“The One that Plays the Others as a Master Does his Puppets…”
It’s been twenty years since the events of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, in which a combined group of Elves, Men and Dwarves sailed under the leadership of the Druid Walker Boh in an attempt to reclaim archaic knowledge from lost islands far to the West. Though the mission failed in this respect, it did achieve one of Walker’s chief desires; to redeem the life of Grianne Ohmsford. Kidnapped from her family when she was a child, she was raised as the evil Ilse Witch and only made aware of her true identity by the intervention of her brother Bek Ohmsford.
My assessment of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy was not a favorable one, as I ultimately felt it was nothing more than an introduction to ideas that Terry Brooks planned to go into more detail on in later books; namely the persona of Grianne Ohmsford and the reforging of the Druid Council in the Four Lands. After reading THE HIGH DRUID OF SHANNARA trilogy, I felt this was a pretty fair judgment. All the major characters and plots here had their roots in THE VOYAGE series, and one can almost see in the writing that Brooks is far more interested in his subject matter here than he was in THE VOYAGE. This of course adds up to a much more satisfying read and, for the first time, Brooks is brave enough to veer away from some of his more predictable story structures.
For instance, the primary objective of the protagonists in this book is not to fight already-existing villains and monsters, but to halt an unraveling plan of evil-doers before it even reaches fruition. For the first time there is no back-up from the Leah family or the Sword of Shannara. The time difference between this and the previous series is also markedly different; a mere twenty years rather than several hundred. Most importantly, allies and enemies are not so clear-cut this time around; there are positive and negative factions to each organization and species that are included here; and even the undisputable bad-guys are only trying to reclaim what was technically theirs to begin with.
However, Brooks still hangs on to some tried-and-true methods. The main character is still a young Ohmsford — here called Penderrin, the son of Bek and Rue of the previous trilogy — who is given a task by the mystical King of the Silver River and is joined by representatives of other species (Trolls, Elves, Dwarves and Rover-men) in order to complete it.
Grianne Ohmsford has put her past behind her, and established the third Druid Council in an attempt to bring wisdom and peace to the Four Lands once more. Unfortunately, though it started out hopefully, the Council is slowly breaking apart with several mutinous Druids plotting against Grianne. One group in particular, led by the treacherous and ambition Shadea a’Ru has come up with a plan to rid themselves of Grianne forever (and no, I won’t share the details!) With her disappearance, Shadea seizes control of the Council and begins to org anise her enemies from her allies. Long allied to Sen Dunsidan, Minister of the Federation, Shadea pledges her support in the elimination of the Free-Borns, whilst sending out assassins to dispose of her greatest threat: the Ohmsford family.
Whilst his parents are away, Pen is enjoying his freedom… till he’s warned of the danger he’s in and given a task to perform in order to save his aunt Grianne. In order to free her he must find a talisman called a darkwand, obtainable only from the living, conscious tree called the tanequil, found on an island in the mountains. Aligning himself with the dwarf Tagwen, uncle-and-niece duo Ahren and Khyber Elessedil and an airship of Rovers (including love-interest, the blind and beautiful Cinnaminson), Pen sets off on his journey to rescue his aunt.
Brooks juggles a lot of separate story-strands, from the central quest of Pen and his friends, the intrigues that go on concerning Shadea and her band of Druid allies (each with their own agendas), the war rising between Federation and Free-Born armies, and Grianne’s toils when she discovers the horrifying truth as to where she’s been exiled too. Among these tangled threads, Brooks cleverly hides a deeper plot at work that all — heroes and antagonists alike — are ignorant of; unbeknownst to all of them, they are being played by a greater power with plans of its own. Not since The HERITAGE OF SHANNARA quartet has Brooks set up such a sophisticated mystery at the core of his story, and here’s hoping it will be sustained throughout the next two installments.
As mentioned, Pen is a typical Brooks hero; young, inexperienced, naive, impulsive, optimistic — you get the idea. As such, he can be a little annoying at times, but his heart’s in the right place and he’s backed up by a strong cast of supporting characters. However, it must be said that in this case the antagonists overshadow the heroes in terms of strong characterisation, motivation and reader-interest — whenever Shadea or Sen Dunsidan show up on the page with their twisted mechanization, we forget all about what Pen is up to.
Jarka Ruus is a promising start to a new SHANNARA series, with plenty of intrigue and adventure, strong characterisation and steady pacing. Because it is set so closely after the events of THE VOYAGE we get updates on several characters, and many of the problems and situations dealt with (such as Grianne’s past as the Ilse Witch, or Sen Dunsidan’s role in the Federation War) have more weight to them given our prior familiarity with them. However, this does mean readers may miss certain characters of that trilogy that do not make an appearance here — Quentin Leah and Redden Alt Mer for example — and those who are new to the SHANNARA world are best advised to start way back with The Sword of Shannara, considering this is the twelfth book in the overall series!
THE HERITAGE OF SHANNARA — (1990-1993) Publisher: Since the death of Allanon, life in the Four Lands has drastically changed. Yet Par Ohmsford still has some power of the Wishsong. And when a message from the ancient Druid, Allanon, reaches them, Par is ordered to recover the long-lost Sword of Shannara, and the glory that once was the Four Lands…
THE VOYAGE OF THE JERLE SHANNARA — (2000-2002) Publisher: When a half-drowned elf is found floating in the seas of the Blue Divide, an old mystery resurfaces. Thirty years ago, an elven prince led an expedition in search of a legendary magic said to be more powerful than any in the world. Of all those who set out on that ill-fated voyage, not one has ever returned. Until now. The rescued elf carries a map covered with mysterious symbols–and Walker Boh, the last of the Druids, has the skill to decipher them. But someone else understands the map’s significance: the Ilse Witch, a ruthless young woman who wields a magic as potent as his own. She will stop at nothing to possess the map — and the magic it leads to.
HIGH DRUID OF SHANNARA — (2003-2005) Publisher: Twenty years have passed since Grianne Ohmsford denounced her former life as the dreaded Ilse Witch — saved by the love of her brother, the magic of the Sword of Shannara, and the destruction of her evil mentor, the Morgawr. Now, fulfilling the destiny predicted for her, she has established the Third Druid Council, and dedicated herself to its goals of peace, harmony among the races, and defense of the Four Lands. But the political intrigue, secret treachery, and sinister deeds that have haunted Druid history for generations continue to thrive. And despite her devotion to the greater good as Ard Rhys — the High Druid of Paranor, Grianne still has bitter enemies. Among the highest ranks of the Council she leads lurk those who cannot forget her reign of terror as the Ilse Witch, who covet her seat of power, and who will stop at nothing to see her deposed… or destroyed. Even Grianne’s few allies — chief among them her trusted servant Tagwen — know of the plots against her. But they could never anticipate the sudden, ominous disappearance of the Ard Rhys, in the dead of night and without a trace. Now, barely a step ahead of the dark forces bent on stopping him, Tagwen joins Grianne’s brave young nephew, Pen Ohmsford, and the wise, powerful elf Ahren Elessedil on a desperate and dangerous mission of search and rescue — to deliver the High Druid of Shannara from an unspeakable fate.
GENESIS OF SHANNARA — (2006-2008) Mr Brooks is planning one more stand-alone novel in this series and he plans another Shannara trilogy. Publisher: Extrapolating from current world events, Brooks projects a worst-case scenario in which the steady destruction of all humankind is a reality. Plagues have killed half a billion, weapons of mass destruction have decimated entire populations, and the few survivors have retreated into a siege mentality, turning city stadiums into walled compounds and shutting out the “freaks” — those who have mutated from breathing the polluted air and drinking the badly fouled water. A variety of principals propel the transfixing yarn Brooks spins in this setting: Logan Tom and Angel Perez, both Knights of the Word committed to keeping the magic that binds all things together in balance; Hawk, a street kid who leads a group of other young people in Seattle; Kirisin, a young elf who is one of the Chosen safeguarding the Ellcrys, a magnificent tree upon whose existence the lives of the elves depend and whose safety is now threatened; and the demons and their minions, the once-men, who have been subverted by false promises and lies. Everything and everyone moves inexorably toward a deadly confrontation in the Northwest. Characterizations are dynamic and multidimensional, the descriptions of the land as well as the ruined cities and small towns are compelling, the action and battles are mesmerizing, and, as is Brooks’ wont, the ending is a cliff-hanger that leaves readers salivating for the sequel.
LEGENDS OF SHANNARA — (2010-2011) Publisher: The Genesis of Shannara trilogy — Armageddon’s Children, The Elves of Cintra, and The Gypsy Morph — charted the fall of our own world into the hands of once-men and demons… and the escape of a few humans, Elves, and others into a remote mountain valley walled in by impenetrable magic. For five-hundred years the survivors have lived peacefully, learning to coexist and to build a new world with the limited resources and skills available to them. Now the magic that kept them safe for so many centuries is wearing down. Frightening creatures are penetrating the barriers and wreaking havoc on the valley within. It is time for the four peoples to stand together and create the new world of Shannara.
SHANNARA’S DARK LEGACY — (2012-2013) Publisher: Seven years after the conclusion of the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks at last revisits one of the most popular eras in the legendary epic fantasy series that has spellbound readers for more than three decades. When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power of magic ruled — and the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried away more than her heart. Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon the secret account of an Elven girl’s heartbreak and the shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a little knowledge been so very dangerous — as Aphenglow quickly learns when she’s set upon by assassins. Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating clash to come. But Aphenglow and her allies — Druids, Elves, and humans alike — remember the monstrous history of the Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question entirely.
DEFENDERS OF SHANNARA — (2014- ) Publisher: From New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks comes the first stand-alone novel in his legendary Shannara series in almost twenty years—the perfect place for new readers to begin. Paxon Leah never thought of the old family sword hanging above his living room hearth as anything other than an intriguing ornament—until his sister is kidnapped by a sorceror. Following the dark mage with nothing but this piece of steel to protect him, Paxon stumbles into a plot to remake the world . . . and accidentally unlocks the powers of the ancient blade.
PALADINS OF SHANNARA — (2012-2013) Stand-alone short stories.
THE FALL OF SHANNARA — (2017- ) The triumphant and epic four-part conclusion to the Shannara series, from one of the all-time masters of fantasy. Across the Four Lands, peace has reigned for generations. But now, in the far north, an unknown enemy is massing. More troubling than the carnage is the strange and wondrous power wielded by the attackers—a breed of magic unfamiliar even to the Druid order. Fearing the worst, the High Druid dispatches a diplomatic party under the protection of the order’s sworn guardian, Dar Leah, to confront the mysterious, encroaching force and discover its purpose.
Related SHANNARA books:
Prequel: First King of Shannara — (1996) Publisher: Horrified by the misuse of magic they had witnessed during the First War of the Races, the Druids at Paranor devoted themselves to the study of the old sciences, from the period before the collapse of civilization a thousand years before. Only the Bremen and a few trusted associates still studied the arcane arts. And for his persistence, Bremen found himself outcast, avoided by all but the few free-thinkers among the Druids. But his removal from Paranor was not altogether a terrible thing, for Bremen learned that dark forces were on the move from the Northlands. That seemingly invincible armies of trolls were fast conquering all that lay to their south. That the scouts for the army — and its principal assassins — were Skull Bearers, disfigured and transformed Druids who had fallen prey to the seductions of the magic arts. And that at the heart of the evil tide was an archmage and former Druid named Brona! Using the special skills he had acquired through his own study of Magic, Bremen was able to penetrate the huge camp of the Troll army and learn many of its secrets. And he immediately understood that if the peoples of the Four Lands were to escape eternal subjugation they would need to unite. But, even united, they would need a weapon, something so powerful that the evil magic of Brona, the Warlock Lord, would fail before its might…
Indomitable — (2011) Publisher: Master fantasist Terry Brooks first conjured the unforgettable world of the magic-wracked Four Lands more than three decades ago, and its boundaries continue to expand into new territory. With Indomitable, Brooks provides an essential epilogue to the beloved Shannara trilogy that started it all. Two years have passed since Jair Ohmsford aided his sister Brin in her quest to destroy the evil living tome known as the Ildatch. When word comes that a single page of the book, covered in lines pulsing with dark energy, survived Brin’s magic, Jair must take up the fight alone. But Jair’s gift is not the equal of his sister’s, and as he steals into the prison fortress of Dun Fee Aran — where he almost died in his first foray against the Ildatch — he has nothing to rely upon but the power of illusion. Illusion, and the memory of an ally who died to defend him.