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!