The elfstones of Shannara

The elfstones of Shannara / Terry Brooks. Originally published 1982.

And now we’re back to epic fantasy, and Terry Brooks in particular. The elfstones of Shannara is the second book in the original Shannara trilogy, showcasing Brooks’s gradually improving writing skills and attempts to differentiate himself from Tolkein.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler-free, I guess)

Starring Will Ohmsford, the grandson of the hero of Sword of Shannara Frodo Baggins Shea Ohmsford, Elfstones of Shannara chronicles Will’s attempts to restore the magical tree that prevents demons from escaping into the world. What follows is another adventure suspiciously similar to the first book in the trilogy.

So how is it?

Well, it’s better than The sword of Shannara, but there are some glaring weaknesses that prevent it from being “great”. The set-up is at least marginally different from Tolkein’s this time, although the names of the Elves are suspiciously familiar. Brooks’s writing has become more fluid, and has managed to lose some of the pretension of the previous book, but that doesn’t really save this book. The romance sub-plots are painfully forced, and Will Ohmsford is an archetypal annoying teenaged fantasy protagonist. The structure of the book is very similar to the first one. Every character in Sword of Shannara has an equivalent in Elfstones of Shannara. While the world seems less barren than that of Sword of Shannara, it now seems disjointed, with settlements cropping up whenever necessitated by the plot that seem to have no relation to the world that Brooks builds. These are issues that will gradually be addressed in later books in the series, but as it stands Elfstones of Shannara is resoundingly mediocre, with a twist ending that is as predictable as it is depressing.

Strengths:

Tells a classic adventure story

It’s not offensive

Manages to be marginally more original than The sword of Shannara

Weaknesses:

It’s still incredibly derivative

Structurally identical to the previous book

Peppered with made-up names that serve no narrative purpose and are linguistically inconsistent

Recommendation:

My recommendation for this one is the same as it is for The sword of Shannara. It’s not a terrible book, and if you’re an epic fantasy fan and haven’t read this one then you should definitely read it. It’s a classic of the genre, despite its flaws, and there are certainly far worse fantasy novels out there. The series does get better, and plowing through the original trilogy makes it easier to understand what’s going on in the later, better books.

Once again, I haven’t specifically recommended this to anyone because all the people I would recommend it to have already read it.

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