Book Review: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks

I have mentioned before that this book was a turning point for me. When I came across my old copy on my bookshelf while looking for a paperback to take on a family camping trip I decided it was time to read it again. That was over a month ago. Books don’t usually take me this long to read. Even ones that long.

I’ll admit I was disappointed in the book for quite a while. I was tempted to stop reading at several points. The text was dense, melodramatic in points, and didn’t flow naturally to my mind. The parallels between this novel and Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy were a bit too evident. The main characters weren’t all that compelling or even likable. The danger didn’t seem all that significant.

But around the mid-point of the novel Brooks seems to hit his stride. When the Fellowship of the Ri–I mean, when the group of heroes split up and go in different directions we finally get an interesting and (mostly) original book. The Frodo and Sam characters of Shea and Flick are actually separated, which was a nice turn. The characters of Balinor and Mennion Leah get a chance to develop some depth and do something interesting. The new characters of Shirl, Panamon Creel and Keltset add to the story.

The plot really starts to heat up at that point, too, and we are treated to battle scenes that may surpass Tolkien’s. In hindsight, Tokien never really described his action. Brooks does that, and does it well. And where he seemed unwilling to kill characters (at least permanently) earlier in the novel, he does so with a vengeance toward the end, raising the stakes significantly. Minor characters, major characters, and barely named characters alike go down in the fighting, and since their deaths are meaningful it fit well.

Perhaps the most compelling of the character arcs is that of Mennion Leah. Given a clear personality from the beginning, he changes the most visibly through the book–and into a better person. The events that center around his characters are some of the most interesting, as well. The siege of Tyrsis, while arguably an aggregation of Tolkien’s events in Rohan and Minas Tirith, is the highlight of the book.

In the end I enjoyed the novel. I can see now why I was excited about it when I was a pre-teen. It was probably the first serious fantasy novel I’d read, and without the burden of having read Tolkien yet to recognize the similarities. It’s no wonder, really, that I’ve come to associate stories of heroic struggles against evil and long odds with fantasy settings. It was good that I reread this novel, if for no other reason than re-examining my roots.

Eventually I’ll move on to the second book in the series, but not for awhile. I do intend to examine closely how Brooks’ style changes from his first book to his second. What did he learn from the first? I don’t remember hardly anything about it now.  It may be time to remedy that, as well.

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