The Short Version: The Ellcrys is dying, the Druid Order decimated, the Ohmsford brothers separated by the wall of the Forbidding, and a new Prime Minister of the Federation seems to have some nefarious and murky schemes brewing. Oh and did I mention: seems like half the world is now trying to find Grianne Ohmsford – who we last saw over a hundred years ago when she turned into a tree/air spirit.
The Review: Considering how many plots this book is juggling, I realize now that surprisingly little actually happens. It’s actually rather stunning how static this book’s plot is. There are plenty of things that DO happen, don’t get me wrong – there are several cracking fights and we get a lot of character development… but any progress anybody made during the novel seems to, by the end of it, have been wiped out by a series of unfortunate events. That’s vaguely dirty pool, Mr. Brooks – although I’m willing to allow it, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
Coming off of Wards of Faerie, I was genuinely excited (for the first time in a long time) for a new Shannara book. While I had some problems with that one, I felt my affection for the series rekindle and I found the confluence of nearly-every-previous-plot to actually be kind of fun. I liked the sense that this utter shitstorm of bad things wasn’t manufactured for tension’s sake but that we’re seeing a legitimately terrible time in the world. As anyone reading this who has watched the news even once in the last few years knows, sometimes that just happens.
So why then do I feel vaguely cheated by this book? I’m at least pleased that I won’t have to wait too long for the third book – which I already worry will feel rushed and overfull – because there are enough dangling threads to weave a sweater here. But at the same time, like I said, most forward progress has been halted and erased and so this book feels like it was treading water a bit. SPOILERS ARE HENCEFORTH INEVITABLE
Arling barely gets going on the titular quest before things go south and most of that progress was spent with her complaining about the quest and Aphen being the typical blind-to-reality-and-love Brooks character. To boot, she’s in the hands of the Federation AND THE SEED OF THE ELCRYS IS MISSING. Right there, that’s setting up enough plot to have (previously, in days of yore) sustained an entire 500+ page standalone novel. But wait, there’s more: Railing (by the way, worst name ever) Ohmsford is bitching about having left his brother behind in the Forbidding and, after lots of hemming and hawing, has decided to head off into the Eastland to hopefully find the former Ilse Witch/Ard Rhys. But he might not even do that, based on a shoehorned-in cameo from the King of the Silver River. Plus it turns out the Straken Lord wants Grianne too and that’s why he’s marching to war with the Four Lands. And on top of all of this, the new Federation Prime Minister (who is a crazy creepy sexy witch lady) is probably going to screw everything up royally any second now. I don’t even pretend to understand her motivation – here’s hoping THAT comes clear soon… and if it’s just “power”, I’ll be pissed.
Basically, my point is that for having SO MUCH going on, this novel goes nowhere. It feels, at the end of the day, like a bit of a wasted effort – although I will say that the character development is at least modestly enjoyable. Mirai Leah is freaking fantastic (I can’t remember the last time I had such a crush on a fantasy character) and her character is dealing with some (to my memory) yet-unmapped territory for Brooks. I love it. Too bad I can’t say the same for the Ohmsfords, who continue to be the most annoying Important Family in the history of the world.
Rating: 3 out of 5. The burst of pleasure I had while reading the book has faded even in the time it’s taken me to write the review. I just felt as though Brooks was setting up all the conflicts for the third book instead of just allowing them to play out over the course of three books. Tolkien is such a touchstone for Brooks that you think he’d’ve picked up on the best thing about the structure of Lord of the Rings: it’s one book, split into three. This feels distinctly like it was written to be a “second book in a trilogy” and that’s just not good enough anymore, especially considering the sharp writing skills that Brooks continues to wield. Here’s hoping the third book brings this darkness that’s been looming to bear and dispenses with the time-wasting.