Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Sword of Shannara Book Two
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(Spoilers for The Sword of Shannara are below).
One of the best things about The Elfstones of Shannara is that you don’t have to read the first book in this trilogy in order to understand it. Although it should be noted that Elfstones would spoil all of the outcomes from The Sword of Shannara. If time is of the essence, then I would recommend you start with this book and skip The Sword of Shannara all together as it’s highly derivative and not especially well written. Let me clarify though and say I did enjoy The Sword of Shannara, but it takes a real open mind to look past its flaws.
The Elfstones of Shannara though is a different matter entirely. Terry Brooks improves in every single aspect of the writing craft in this sequel. He not only tells a better (and more original) story; he goes the distance with his plot, delivering an ending that I personally never thought he’d have the courage to write.
The Elfstones of Shannara is one of the best traditional (good vs. evil) epic fantasy’s out there. If you’re a fan of Tolkien styled fantasy and you looking for something not Lord of the Rings, then is the book for you.
It’s up to Amberle Ellessedil to take the seed of the Ellcry’s tree to the Safehold so that the tree may be reborn. Her only protection is the healer Wil Ohmsford and the elfstones that were passed on to him by his grandfather. As these two quest to save the world, Allanon and the aging Elven king Eventine prepare the elves to defend against the demon onslaught.
Elfstones of Shannara primarily tells two stories at once. The epic quest of Wil and Amberle, and the defense of the Westland by Allanon, Eventine, and Eventine’s two sons: Arion and Ander. The back and forth between these two stories provides a lot of variety and keeps the tension high.
Although told in third person omniscient, Brooks gives the impression that Wil Ohmsford is the central heroic figure of this story, but truth be told, it really is Amberle who has the most important task. The major characters in this sequel feel a lot more three dimensional. Amberle and Wil each have flaws and weaknesses and as both characters are forced to face these flaws they grow as people. One dimensional characters was a major problem in the last book, and to further testify how much Brooks had grown as a writer, one only needs to read how different Allanon is in this sequel.
For people who read The Sword of Shannara, it’s clear within the first four chapters that a different Terry Brooks is writing this story. A much darker tone is set, the villains appear to be a lot more menacing, and the major characters actually feel like their being threatened.
That’s not to say all of his characters are perfect though. A lot of secondary characters are lacking in personality. Namely a lot of the supporting military characters in the Allanon portion. Elfstones’ other primary weakness is with its prose. Although Brooks has improved, he’s still got issues with writing fluently, especially with the battles and commands being given by the military personnel, some of which lack believability.
Brooks takes a big risk by inserting a love triangle between Wil, Amberle, and Eretria – a woman they meet in a caravan. Love triangles are difficult to handle, but Brooks uses a “less is more” type of philosophy in developing this part of the story and it pays off immensely. The love triangle along with the quest portion of the plot is easily the best part of Elfstones. During the quest portions the world building succeeds in capturing the imagination, especially as Brooks combines the magical with the unexpected. A true sense of wonder is bestowed upon the reader.
With Elfstones of Shannara, Brooks proves he’s contributed a lot more to the genre than just being a writer that wrote good vs. evil fantasy in between Tolkien and Jordan. He can craft an emotional story as well. Providing genuine emotional reactions in fantasy was a door that was opened by Tolkien with Lord of the Rings, and especially The Silmarillion … the refinement of emotional writing was achieved by Hobb and Martin in the 90’s (and many others after) … but with Elfstones coming in between, Brooks becomes one of the first authors to complete a novel that full fledged walks through that door.
The Elfstones of Shannara went far beyond my expectations. For all his critics, Brooks proves he can craft an original and emotional story, and it secures Terry Brooks’ place amongst the pantheon of great good vs. evil epic fantasy writers.