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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Elfstones of Shannara: Chapters 31-36

August: We pick back up with the Elven army in full retreat. Not only was King Elessedil gravely wounded, but Prince Arion was killed trying to defend the northern pass. The responsibility of leading the Elven people has fallen to Ander. His leadership is challenged early, when General Pindanon demands to be given control of the army. But Pindanon does not realize the true threat of the demons, and Ander instead relies on the council of Allanon and Stee Jans.

The demons attack the next morning, but Stee Jans has a plan. He draws them out into the plains before closing in on them. With the aid of Allanon’s magic, they are able to wreck terrible damage to the demon army, but while they are holding the demons off, an even greater force is coming for them from the north, and the elves are forced to retreat again.

They are pursued night and day all the way back to Arborlon, by some of the strangest and fiercest demons in the army. When they reach the relative safety of the Elven capital, Ander gains the support of the Elven lords and prepare the defenses. Arborlon is naturally defended, sitting on a plateau with only one access point. The Elfitch was a series of ramps that led up the bluff with several defensive points. The Elfitch was fortified by a group of Dwarven sappers who showed up, with promise of more support on their way. And finally, the King wakes from his injury, and learns about his heir’s death.

Back with Wil and Amberle, they make it to Grimpen Ward, the only safe place in the Wilderun, with “safe” being a relative word. Wil once against forms a plan without Amberle’s input, telling her to wait and see as he bargains for a night’s rest. Of course it backfires, and all of Grimpen Ward comes after them because they believe Wil to be a magic healer. As luck would have it, they are rescued by Eretria, the Rover girl from before.

Cephelo and his Rover band also made it to Grimpen Ward, and he claims to know a person who can help Wil and Amberle find Safehold. But the Rover almost certainly has ulterior motives for helping…

Wil is once again annoyingly vague about his plans with Amberle. Dude, c’mon, stop doing this! It never works out and just gets you guys into more trouble. Wil is a dope, and the fact that he has Eretria fawning over him all the time just makes him dopier.

Sara: Yeah, I don’t have much to say about Wil and Amberle that you haven’t already. I still really hate their dynamic. He bosses her around, she gets stubborn about things that don’t make sense to be adamant about, he yanks and shoves her around, and like you said, keeps her in the dark about everything. And then things go horribly wrong because he is, indeed, a dope. And then Eretria comes along, and you’ve got a damn love triangle. No wonder MTV made this a fantasy soap opera. Ugh.

But, I am glad the Rovers are back. I don’t like Cephalo, but I like his role in the story. And when Eretria isn’t talking about how Wil is for her, I like her, too. She’s smart and strong and capable. Although I guess if I look at it as if Wil is a means to an end for her (she seems to be relying on him getting her away from Cephalo) and that’s why she’s so fixated on him, I’m more ok with her being googly-eyed over him.

August: I enjoyed the struggle of the Elven army, particularly their race back to Arborlon.

Sara: Yeah, I’ve said it before, but Terry Brooks is fantastic at writing battle scenes. The battle on the plains was intense and exciting, and I could help but cheer when the Elves won the day. And the preparations they made at Arborlon were incredibly impressive. I wouldn’t know the first thing about defending a city. When it comes to battle tactics, if I ever have to write war, I’m going to have to draw heavily from Brooks and his battle scenes.

August: The only issue I have with his big battles is they tend to be very similar to each other. Like, Arborlon is a city on top of a plateau, which is the same situation we were in with Tyrsis in the last book.

Sara: That being said, can we talk about how he absolutely writes horror? I know it’s high fantasy, but he always writes about the everyman fighting against these insurmountable odds, and that, I think, is the technical definition of horror. Like, at this point in the book, there’s almost no hope for the Elves. They have few allies and it became clear as they retreated that the enemy they faced not only was not subject to their mortal weaknesses, but also that they are horrifyingly outnumbered.

Not to mention, THERE IS A DEMON PRETENDING TO BE THE KING’S PUPPY. That breaks my heart.

I just feel the utter hopelessness for the Elves. And it kind of sucks as a reader. A bit.

I was also disappointed in the lack of power the Ellcrys staff seems to have. It just, like, makes the Demons uncomfortable? What is the point of that?

August: It is all rather hopeless for the good guys, isn’t it? I feel like we need Samwise Gamgee to give Frodo a pep talk about heroes.

Things seem to line up perfectly for Ander. His jerk of a brother dies, leaving him heir to the throne. His jerk of a military commander dies, leaving the army in the hands of Stee Jans. It’s all just a little to convenient for me.

Sara: Maybe a little convenient, except that he really doesn’t want it. I see it more as a little too convenient for Allanon. I can’t help but feel like the Elves are his chess pieces, and he didn’t mind sacrificing a couple of pawns to protect who he wanted to be king.

I mostly just feel bad for Ander. That being said, though, it kinda bugs me that all these characters are sad and crying, and I don’t feel anything. I guess it could be a sign of the times, especially for this genre, but despite being like, “aww, way to kick a kid while he’s down,” I wasn’t remotely sad. I guess I’m just a very different writer. I’m all about the feelings. If my deaths don’t make you cry, I go back and write it again.

Anyway. It’s a minor rant. Brooks is so good at making me feel anxious and scared, why can’t he make me feel sad, too?

August: I remember the climax of this book, particularly the defense of Arborlon, to be really good and exciting. We’re almost there!

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Elfstones of Shannara: Chapters 25-30

Sara: Wil and Amberle numbly make their way through the seemingly endless tunnels of the abandoned fortress until they somehow manage to find a way out. They don’t dare stop to rest, and decide to take the boat and continue heading down the river, taking turns steering and sleeping as the flee.

When they finally leave the river, the desperation of their situation dawns on them. Neither of them know where they are or how to travel across the mountains that stand between them and the Wilderun. What’s worse, they’re not optimistic that the fall killed the Reaper. Even if the Reaper is dead, other Demons will surely be after them.

Miraculously, the next morning, they wake to a solution literally staring them in the face. A young Elven boy has found them. He shares his food and milk with them, and when he hears that they are on an important mission, insists on helping. Turns out there’s a whole branch of Elves nobody ever knew about that ride giant Rocs away from the Westland Elves of Arborlon. Perk tells them all about their society and how they came about, and how he is in training to become a Wing Rider—one of the few Sky Elves who gets to learn to ride one of the magnificent birds.

Wil talks Amberle into letting young Perk fly them over the mountains and deposit them a few miles from the thief capital city of the Wilderun, Grimpen Ward. Amberle and Wil decide they’ll have better luck with thieves and cutthroats than Demons and decide it’s the best place to find someone to guide them into the Wilderun to look for Safehold.

Perk reluctantly leaves them, but before he does, he gives Wil a whistle to call his Roc. If they return within five days, he will still be in the area and will give them a ride back to Arborlon.

Back in Arborlon, the Elves prepare for war. Ander helps his father in any way he can, while his brother, the crown prince, is a total ass and pouts instead of helping because the council voted against him. Allanon arrives and tells them he knows where the Demons will break through the Forbidding. He also has spoken with the Ellcrys, who has given him a magic staff made from her own body to help fight the Demons.

The Elves have also sent messengers to recruit armies from other lands to help fight the Demons, but they are not optimistic that anyone will come. The Southland does send the Border Legion’s Free Corps, a specialized unit of those looking for an honorable way to die after living an unfavorable life. There are only six hundred of them, though, so despite taking a liking to their commander, a blunt man named Stee Jans, Ander fears they won’t be much help against thousands of Demons.

And then there are two chapters of the army marching to where the Demons will be coming out of the Forbidding.

I’m not kidding. Two. Whole. Chapters. Describing the landscape. Talking about the farming communities they pass. Describing what the Elven army is wearing and is equipped with. What the weather was like as they marched. Maybe August enjoyed these details here, but I was bored.

August: You are wrong. I didn’t enjoy them. I loved them. The middle four chapters here were an easy read that just flew by for me. Of course, it’s well known by now that I’m a fan of this kind of thing. I want to know exactly how many troops there are, how they’re armed, what they’re wearing, etc, etc. For whatever reason, these chapters reminded me of a different scene from Lord of the Rings. Specifically, from the movie Return of the King, when Théoden is gathering the forces of Rohan, and he’s riding through the camp with Aragorn while people shout numbers at him. “500 riders from the Westmarch!” I love that scene.

If anything, I wanted more details. I suppose I’m spoiled from A song of Ice and Fire, where nearly everyone has a unique banner and story behind it, but kept reading expecting Brooks to go into the family relations of General Pindanon and  what his personal crest means.

Sara: Huh. It’s like you could be a D&D GM or something…hah!

We get little snippets in there, like the reminder that there’s still a spy in the camp, the fact that Arion is still pissed, that they are going to be horribly outnumbered, that Allanon is a mother fucking sorcerer and fades in and out without being detected, and that Eventine is old and tired. We also get a bit of backstory on Stee Jans. And Allanon finally tells Ander about Wil and the Elfstones.

Then, we finally get the epic battle of the Elven army against the Demons. The Forbidding fails and they pour through the mountain pass by the thousands, overwhelming the small Elven force quickly. They fall back once, and when they do, Demons break through and manage to strike Eventine down. Ander steps up and drives them back with the help of the Home Guard. Allanon puts up a wall of flame for the army to retreat, but it only stops the horde for a moment. Then, a giant dragon emerges and attacks Allanon. With some wicked Druid magic and some smart maneuvering, Allanon gets the dragon to block the mountain pass with rubble and fall into a deep abyss. The Elves can withdraw now.

But the size of the Demon force has daunted them all. There doesn’t seem to be any hope.

So, I’m getting the sense that Allanon likes Ander much better than Arion. Which, who can blame him, since Arion is being a royal jerk. Allanon seems to be grooming Ander to step up and lead the Elven people now that Eventine is down.

August: Everyone likes Ander more than Arion.

Sara: Yes, but to be fair, that’s how he was written.

I liked the Stee Jans backstory. I would have preferred that brevity when we met Perk, but I suppose there was a whole Wing Rider civilization to develop there.

I guess that’s just kind of the writing style. Big info dumps full of backstory and world building. I mean, he starts just about every chapter with the weather. So much weather. Although I will say he’s great at incorporating all of these senses. I liked how he described all of the sounds when the army was marching.

August: Info dumps are fine in moderation, but giving us the history of the Wing Riders here was not great. I was already more than ready to leave Amberle and Wil alone for a while, and the whole scene with Perk was just a slog to get through. But infodumps can be done well too. When Ander is thinking about aid from other lands, information about the current state of affairs of humans and trolls and gnome and dwarfs is given to us. The Federation is mentioned for the first time, and that becomes a big deal in later series.

Sara: Brooks also writes amazing battle scenes. It was pretty intense there for a moment. I will say that the dragon was kind of convenient, though, the way it blocked the pass. I feel like, if that had been more intentional, I would have liked it better. As it is—and again, this may just be a sign of the times—the protagonists get in these tight spots and—like the eagles in LotR—are always presented with a convenient way out that they didn’t much have to work for.

August: I don’t know how much is a sign of the times and how much is just kind of lazy writing. It is convenience, but I’m willing to forgive it since the big battle is just getting started. Terry Brooks certainly likes his weird mountain crevices. There is a similar crevice in Sword when the party escapes through the Hall of Kings. Also I question their tactics a little. The army was divided in half because they have two passes to defend. But the northern half of the army lacks both Allanon and the Ellcrys staff. Seems like they are going to get stomped even worse than what we saw.

Sara: Yeah, I hadn’t considered that. Allanon better hurry up and join them or something, or the other half is screwed.

Still, I tend to agree that some of it is lazy writing. I mean, come on, Amberle arguing with Wil that they not put this Wing Rider kid in danger is not a convincing conflict. THE WHOLE WORLD will be in danger if she doesn’t save the Ellcrys. I’d have that kid recruit the entire Wing Rider population to help look for Safehold. And they all lived happily ever after.

But, since that’s not how it happened, I guess we’ll have to read the rest to find out how they save the world. Until next time!

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