Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Steampunk
Series: Defenders of Shannara Book One
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(An advanced review copy was provided by the publisher).
(I should note right now that you can read this book without having read any of the previous books set in the Shannara world).
The High Druid’s Blade is Terry Brooks’ latest entry into Shannara. The story follows Paxon Leah and his sister Chrysallin as they get caught in an evil plot designed by the sorcerer Arcannen.
Brooks tells an average story at best. It’s not his worst, but it’s certainly no Elfstones. This is a straightforward good vs. evil fantasy, like most of Brooks’ work, but unfortunately it has an all too predictable plot and oftentimes feels uninspired.
Fans of Terry Brooks’ work, especially the Leah family, may end up liking this story. It was a page turner, I finished it in day, but for me this latest journey into Shannara was largely a forgettable affair.
Paxon Leah runs a small shipping company that he uses to support his family. One day his impulsive sister is kidnapped by the sorcerer Arcannen. Paxon decides to rescue her with a family heirloom, the Sword of Leah. Paxon’s journey changes the lives of his and his sister’s forever as he travels the Four Lands and begins to uncover a dangerous plot by the sorcerer he’s hunting.
I have not personally read all of Terry Brooks’ books, the only three I’ve read are the books that make up the Sword of Shannara Trilogy. That’s a trilogy I have a mixed opinion on. Elfstones was brilliant, the Sword of Shannara was not (sympathy points though for it being Brooks’ first novel), and Wishsong I found somewhere in between. If I were ranking these four novels, I would personally place The High Druid’s Blade in between Sword of Shannara and Wishsong.
There is one central plot in this book and that is the Leah family’s battle against Arcannen. Brooks often incorporates more than one major plot to follow in his books, and there are brief interludes in this story where that is true, but this is largely a singular story. That being said the book feels overwhelmingly straightforward – meaning it only allows the plot to move in one direction – and thus there is a lack of variety, complexity, and interesting storytelling devices.
The plot is extremely predictable, even by Terry Brooks’ standards. The author attempts a few surprises, but you can see them coming a mile away. Defenders of Shannara is currently planned to be a trilogy of stand alone novels, but the ending of this book left room for a sequel. I don’t see how a sequel will necessarily be able to add to this story, but it might be an option if it comes to pass.
The High Druid’s Blade is told from a 3rd person limited perspective. I’ve got to say I prefer Brooks’ use of 3rd person omniscient; his storytelling just seems to flow better from that type of perspective. Granted everyone in fantasy uses 3rd person limited these days, the whole point of using that perspective is to make narrators less reliable. This is something Brooks doesn’t capitalize on at all, so it begs the question why use it tell your story? – especially when you’ve told previous stories in this world from an omniscient perspective with great success.
One of the things I liked a lot was how technology has advanced in the Shannara world. It has advanced to the point where The High Druid’s Blade actually resembles a steampunk work. Flying machines, a mechanical sword fighter, and even a primitive model of a firearm make their way into the story. The new contraptions are a nice touch, but the magical Sword of Leah is my favorite magical item in this book. Getting to see Jaxon wield this weapon made for some of my favorite moments.
As books in the fantasy genre have grown darker, Terry Brooks has tried to incorporate more of those elements within his stories. The High Druid’s Blade is no exception – there are a few brutal deaths and even a lengthy sequence of torture. Brooks never takes these elements too far, I would still say he writes a lighter hearted story, but it does show that author is aware of the changing trends in the genre.
If this is your first Terry Brooks book, and you do like it, then you should check out The Wishsong of Shannara for some related back story. If you didn’t like this book and want to know what the hype about Terry Brooks is all about then check out Elfstones of Shannara. For the longtime fans of Terry Brooks, I would expect a mixed reaction over this book – for me personally this could have been written a lot better.