There’s this TV show coming in 2016 called The Shannara Chronicles. We read about it somewhere, and because it sounded like the kind of thing we love to watch/read, and was being filmed in New Zealand, we checked it out. We even made a little post about the trailer, because we’re looking forward to this show.
The trailer(s) looked interesting, so I decided to check out the book it’s based on: The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. I got it for my birthday, I read it, and now I want to talk about it a little.
The Elfstones of Shannara is the second book in a trilogy, which I didn’t know until I started reading it – I should have done a bit more research before asking for this book for my birthday. But it turns out, you don’t really need to have read the first one to understand the second one, which is cool, because I’m currently too broke to buy that book, and my birthday won’t be back for another year.
This book is set in a world thousands of years in the future, where there’s five races: Men, Dwarves, Elves, Trolls and Gnomes. There used to be magic, but now it’s very rare, and there’s on a handful of people left who can wield it.
The story starts with a dying tree called the Ellcrys. But of course it’s not just any old tree; it’s the look to the “Forbidding“, where thousands of years ago, after a very long war, the Demons where banished. But now that the tree is dying, the Demons are coming free one by one, which, of course, isn’t all too good, because they want to destroy the world and make it their own.
There’s only one person who might be able to save the tree: a young elven girl called Amberle Elessedil, granddaughter of the King of the Elves. Problem is, Amberle vanished a few months earlier and hasn’t been seen since, so she has to be found first. The Druid Allanon enlists the help of the young half-elf Wil Ohmsford to do just that; he chose Wil because he owns these three stones with magical powers – called the Elfstones, hence the title of the book -, which might come in handy in a potential fight against demons.
And so the adventure begins. Wil and Allanon find Amerble and bring her to the Ellcrys; the tree gives her seed, but the seed has to be carried to the other side of the country, to a place that no one knows, and then brought back and planted next to the dying tree. That would restore the Forbidding, and the Demons would be banished from the world again. So now Wil and Amberle have to find that secret place they only have an idea about where to find, whilst Allanon, the King and the rest of the Elves/the world has to try and keep the Demons at bay.
That’s the story with as little spoilers as possible. I liked the premise a lot, and it’s a very good story. But I do have a couple of issues with this book:
First off, the characters. They feel a bit shallow, which is sad, because I’m sure the author could have done wonderful things with these characters, had he written them to the end and not just scratched the surface of them. But now, they feel a bit stereotypical and weak at times – they’re still good characters, though, and most of them are rather likeable. Oh, and yes, there are some similarities between Allanon and Gandalf – and there’s probably a lot of other characters from this book that might remind one of characters from The Lord of the Rings; but that didn’t bother me. As long as they’re not the same, I’m totally fine with authors being inspired by other people’s work – and, after all, The Lord of the Rings has inspired many an author. Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy, so of course there’s going to be elements that people took and changed from his stories.
Then there’s the writing itself. It’s very eloquent and very sophisticated. Now, I’m not saying that that is a bad thing, because it’s not. I like writers who know how to manipulate words and make you see what they imagine. That is a very wonderful talent. But Terry Brooks was a bit too eloquent at times, which put me out of the story from time to time. I can’t really explain why, and this is probably simply due to the fact that I enjoy reading books written in a less sophisticated language because it is more relatable (and easier, most of the time), but this book would have been a lot better if it didn’t feel like Brooks was trying so hard to make it sound… I don’t know, older? Like it’s been written or takes place sometime in the past?… It just kinda felt like he was trying to sound like Tolkien, but didn’t really succeed.
The last thing that bothered me a little is how predictable the plot twists where. I get that it’s virtually impossible to make sure that absolutely no one sees a plot twist coming – I applaud every writer who manages to do that, because that is a truly remarkable talent . I’m not saying that I only enjoy books where it don’t see them coming, because that’s a very big lie. I don’t mind some parts of a story being predictable, as long as I can’t foresee everything. But in The Elfstones of Shannara, I pretty much knew what was coming long before it came, and that made the book a lot less interesting, because it’s missing the suspens that makes reading stories so enjoyable.
That being said, I still enjoyed this book very much. I had my issues with some of the clichéd characters, but most of them were not. I liked the idea of magical stones and a magical tree and Demons, because it’s not an idea used a thousand times before. The language may have put me out of the story at times, but it made the characters of the Elves and Allanon feel like in Lord of the Rings (that’s not a bad thing); although, admittedly, I would have prefered it if only the Druid and the Elves had used that language. It would have been an interesting change of tone, too, everytime the story was told from someone else’s point of vue.
All in all, The Elfstones of Shannara is a good, but not perfect, book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to watch the show but hasn’t read the book, or anyone who’s looking for a fantasy novel. I’ll give it an Acceptable, because although I did enjoy reading it, I was not hanging on the edge of my seat, nor did I have the book glued to my hand from the first page to the last. Still a good book, though, if you’re looking to pass the time; just don’t expect it to leave you breathless, because it probably won’t. I am still very much looking forward to the show, though.