First things first, I have to admit, this is not a great book, even if it is a significant one. The sword of Shannara was the trailblazer for the genre of “let’s re-write Lord of the rings but without the historical, linguistic, or mythological background”.
That’s not to say that the Shannara books are just Lord of the rings with different character names. There are more cosmetic differences than that. While Tolkein’s Middle Earth novels are an attempt to tell the fictional history of our world, the Shannara books take place in a post-apocalyptic future where elves and magic have returned.* I’ve been told that Brooks’s other major series, beginning with Running with the demon, bridges the gap between the present day and the world portrayed in the Shannara books.
What this slight adjustment to the setting means is that you get some ruined modern-day buildings and highways tossed into the descriptive portions from time to time.
The other thing Brooks does differently is turn the all-powerful One Ring into a sword that doesn’t really seem to do much of anything. There’s not really any point in describing the plot because for all intents and purposes it’s exactly the same as Lord of the rings.
I don’t mean to rag on this book too much – it’s really not terrible. In dropping the mythological setting of Lord of the rings, Brooks creates a book that’s a more casual read. Of course, he then half-destroys this accomplishment by making this book about twice as long as it really needs to be.
The Shannara books gradually get better as Brooks finds his own style and the world gets increasingly fleshed out. Sword of shannara is definitely the weakest in the series, so if you try it out and find it too derivative, try one of the other books before you give up on the author altogether.
The sword of Shannara is really nothing special. I read it in middle school while on a long road trip, and it was great for that. I picked up the kindle edition of the original trilogy, and it was fine for stuck-on-the-train reading.
A significant work in the genre
Lengthy but varied enough to satisfy on long trips
So derivative the word “derivative” doesn’t seem strong enough
Doesn’t really offer anything that Tolkein doesn’t
I haven’t recommended this book to anyone, mainly because anybody who I’d feel comfortable recommending it to has already read it. I did see it at a public library’s “Start a new epic fantasy series” display, and that’s really the only time I’d recommend it. It’s great for people who want to read a fun epic fantasy series and don’t care too much about anything else. Recommended for fans of the genre, others should probably stay away.
*But not in the cyberpunk Shadowrun sense. That’s a topic for another post.