The Short Version: With our adventurers in disarray and the Four Lands utterly unprepared for the coming storm, things are looking grim. But our heroes carry on – Railing, in search of the tanequil and Grianne Ohmsford; Redden, looking for a way out of captivity; Arling and Aphen, trying to survive long enough to reach the Bloodfire. And then, when they least expect it, an old… friend (of sorts) returns to the stage for a final showdown.
The Review: So I know that Terry’s next Shannara novels will be standalones. There will be three and they’ll be “loosely tied together” but whatever. Already, I’m excited to get back to the way the books started: with standalone stories that made me actually engaged beyond simply hitting its marks in a “pleasurable enough” kind of way. Because while the first book in this series gave me hope, that Terry had found a new burst of creativity and new twists on the formula… I now realize that my hopes were misguided.
Mostly, I just can’t understand why Terry has been unable to shake almost literally the same plot lines for the last… really the last three trilogies. Sure, the “Jerle Shannara” books were more of an adventure – but they dealt with Grianne, who was only moderately interesting even then. Opening up the Forbidding should’ve been captivating to readers in the “High Druid” series but it felt stale and like a last ditch effort to do something new. And this third book in the “Dark Legacy” trilogy ends up feeling like a mashup of everything from really every Shannara series/novel so far. You want to try to find other Elfstones? Done. Time in the Forbidding? Done. Invasion from the Forbidding? Check. Ohmsfords at the center of things? Yep. Even the idea of going back to the tanequil and attempting to retrieve Grianne… it is simply a different version of the same plot as the last series. And not in the way that “there are only six plots in the whole world” or whatever but in that “we’re going to do the exact same mission but more compressed and with a few details changed around” way. It’s just lazy, to be honest.
Indeed, much of this book felt… simultaneously rushed and lazy. As though the compressed writing schedule (all three books within one 12-month!) both forced him to write with more pace but to also then rely on old plots to keep up said pace. Grianne, as I’ve said, was only moderately interesting when she first showed up – and she got increasingly less interesting as time went on. The Straken Lord seems… well, ridiculous, to be honest. And everyone’s quests – the ones that seemed to go nowhere in the last book – all wrap up pretty speedily and, coincidentally, at nearly the exact same time! WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?! It’s just shoddy craftsmanship to let the brothers’ reunion be a “seriously, turn around” // “oh my god, what are you doing here, we just got here! brothers! it’s a war! yay!” moment.
Mostly, I was frustrated by this book. You basically forget about the “find the other elfstones” plot until suddenly it drops back in – and then Terry takes it away almost as quickly. Wouldn’t it have been inherently more interesting to actually leave the Elfstones – all of them – in the Four Lands? Oh, great, we now know what colors they are… and that the red ones can burn up people’s souls. But that doesn’t actually change anything in the world of this series. Even the demonic invasion probably won’t change much. I guarantee that if Terry is still writing this series in, say, another 20 or so years… there’ll be another sequence where the Ellcrys is dying and the Elves will be like “what do we do?” and they won’t want to do anything but one rogue Druid will convince someone that it’s necessary and they won’t know how to find the Bloodfire or any of that stuff and the same plot will happen for a third time. I’m almost banking on it now – but if the standalones don’t shape up, I don’t know that I’ll be there to see it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. The action is, as it always is, terrific. Terry is still a reliably engaging writer – but it is becoming increasingly obvious that he’s running out (if he hasn’t already) of steam on Shannara stories. Which is a shame, all things considered. Why not strike out to expand the map? Send us somewhere new with completely new things and teach us more about the world. Don’t include an Ohmsford. Give us something new next – because I can only get behind “reliably engaging” so many more times before I’ll want something that at least makes me say “oh, that’s new!” once or twice.