember what he does with them at all.

Sara: Yes, I do always appreciate a visit from the King of the Silver River, too. It was actually an interesting inversion of the established meetings with him. Before, he’s the one who saved our adventurers. This time, he’s asking our adventurer to save him. And yes, the Elfstones. I vaguely recall that they do resurface at some point, but I don’t remember how or why. It’s kind of nice, though. Wil would never have given them to anyone freely, and the King of the Silver River absolves him of any further responsibility of them.

August: You’re right, it is a nice inversion of how the King typically operates. With the poisoning of his river, there’s a desperation to him that we haven’t seen before.

But most importantly, the party has left from Riverdale! After a fake adventuring party set out in Elfstones just to be mercilessly hunted down by the Reaper, we now have a good ol’ adventuring party setting out. We talked about how much Lord of the Rings influenced those scenes in Sword, so there’s no need to go over that again. There is something pleasing about a diverse group of badasses getting together and setting out to save the world.

Sara: Yes, it did have a real Fellowship of the Ring feel and echoed Sword a great deal. Badass, true, but to me it also felt a bit stale. We’ve seen this time and again. But I guess it’s always this way with epic fantasy adventures. There’s always going to be a small party of adventurers who have to go save the world from The Greatest Evil. As a side note, I feel bad for Jair. He really does seem to be traveling with the world’s most boring company for all their badassery.

August: They are a little boring, but we were also just introduced to them. While I doubt we will get the kind of character development that we got in Sword with Balinor and Hendel (this book just isn’t long enough!), I’m willing to wait and see on some of these guys before writing them off. But I just love an adventuring party.

We’ve both said many times that Terry Brooks does some awesome descriptions. His writing about the corruption of the river as they go further East is phenomenal, as is his description of the fall of Paranor. But all is not perfect. Brooks still has some pretty flat characters because he tells, not shows. For instance, Brooks tells us Jair and Edain are becoming friends. We get no real instance of any friendship between them, but we are instead just told they are friends because they’re close to the same age. There are many characters that work well, and this bit stuck out for me because of how much it did not work at all.

Sara: Agreed, although he does point out how little talking there was between his traveling companions before, so maybe all it really took was having someone who would actually talk to him during their travels. But, yeah. Brooks imbues so much atmosphere in his writing. The settings seem to engulf me as I’m reading, and I really feel like I’m adventuring alongside our heroes. But yeah, he always tends to fall flat when it comes to using those same amazing writing skills to develop his characters the way he does his settings. The man can craft epic battle scenes and sweeping landscapes, he’s spectacular at the minute details of traveling, weaponry, and weather, but when it comes to character interactions, they rarely work for me. The back and forth between Slanter and Jair bugs me, too. Without Helt coming over and explaining that Slanter actually does care about Jair despite his attitude, I never would have really picked up on that. I really thought he felt forced into this journey and hated Jair for dragging him into it. Although I will say I like finally seeing Jax for what he is: a fighting-obsessed fanatic who might actually be a little nuts. He’s not there to protect Jair at all, although that’s a nice byproduct. He’s there to go test himself against the thing that will probably kill him.

August: Yeah, Jax is a little more interesting than I remember him being. I like the idea of him being a bit insane in his quest for a fight. It gives him a bit of an edge besides just being a really good fighter. I wonder if his conversation with Jair is the only hint of this, because I do not remember it at all.

Sara: One last thing I found to be pretty significant was the removal of Paranor. It’s symbolic of the ending of an era, the fading of the Druids of the lands. I have memories of Walker Boh in later books sneaking into Paranor wherever it’s hidden, and I get the feeling eventually it’ll return, but with Allanon being the last, and knowing this is probably his last adventure, I found that scene to be pretty powerful.

August: I know Walker definitely goes back to Paranor, but whether he brings the castle out of it’s banishment or not, I don’t remember. Paranor vanishing in a killer green mist while Allanon and company race to escape is indeed a powerful scene. It’s one of my favorite set pieces we’ve read so far.

Sara: Same here! I look forward to reading more, though. Onward!

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Wishsong of Shannara: Chapters 1-8

Sara: Wishsong of Shannara opens in the familiar setting of Shady Vale, and it feels a bit like coming home after a long trip. The story starts with the children of Wil and Eretria from Elfstones helping their parents prepare for a trip. We meet Brin and Jair Ohmsford, quickly learning that Wil was right about when he used the Elfstones. He forever changed his DNA, and has passed Elven magic down to his children in the form of a singing magic that the two “children” of indeterminate age call the wishsong We also meet Rone Leah, youngest prince of Leah, who is friends with the Ohmsford children.

Eretria makes Brin promise not to use her magic while they’re away, and we learn of rumors of Mord Wraiths, shadowy creatures of evil, stalking the lands.

So the stage is perfectly set, and after the first day their parents are out of town, Allanon shows up to bring them on an adventure.

Actually he just wants Brin’s magic to save the world from evil. Typical.

Thus commences the Allanon infodump. There’s an evil book called the Ildatch. It belonged to the Warlock Lord and his followers. Allanon couldn’t find it after the Warlock Lord was defeated, but for the last 75 years, his followers have been using it, and it’s twisted them into the Mord Wraiths. Allanon wants to destroy the book, but the book is in an evil swamp that won’t let him in, so he needs Brin’s wishsong to convince the swamp she’s part of it so she can get the book and bring it to Allanon to destroy.

Which is all well and good, except that Rone thinks it’s too dangerous and Jair wants to go if his sister does but everyone thinks he’s too young. She tells Allanon she’ll think about it, but ultimately she realizes she has to go. She wants to learn about the wishsong and she doesn’t want her father to get involved. He vowed never to use the Elfstones again after the ordeal with the Elves, so she’ll go so he doesn’t have to break his vow.

On their trek toward the Eastland, she does learn a bit about the Wishsong. And she begins to realize what the Wishsong can do. It’s not a toy, as they refer to it as several times before now, and she could kill with it. She swears she never will, but she wonders if she might if Rone’s life were in danger.

Meanwhile, Jair gets left behind. Which he decides is fine. He doesn’t want his parents arriving home unaware of the danger. However, he quickly realizes he’s not safe in the Vale. He’s being hunted by a Gnome. Using the wishsong to distract the Gnome, he incapacitates him and goes back to his house for the Elfstones. Yes, his dad hid them and refuses to let anyone use them again, but Jair wants them for protection. Not to mention, he doesn’t want them to fall into the wrong hands.

There are several Gnomes at his house, which he uses the wishsong to slip past, but once inside, he feels the presence of the Mord Wraith in the next room. He flees the Vale without looking back and doesn’t stop until he feels like he’s put enough space between him and his potential pursuers. He makes his way toward Leah, hoping they will send messengers out to warn his parents of the danger.

He never makes it, though. Turns out the Gnome he knocked out was a tracker, named Slanter, and as a matter of pride, Slanter went after him. Jair remains his prisoner until the rest of the Gnomes catch up. After being questioned, the leader Gnome decides to take Jair to their Mord Wraith boss to learn more about Jair’s magic. For days they drag him along, and he learns to appreciate how different Slanter is from the rest of the Gnomes as they develop a mutual respect for each other.

Just before Jair is delivered to the Mord Wraith, though, the Gnomes come across a traveler who ends up being a legendary Weapons Master named Garet Jax, who fights the Gnomes and frees Jair.

But Jax can’t be bothered with what Jair had planned and demands he accompany him on an errand in the opposite direction Jair wants to go. Jair convinces Slanter to go with them because despite being thankful for being freed, Jair is nervous to travel with his rescuer that he doesn’t know or entirely trust yet. The Gnome grudgingly agrees.

This section leaves us with the Gnome leader being brutally killed by the Mord Wraith for letting the Valeman get away. Scary.

So, overall, I’m already liking this book better than the first two. I read the forward he wrote for this book, and he said that this book came quickly and that he wrote it in a year, which apparently was pretty fast for him. I have high hopes for this. The pacing is great and he’s following story structure really well. We have the inciting incident, a taste of the peril, and then the launching into the main story. Well done, Brooks!

August: Indeed, Brooks jumps right into things with this one. Even Allanon’s info dump is relatively short compared to explaining the entire history of the elves for instance. It’s just, “Hey, there’s a bad thing, let’s go stop it.” And we’re off!

Sara: That being said, I do have a few qualms.

The first is Valegirl. Ugh. Why does he call all his women girls? That was a thing that bugged me in Elfstones. Despite the fact that Amberle and Wil seemed about the same age, he was always Valeman and she was always Elf girl. I’m going to start calling all the guys Valeboys.

August: I… have never noticed this, but yeah, you’re right. A weird convention.

Sara: Also, Rone is kind of meh. I hope he does what he hopes and lives up to Menion on this quest, because right now he seems like an overbearing asshole who doesn’t want to let Brin do anything or make any decisions for herself. He’s got some big shoes to fill. Menion was pretty great.

August: There are a few hints that Rone can be more interesting. Being an overlooked son of royalty or his desire to be a hero like his ancestor can be interesting traits if they are allowed to play out. I hope he gets to be more then just Brin’s protector, but there’s already a lot of characters in this one, so the odds aren’t great.

Sara: Yeah, I also remember not liking any of the Leah princes except for Menion, so I am not optimistic.

I really like Brin, though. She’s thoughtful and proactive and brave. I like that she always takes the time to consider things from every angle. I’m also really liking Jair. He actually reminds me more of Menion than Rone does. He seems like a decent kid. Loyal, brave, and smart.

August: Even early on, both Ohmsford kids are way more interesting than Wil was.

Sara: Allanon is still Allanon and The Evil is, as always, The Evil.

Apparently most of my observations are character observations so far.

August: Well, allow to me grab a few of the remaining characters, because one of them I like and one I disdain.

The first is Slanter the Gnome. I have a soft spot for heroic characters coming from traditionally evil races. And while Slanter isn’t necessarily heroic, he’s the most interesting character in the book so far for me. He doesn’t reject his Gnomish tendencies, but his experiences as a tracker give him different perspective on things. We’ve mostly seen Gnomes in the previous books as bloodthirsty tribal warriors. The only exception has been the Storlock healers, which are presented as being a complete rejection of Gnomish values. For the first time we get some serious screen time with a Gnome and see just how they operate. Even Spilk, short though his time may have been, was a look into Gnomes that had been absent. I’m looking forward to more Gnomes, and their conflict with the Dwarves, as the groups go east.

Sara: I agree! I think his character has the potential to be really interesting, and I really like him so far. I’m also really glad Brooks is devling more into the race of Gnomes this book, like you said. We got a closer look at the Trolls last book, and now we get Gnomes. Yay!

August: Then there is the Weaponmaster, Garet Jax. Garet Jax is like a character I would write in high school, then crumple up and toss in the trash because even then I knew a mysterious grey eyed man dressed all in black who was an expert killer with every weapon ever made and with no personality was a bit of an eye roller. I thought he was hokey the first time I read this book, so many years ago, and nothing has changed my mind yet.

Sara: Hah! Yeah, you’re right. There’s not a lot of opportunity to be interesting there. Although fingers crossed he may shows some character growth? I didn’t really dislike him, but I was annoyed that he thought his time was so important and he refused to listen to Jair at all. I also don’t remember him at all, so I’m guessing he never changes and stays a boring charicature of himself.

In other non-character observations, I think the wishsong is neat. It’s interesting how it works two different ways in the two different siblings. I will say my irritation with Wil Ohmsford has carried over into this novel, refusing to let his children have anything to do with magic that is clearly part of who they are. It’s not one of those things that if you ignore it, it’ll go away, dude.

August: Haha, yeah, Wil’s still a douche. It’s a relief to know that some things don’t change.

Sara: It was also nice being back in the Vale, even though we weren’t there long. Brooks does a great job giving it a homey feeling, even if evil things keep showing up to chase our main characters away in the middle of the night.

August: Shady Vale is like the Shire. A little bit of relaxation and tranquility before everything goes to hell. I like that we’ve seen a few places that bring us back to the beginning of Sword of Shannara. It’s a nice way of making the trilogy feel united.

Sara: Yes, exactly! At any rate, I’m excited to keep reading!

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Recap and Preview #2

August: It took way longer than either of us wanted, but we finally finished with Elfstones of Shannara. Yay us!

Sara: Yay! To be fair, a lot of stuff happened during that time. Once we got back on track, it went fast. And here’s hoping we’ll be able to keep a more consistent pace going forward. But hey. If not, I’m sure all of our adoring fans waiting on our blog posts will forgive us. Heh.

August: I will admit some small disappointment in the book. My rose colored nostalgia glasses were firmly in place when I started re-reading it, but they didn’t last long. And it’s mostly Wil’s fault. As a teen, even in college, Wil Ohmsford was a hero, a normal guy who just wants to do what right and is given a great power he cannot control. As an adult, Wil is whiny and annoying. He never allows Amberle into his plans, and his plans all suck anyways. I have a great dislike towards Wil Ohmsford, and that is definitely not a reaction I expected to have going into this re-reading.

Sara: You’re telling me. I admired Amberle and Eretria so much when I read this book back in the day. They were brave, tough female heroes, which wasn’t common in books I was reading at the time. Reading it now, I realize that Amberle doesn’t do anything the entire book, letting Wil get her into more and more horrible situations, and then falls in love with him for it. And Eretria, while being the badass Rover I remember, was still disgustingly googly-eyed over Wil. Which, I suppose, like you, I thought of Wil more fondly, so it didn’t bother me then.

August: But I guess that’s why we’re doing this, huh? To revisit these stories with different, hopefully more mature, certainly more experienced, eyes. I liked Wil because I saw some of myself in him. These days, I do not, and generally look back at that time in my life with a sympathetic head shake. The words on a page will never change, but our perceptions of them will. In ten years, maybe my perception will be completely different.

Sara: Yes. I imagine in ten years, we’ll sympathize more with Allanon. Now that’s a horrifying thought.

August: I don’t want to be overly negative. Elfstones is still a great book, and I still believe it’s a better introduction to Brook’s books than Sword. For one thing, nearly all the Tolkien influences that people like to criticize Brooks for are gone. Allanon is no longer a Gandalf clone, but a true Druid of Paranor. And the story is uniquely Brooks, having no basis on Lord of the Rings. He used the foundation of Lord of the Rings to help tell his first story, but now he is on his own.

Sara: I couldn’t agree more! He paid his dues to be considered a legit fantasy writer by writing something he knew people would love at the time, and then made it his own with this book. The scope of the Demons verses the Elves, Demons being locked away for centuries by the Forbidding, made it seem like the battle against the Warlock Lord was rather small in comparison. There’s so much more going on in this expansive world.

August: And I would be remiss if I didn’t give one final shout out to the Reaper. One of Brook’s best, most memorable, bad guys in all his works. I was worried I was not going to find it as effective as I did when I was younger, but it turns out an unstoppable shadow who violently murders everyone is still an effective way to cause fear and tension. The Reaper is an upper echelon Terry Brooks character for sure. The Reaper has stuck with me for many years, and looks to stay with me for far longer.

Sara: Yes, the Reaper is definitely terrifying and still holds up even after all these years, but you have to give some props to the Changeling, too. Maybe our base fears are slightly different, but I’ve always found the idea that someone you love and trust could actually be a creature that wants to kill you to be even more terrifying. The Changeling could have been anyone. It could have turned into anyone. You can’t trust anyone, even your own dog!! That always scared me more than the Reaper. Still does.

August: Now we look ahead. The next book is Wishsong of Shannara, and the next generation of Ohmsford children come into play. It has been many years since I’ve read Wishsong, and I’ve already been reminded that one character I thought was in it actually isn’t. So what do I remember about the third book in the Shannara trilogy?

I remember Allanon, an old man by this point, worried about what comes after him. I vaguely remember a character who is supposed to be a weapons master or something who I thought, even as a teenager, was trying too hard. I remember the Sword of Leah.

But most importantly I remember the wishsong. I remember thinking how lame the idea of singing magic was, but being drawn into the story and being impressed more and more by the end of the book. The wishsong isn’t the fires of Allanon’s magic. It’s subtle, working the mind and the senses. When I first read it, I don’t think I had ever considered magic like this. Magic was either about power, or it was about knowledge. Since I read Wishsong, I’ve seen magic used many times in similar ways, and it’s my personal favorite way to use it in my fiction. I’m not claiming Brooks was the first to do it like this, but he’s the first I read.

Sara: I’m gonna be honest. You remember way more than I do. I remember the lead female shattering a tree with her voice and her little brother being afraid (and sometimes jealous) of her. I don’t even remember who the villain is. But, I do remember being enchanted by the idea that magic could be singing. As you mentioned, different magic systems, including singing, have been used probably before and definitely after Brooks, but I’m interested to reacquaint myself with how he portrays it here. I like that it’s a new and different magic system. Not just Druid magic or Elfstones. Something truly different in the Shannara world.

August: Let’s get to it then. Next up, Wishsong of Shannara!

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Elfstones of Shannara: Chapters 49-54

Sara: The Bloodfire goes out and Amberle assures her battered companions that the seed is ready. But Wisp is dead and Drifter is hurt, so Wil has to rely on the Elfstones to lead them out of the maze that is Safehold. Hebel carries his dog, Eretria carries Amberle, and Wil eats a pain-numbing root so he can overcome his injuries long enough to get them out. The prolonged use of the stones, though, had permanently changed him.

They finally emerge, and thankfully even though the day is at its end, they blow Perk’s whistle and he arrives to take them back to Arborlon. Hebel says his goodbyes, assuring them that Drifter will be fine (phew!). Amberle mentions to Wil that she understands, now, and that what comes next is fully her choice, which he is too out of it to understand.

Back in Arborlon, Eventine is still alive through sheer force of will. Allanon stands last vigil as the Ellcrys dies. An hour after dawn, the demons attack, uninhibited by the Forbidding any longer. They viciously sweep up the Elfich, taking down all their defenses. Stee Jans manages to slow them until all of the defenders are in a tight circle around the Garden of Life where they will make their final stand.

Just when it seems the Demons will break through, Allanon puts up a wall of flame to keep them back and takes a Roc to keep Stee Jans and the Border Legion being overrun. But the Dagda Mor comes forth, answering the challenge issued by Allanon riding out on a giant demon bat. The two do battle in the air, Allanon dodging blasts from the Demon until the Roc tires. They eventually both go down, their mounts dead, and finish their battle on the ground. Allanon reaches deep for a last burst of strength and destroys the Dagda Mor.

This doesn’t stop the rest of the Demons, though. Allanon is used up. He barely makes it back to the Elven army before the fire dies and the Demons attack.

But lo and behold, in the distance, a golden Roc flies their way. Salvation is at hand. Amberle returns.

When they land, Amberle doesn’t even say goodbye, just dashes up the hill and turns into a tree, becoming the next Ellcrys. The Forbidding is restored, and the Demons fade away.

Wil, overcome by grief and exhaustion, passes out. He is awoken by Allanon, who gives us all of the concluding information we could have asked for (and a lot more we didn’t). The Ellcrys was once a woman. She sacrificed herself, gave her body to the land to protect that land from the Demons. Amberle chose to do the same, but Wil is still heartbroken and angry about it, yelling at the Druid for keeping things from people, for manipulating them as they saw fit. His Uncle Flick was right.

But when Wil asks Allanon to reveal his face, it turns out that the Druid has suffered, as well. He used too much magic and has aged himself beyond what he wanted. He has to go back to do the Druid sleep again.

Allanon makes one last stop, to watch the final minutes of Eventine’s life. The old king wakes long enough for Ander to tell him that they’ve won, that Amberle is safe, then dies with a smile. Ander is king and promises Allanon he will lead as best he can.

And then everyone goes home until it’s just Wil and Eretria. Wil finally gathers the courage to go say goodbye to Amberle in her tree form, letting go of the feelings that he failed her and accepting that she made her choice, whether he likes it or not. Eretria is waiting for him when he leaves the Garden, and they talk of going their separate ways. But the stupid head finally realizes he has no reason not to ask this gorgeous, brave, smart, tough, and totally in love with him Rover girl to go with him. So he does. And she does.

And Ander is glad.

The end!

August: Two books down, only about 30 more to go!

Sara: Hey! Amberle finally showed agency and did a thing without telling Wil what was going on for once.

August: That didn’t really stick out at me, but you’re right.

Sara: Seriously. What does Eretria see in that guy?

August: Being the first guy who wasn’t a Rover she came across? I dunno. My complaints with Wil are many and varied, and I’m annoyed that I liked him as a teenager.

Sara: I think it’s interesting that Allanon contemplates his end and kind of throws in there that there may be another…Sky…walk…er. So hey. Maybe the Druids won’t die with him, after all.

August: Sequel bait! That and the damage that the Elfstones does to Wil are key factors in Wishsong. 

Sara: I liked all of the earlier foreshadowing that Amberle would become the Ellcrys. That was about the only thing I remembered from this book. I thought it was a really cool way to resolve that.

I also really liked seeing all the races—including the Trolls—come together to save the world. Even though most of the humans were stupid and only sent the Border Legion, I liked the feeling of unity. All of them there recognized that if the Elves failed, they’d all fail.

August: It did give me the warm fuzzies when the Trolls and the Elves parted as friends.

Can we talk for a second about the Dagda Mor? What a terrible bad guy. The beginning sets him up to be essentially the king of the demons, but he never does anything and barely shows up at all. Then he fights Allanon, and that’s kind of a cool fight, but then dies. The Reaper was a way more frightening bad guy. Even the Changling was better. The Dagda Mor sucked.

Sara: Hah! You’re right. That was a huge letdown. I get that he’s the one who got through the Forbidding first and sort of orchestrated everything, and the battle with Allanon was pretty intense, but yeah. I expected a better end for him. Although even though he wasn’t exactly scary, he played a significant role in that Allanon had to use too much of his magic to fight him. He sort of heralds the beginning of the end for our cloaked know-it-all man of mystery. Still, that’s kind of boring compared to the Changling and the Reaper.

You know, come to think of it, as much buildup as the Warlock Lord had in book one, he ended up being kind of a pushover, as well. Some of the mini bosses in Sword were scarier, I think, including the Skull Bearers.

Maybe the Wishsong bad guy will be better. Although I have no memory of the bad guy in Wishsong

August: If memory serves, I wouldn’t get your hopes to high on that one.

Sara: Still! I’m all geared up for the next book. Woohoo!

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Elfstones of Shannara: Chapters 43-48

August: Wil, Eretria, and Hebel are brought to Mallenroh, one of the witch sisters of the Hallows. Her otherworldly presence stuns our brave adventurers, and she demonstrates her power and callous heart by turning Hebel and Drifter into wooden statues. The other two are taken prisoner and Mallenroh takes the Elfstones. They rejoin with Amberle in their cell. Mallenroh’s faithful servant is Wisp, a gnome-like hairy creature who is utterly devoted to his lady. In the cell, Wil comforts Amberle as she confesses that she left the Chosen because she and the Ellcrys shared a personal relationship that scared her away.

Meanwhile, Eretria is being useful and picks the lock to their cell and convinces Wisp to take them to the Elfstones. While they try to recover the stone, Mallenroh’s sister, Morag, makes a visit. The two witches are equal in power, and the Elftones threaten to imbalance that. Their fight consumes them both, and their flames consume the stronghold while our heroes grab the stones, rescuing Hebel and Drifter and making their escape. Just as they leave, the flaming doors smash open. The Reaper has found them. And they run.

With Wisp as their guide, they find Spire’s Reach, and Safehold within. Wisp knows the way to the door of glass that cannot be broken, and leads them through caves and man-made halls to a waterfall. On the other side is the Bloodfire, where their quest can be finished. Amberle is engulfed in bright fire.  The others wait, unsure, but are interrupted as the Reaper comes through the waterfall, the broken body of Wisp in his hands.

The only weapon they have is the Elfstones, but Wil’s doubts fill him, and he is unable to conjure their magic. Drifter and Eretria try to buy him time, and Wil is forced to face the truth: He is scared of the magic. The power, and what it does to him, frightens him. He had been blaming his weakened Elven blood instead of facing his own fears. In coming to terms with this, he is able to tap into the magic of the Elfstones, summoning its fire. Even with the magic, the Reaper is a fierce opponent, nearly killing Wil before he is able to shoot fire into its inscrutable face, pinning the Demon to the cave wall and filling it with flames.

Meanwhile, Amberle bathes in the light of the Bloodfire, and comes to a realization of her own…

Sara: It was so hard to stop reading here! Things are finally rushing toward their inevitable conclusions.

August: I wish I remembered how I thought about Wil when I first read this book many moons ago. Because I really dislike him this time. His talk with Amberle is the latest in a series of cringe-filled dialogue that treats her like a child and him like a college student in his second semester. I hate it, I really do. It’s Brooks at his worst.

Sara: Yeah, I don’t remember how I felt about Wil when I first read it all those years ago, either. The character of Wil in the MTV Shannara Chronicles is a breath of fresh air, and actually rather endearing, so I’m thankful that I have that to fall back on as far as how I view Wil.

I will say at this point in the novel, though, I just kind of rolled my eyes and accepted it as Wil being Wil. He’s completely insufferable, but at least other people are finally doing things. Amberle has taken initiative with the Bloodfire, Eretria is saving Wil’s ass yet again, Wisp figures out the riddle about the glass that can’t be broken, even Drifter tries to take on the terrifying Reaper. And Wil does, at long last, confront his block with using the Elfstones…

August: But the part where Wil confronts himself trying to use the Elfstones is Brooks at his best. Wil goes through much the same dilemma that Shea went through in Sword. I really enjoyed this look into Wil’s character. I think it’s the only time we pierce through his douchey exterior and see what makes him tick. This kind of introspective character writing is something I enjoy reading, and Brooks does it very well.

Sara: Yes. That part was intense. It was a great callback to Shea’s same trouble, and it gave me a bit more respect for him, seeing what he had to overcome to use the power to save them.

August: I like that this section sticks with Wil the entire time. The confrontation with the Reaper is a major climax of the story, and sticking with these characters makes sure the momentum of the story stays intact. Though it did lead to this moment which made me laugh out loud. “Now if they could only find Wisp.” Next Chapter: “They found him almost immediately.”

Sara: HAH! Yeah. Poor Wisp. He never stood a chance. He was always just going to be a plot device, sadly.

It was a great section. Finding the Bloodfire, the Reaper battle, Wil overcoming his magic block, everyone coming together to give Amberle and Wil more time. I also loved the witch battle between Mallenroh and Morag. I honestly would have liked to see more of that play out. The idea that they’ve been at this stalemate for centuries, and Wil inadvertently breaks that stalemate by introducing the magic that will give one the advantage over the other ultimately causing them to destroy each other. Love it! But I was a bit disappointed that short of being the ones who happened to be carrying the stones, the main characters had nothing to do with defeating the witches. It was a thing that happened around them.

I guess they make up for it once they actually get to Safehold, though.

August: I actually like when things go on that have nothing to do with the main characters. I like characters that are obviously the stars of their own stories that our heroes just happen to stumble across. It makes things feel more legit when not everything is about the current story. Everyone is the hero of their own story.

I loved the fight with the Reaper. It was damn near perfect. The Reaper had been built up to be such an unstoppable monster that he’s legitimately terrifying. The path of bodies the Demon left in his wake, along with not having anywhere else to run, makes the danger to the characters very real. The mix of action and character work worked really well together.

Sara: Oh my god, yes. That is one thing Brooks is spectacular at. Really giving these terrifying demons the atmosphere of overwhelming dread. It was the same with the Changeling fight with Eventine, too. There are so many horrifying creatures in Brooks’ world, and more than one of them has kept me awake at night, afraid to turn off the lights.

I will say, though, that Drifter had better be okay! If another dog dies in this book, I’m going to be super pissed. It’s bad enough what happened to Manx.

August: I am very curious about the Bloodfire. I wonder if it’s a form of ancient technology. After a lot of time spent with Elves and in the woods, ancient technology made it’s return in the Hallows. The lights in Mallenroh’s keep are smokeless globes, as are the lanterns they use in Safehold. Safehold itself is mostly man-made. It makes me wonder if Brooks thought the Bloodfire as more magic or more technology.

In any case, we are almost done. Only one section left!

Sara: Will they make it back to Arborlon in time? Will there be any Elves left to save??

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Elfstones of Shannara: Chapters 37-42

Sara: This chapter opens by introducing and old man who has made his home deep within the wilds named Hebel. He hangs out at his house with his (big, scary) puppy Drifter and carves things out of wood, just chilling inside the most dangerous land of the whole world. Cephelo shows up with his Rovers and Wil and Amberle to ask where Safehold is. And Hebel tales a tale of two witch sisters (Mallenroh and Morag) who live in the Hollows, another chasm with a mountain in the middle, inside which is where Safehold is located. The two witch sisters hate each other, and Hebel warns it’s death to any who go there.

But of course, the pair of Elves have no choice. Which Hebel thinks is very weird, but he lets them go. Even Cephelo, with no prospect of a reward, knowing they’re going to certain death, seems to let them go with no arguing (although Eretria gets super pissed because Wil has spurned her yet again).

Turns out Cephelo drugs them to sleep so he could steal the Elfstones. Wil and Amberle are practically to the Spire’s Reach, the mountain in the Hollows that Safehold is under, when Wil realizes the Elfstones are gone. So Wil leaves Amberle all alone (she’s just twisted her ankle, so of course she’d only slow him down) to go after Cephalo to get the Elfstones back. Before he can go, though, she professes that she cares for him and gives him a kiss.

Meanwhile, the Demons have attacked Arborlon. Eventine is up out of bed as the Demons approach, and while this gives the Elven people hope, Ander realizes that his father is just the shell of the Elf he used to be. The attack on Arborlon is vicious and unrelenting, lasting all day. Every time it seems like they will be overrun, they are able to fight the Demons back down. Thousands die on both sides. And then, as suddenly as it began, it ends. The Demons break off the attack and reluctantly leave the Elves in peace for another day.

But they don’t have long. Allanon makes a visit to the Ellcrys, and she’s nearly gone. They only have a day or two, three at the most, for Amberle to return with the seed.

Unfortunately, the duo sent to Safehold aren’t doing so well. While Wil is chasing after Cephelo, the Reaper Demon has found their trail. Just as Wil is about to catch up with the Rovers, he runs into Eretria. She promises to help him get the Elfstones back, but he has to let her travel with him until she’s safely away from Cephelo this time. He agrees because honestly, what choice does he have at this point?

Turns out that’s not a problem, because the Reaper has torn apart the entire Rover caravan, including Cephelo, looking for Wil and Amberle. Woops. Wil pries the Elfstones out of his cold, dead hand, and they race back to the Hollows to save Amberle from the Reaper.

But Amberle takes matters into her own hands as she feels the Demon approach. She runs, then limps, then crawls into the Hollows, until she can go no further. She lays there, waiting to die, but instead, she is carried by stick creatures and to an unknown location, where she thinks she is a prisoner.

Wil and Eretria get back to where Wil left Amberle, and he panics that she’s not there. While they’re trying to figure out how to find her, Hebel shows up with his puppy, who can track Amberle. Turns out Hebel was nearly killed by the Reaper, so he had a come to Jesus moment and decided to stop wasting his life carving things out of wood and go see what’s really in the Hollow. That and he seems to have a huge crush on Mallenroh, so when the trail leads them to her wooden constructs, who then lead them to her tower, Hebel has a serious boner about it. Wil and Eretria are less enthusiastic, but Wil is confident Amberle is inside, so they follow.

The last chapter in this section goes back to the Elves in Arborlon, still fighting Demons. It’s another long day where it seems like they might be overrun dozens of times, but Ander saves the day by showing up any time hope seems lost.

It seems like they may get a respite that night, but an hour after sundown, they attack again. Lots of people die. And during this unexpected attack, Eventine struggles with his own attacker. The Changeling has finally revealed itself, attacking Eventine. After a desperate struggle, Eventine kills the Changeling, but at great personal cost. The chapter ends without knowing whether he lives or dies.

I know I read this book back when I was a kid, but so much of this stuff, especially with the Hollows and Mallenroh that I totally don’t remember. It’s been kind of an adventure in itself, discovering the parts I remember and the parts I don’t. Like, I remember the end, but not how they get there.

August: I had also forgotten about the witches in the Hollows. Maybe in some other media I would be annoyed by such characters being introduced so late, but here I like it. It feels like other people are out doing other things that have nothing to do with our heroes, until now when they just happen to intersect.

Sara: It’s good I remember the end, though, because to me, all of Brooks’ books are kind of hopeless. He takes the whole, fate of the world rests on one man’s shoulders to the extreme every time. The Demons will clearly wipe out the Elves if Amberle doesn’t succeed. To me, that makes the battle scenes kind of boring and pointless. There’s no hope that they’ll win out against them. So I skip the battle chapters.

Another reason I skim the battle chapters has to do with how Brooks writes. He does a lot of telling, so the battle scenes read more like a battle report than a story. The part where Ander almost gets killed and Allanon takes the Roc to save him was awesome, but telling me that it was Ander’s day and all of his heroic feats made me feel really distanced from him and what was going on.

August: I like the battle report style scenes, though I agree there is definitely a lack of emotion about them. When writing a big scene like those, you can either focus on one person or focus on the entire fight. Both ways have pros and cons. A big battle focused on a single person feels more dramatic, but loses the scale of the fight around them.

Sara: The fight of Eventine against the Changeling, on the other hand. That was really emotional for me. It’s told in a very close third, so we get his thoughts and feelings, first being terrified and betrayed that his dog has turned on him, but then realizing with horror that this is the spy that has kept the Demons ahead of them the whole time, to realizing he’s probably going to die but he’s going to take the Demon with him. It was an intense scene that I really enjoyed.

August: And that’s why I don’t mind the larger battle scenes. If that was all we got, I’d be disappointed, but we also get really great scenes like this one. My main complaint with Brook’s big battle scenes is they get a bit repetitive. Fierce fighting on both sides, hundreds die, the bad guys get an advantage, heros come in at the last minute to slow them down, repeat five or six times a chapter. Some more variance, perhaps by focusing on one character every once in a while, would be welcome.

Sara: The Wil and Amberle scenes are better about being closer to their thoughts and feelings, but still a lot of telling. Don’t get me wrong. I think Brooks is a spectacular writer. He has this rich, complex world with all of these interesting characters and awesome events. I’m really enjoying this book. He’s just a really good example of why “show don’t tell” has become such heavily touted writing advice.

August: I thought this was the best section of Wil’s story since the Reaper hunted all the Elven Hunters. And a large part of that is, I think, because the Reaper is back. His presence gives Wil and Amberle a sense of urgency that feels lacking when they’re traipsing around Grimpen Ward or talking to Wing Riders. The last several Wil chapters felt meandering, these are more tightly focused. The scene when Wil and Eretria find the Rover’s, ripped to shreds, and race back to find Amberle, knowing the Reaper could already be there, was incredibly tense.

Sara: I’m really excited to read the next section. Is Eventine alive? How will the confrontation with Mallenroh go? Will Wil and Amberle get back to Arborlon with the new Ellcrys before there are no Elves left?

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