The wishsong of Shannara

The wishsong of Shannara / Terry Brooks. Originally published 1985.

The wishsong of Shannara is the last book in the original Shannara trilogy and the last book by Terry Brooks that I’ll be reviewing for the foreseeable future (barring any special requests). I’ll also take this opportunity to point out that while these first three Shannara novels are frequently described as a trilogy, they don’t tell a continuous story and could just as easily be read in any order.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Brin and Jair Ohmsford are brother and sister, the children of the main characters of the previous installment in the series. Accompanied by the druid Allanon and yet another prince of Leah, the Ohmsfords are tasked with finding and destroying the Ildatch, an evil book of evil evilness.

So how is it?

It’s the best of the first three Shannara books. Brooks has continued to branch out from Sword’s excessive reliance on Tolkein, and Brin is significantly more well-roundedthan any of the previous Ohmsfords.

The big issue for me, and this is a recurring issue in the Shannara books, is that it’s really unclear what anything actually does. In The sword of Shannara, the way the sword is able to defeat the villain is bizarre, and the elfstones themselves are also confusingly described. Brin had a power called the wishsong that enables her to change reality? It’s not clear what it actually does other than it’s powerful. That’s the recurring theme in these books: some artifact is powerful or important but it’s not clear why, we’re just supposed to accept that fact and move on. It’s an approach that’s not conducive to creating an immersive reading experience.

It’s easy to turn Terry Brooks into a punching bag, really. He’s one of the most successful and most widely criticized authors of epic fantasy, and he’s also pretty much the first author in the genre to have any significant success post-Tolkein. He’s an easy target, but to be completely honest, for all their clunkiness, the original Shannara trilogy does have a certain charm. You can almost see Brooks’s writing getting better with each volume, and it’s a decent setup for the (in my opinion) far superior Heritage of Shannara quartet. That being said, the confusion over what the wishsong actually does is even more confused there, as it seems to be completely different from how it worked in this novel.

Strengths:

Finally sufficiently distinct from Tolkein

It’s a relatively early example of a decent female character in an epic fantasy novel

Weaknesses:

Plotting and writing are still somewhat clunky

Brin’s power is vague and confusing

Recommendation:

See my review of the first book in the trilogy. I might consider recommending reading this one before the previous two books, or skipping the original trilogy until after reading the Heritage of Shannara books.

To sum up: it’s the best of the trilogy but it’s still fairly generic.

 

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