Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Sword of Shannara Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Sword of Shannara Book One
Pages: 786

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The Sword of Shannara was the first book written by Terry Brooks that is set in his Shannara world.  This book, and the trilogy of the same name, have become one of the most popular fantasy series’ ever, and has turned Terry Brooks into one of fantasy’s best selling authors.

Shannara was popular when it came out, giving publishers definitive proof that fantasy could be mass marketed, and that the success of previous fantasy series’ like Lord of the Rings wasn’t a fluke.  As a story though The Sword of Shannara has a quaint charm that allowed me to enjoy it, but there are a lot of flaws that came with it that gave me some serious reservations about the quality of the book.  The two major flaws were its highly derivative Lord of the Rings styled plot and setting, and the heavy handed prose that was used to tell it.

It’s predictable, but it’s also enjoyable and comes with a light hearted aura that’s ideal for people looking to use fantasy as a form of escapism.  Despite it’s issues The Sword of Shannara is an excellent starting point for people looking to jump into modern fantasy.

Shea Ohmsford the half elven and his half brother Flick live in the quiet village of Shady Vale.  Their peaceful world is upset when they are visited by a giant man named Allanon who warns Flick and Shea that the Warlock Lord has risen again.

The only way to defeat the Warlock Lord is with the magical Sword of Shannara which can only be wielded by a descendent of Jerle Shannara.  His only living descendent is Shea, and Allanon spirits him a long with a number of other heroes that are scattered across the Four Lands to help recover the sword.

The Sword of Shannara is Terry Brooks’ first book … and it definitely shows.  The prose that is used to tell this story can really be burdensome at times. Lack of subtlety leads to predictability and the feeling that the author is laying everything on thick to the reader.  People who read a lot will probably be bothered by this aspect of the book, but to younger readers – and this book is safe for children – it will simply go over there heads.

The setting features many of the same races found in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – elves, dwarves, and trolls.  The nice thing about Brooks’ treatment of the races is that none of them are all completely good or evil, which is a major difference from what Tolkien did.

People who have read Lord of the Rings were probably able to quickly replace Shannara’s character names from the above plot summary with Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf.  If you’re wondering where Aragorn is, his name in this Shannara book is Balinor.  Most of the characters are likeable – Shea, Allanon, Flick, and Balinor – but some of them feel like pointless accessories – Dayel, Durin, and Hendel … Hallelujah!

The major plot of trying to destroy the Warlock Lord definitely parallels Lord of the Rings throughout the duration of the novel.  The subplots in the first half of the book also run parallel to Lord of the Rings – they resemble Tolkien’s writing about Bree, Rivendell, and Moria.  However as the book enters its second half it parts ways with Tolkien’s plot and finally becomes Brooks’ own.  It’s this aspect of the story that largely redeemed Brooks for me, and it showed he has potential to create his own stories.

Despite having derived a lot from Tolkien, I still enjoyed reading this book.  It’s a classic good vs evil, or ordinary man rises to face the greatest evil of an age type of fantasy.  There is a lot of traveling, danger, obstacles, and action scenes that move the plot at a quick pace. The story is easy to understand and it should be easy for young readers as well as adults to grasp. The thing I enjoyed the most though was that it provided a solid bout of light hearted escapism.  Nothing too heavy here, as Brooks and his Shannara world take you too a place that remains magical – even after all of these years.

Score: 5

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