Rating: B/ The Sword of Shannara is my dad’s favorite book, and I decided to read it instead of continuing with the awful television series, The Shannara Chronicles. Even if The Sword of Shannara was utterly forgettable and a shameless rip-off of Lord of the Rings like some of the less charitable critics believed it to be, it had to be better than watching Will Ohmsford and his pube-stache try unsuccessfully to act, hadn’t it (who thought it was a good idea to get stupid Slade from Arrow to play Allanon, anyway?)
Anyway, I can complain endlessly about what a sorry fucking missed opportunity The Shannara Chronicles was and how badly MTV raped Terry Brooks’ writing, but I won’t. The Shannara Chronicles is actually an adaptation of the second book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, which I haven’t read. So I can’t directly compare the show and this debut novel.
I thought The Sword of Shannara was good, not great. It wasn’t a masterpiece by a long shot, but excessive info-dumping and obvious parallels to Lord of the Rings aside, I actually enjoyed this book. I can’t call myself an expert on the fantasy genre, but I enjoyed the sense of adventure, fun characterizations, and detailed world building this book had to offer. I have a fairly short attention span and am not a long book person, and I got through the 700+ pages this book contained.
It’s actually the longest book I’ve read in years, and that’s got to count for something, hasn’t it? I think Terry Brooks is a good writer. He’s definitely not perfect, but he balances the characterization and the action very well and keeps the reader’s attention. The only time he really falters is when the druid Allanon goes on a long-winded explanation of the backstory. When that happened, I wanted to put the book down, which is not a feeling a writer wants to invoke in his reader.
The Sword of Shannara finds an unlikely hero in a quiet half-elf named Shea Ohmsford, who lives in the Shady Vale with his adoptive dad and adoptive brother, Flick, a human. One day a mysterious druid named Allanon shows up at Shady Vale and drops a bombshell; Shea is the long lost descendant of the elven king Jerle Shannara. Moreover, an unspeakable horror is coming to Shea’s world and only Shea can stop it, by wielding the legendary sword of Shannara, which can only be used by, you guessed it, the chosen one. When an ominous skull bearer comes to the Shady Vale, Shea and Flick escape and go on a crazy adventure, meeting friends and enemies alike along the way and discovering power within themselves they never knew existed. What proceeds is a Tolkien-esque journey to defeat an unfathomably evil creature and restore peace to their world.
Full disclaimer; I haven’t read anything by Tolkien. I did watch the movies (does that count?) So I’m probably not as sensitive to the things Brooks obviously took (stole?) from Tolkien’s world as some die-hard fans of Middle Earth. Everybody steals from their influences to some extent, and Brooks might have ‘borrowed’ more than most. However, from what I know of Tolkien’s world, I think that The Sword of Shannara contains enough of it’s own wonderful, unique ideas to be worth reading on it’s own.
Yes, there are dwarves, elves, a Sauron-like evil entity and a wise old mage (Allanon.) Even certain events in the book mirror those of Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, Brooks could have laid off the heavy Tolkien influence a bit. But Tolkien was not his only influence, and The Sword of Shannara, despite it’s moments of derivative blandness, proves to be an enjoyable read with enough ideas of it’s own to sustain it. I love the manner in which it writes it’s very enjoyable characters (Menion Leah and Panamon Creel were particular high points for me,) and even as it follows certain formulas it also does something totally new and awesome with others.
Note the way it takes the familiar trope of a rogue and his silent monstrous companion (Chewie and Han Solo, anybody?) and totally twists it around, giving the ‘monster’ a rich and powerful backstory instead of making him dumb comic relief. There are a handful of great characters in this book, and it almost doesn’t matter in the end whether the villain is utterly forgettable. It is safe to say that this is a fantasy epic that draws you to it’s characters and makes you care about them.
. For the most part, The Sword of Shannara keeps up a quick pace which makes it easy and fun to read, despite painfully slow moments at the beginning. There were moments that stressed me out because of the seemingly insurmountable odds the heroes were up against. I found my pulse quicken even as I lay in a comfortable bed with a blanket wrapped around me. As I said, I have not read Tolkien’s books and I am not an expert on what Brooks supposedly did or didn’t steal. But as someone who hardly ever reads fantasy, I found this book enjoyable.
This debut novel definitely aroused my curiosity in reading the rest of the series, and I genuinely appreciate Brooks’ ability to tell as rousing story. Moreover, there is no sexual content in this book and the violent content is mild compared to a lot of the stuff you see on TV nowadays. I think this would be a great book for bright kids who enjoy entering literary worlds of myth and magic. I see no reason whatsoever that kids age ten and up can’t read this book. I can’t speak for the other books in the series, but I think this would be a wonderful alternative to sitting in front of the boob tube for kids and teens alike.