January 11, 2005


I'm reading all about stupid conservatives who still think "The Bell Curve" was a model of social science, about how CBS fires people for "Rather-gate" but all the other shit the media makes up about liberals continues to go unpunished and about how the administration is floating the "death squads" trial balloon in their ongoing effort to top the most recent atrocity. But right now, all the bad news is giving me tired-head, so go read my sidebar links. Meanwhile, I'm going to do another book review.

Terry Brooks has written about a dozen "Shannara" book to date, but all I've read of them is the initial trilogy (though each is pretty much a stand-alone) that is now available as an omnibus, which includes "The Sword of Shannara", "The Elfstones of Shannara" and "Wishsong of Shannara". The classic review of "Sword" is "Lord of the Rings with global substitution", and that's a pretty fair summary. I won't bore with all of the parallels, but the basic idea may sound familiar: a powerful ancient artifact falls into the hands of an out-of-his-depth young person who is chased from his home by dark creatures who hunger for the power of the artifact, which belongs to an undead wizard and so a wizard guides the person and his close friends on a quest to destroy it. Parallels with Tolkien are far more common than non-LOTR elements. I understand that pretty much all fantasy is derivative, even Tolkien, but really, this is probably too much for a real Tolkien fan.

With that said, "Sword" is written for a younger audience and moves at a much faster pace, so for a teenager, it is a very good introduction to quest fantasy. I actually liked "Elfstones" better, even though again, it is derivative (a horde of nasties attack a city with spiral-structured defenses, a mystical tree near the center, while a pair of overmatched heroes complete a magical quest elsewhere when the enemy is otherwise occupied). It is fast-paced and different enough that you don't necessarily know all the plot twists. "Wishsong" was very forgettable and, interestingly, the most original of the three. I would stop after the second one if I had to do it all over again.

There are lots of Brooks fans out there, so maybe he got better as the series went on, but I wasn't willing to risk it. I'll admit that it is possible I read "Wishsong" when I was too young because it is pitched to an older crowd than the first two books.

Posted by Observer at January 11, 2005 07:18 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

I never made it through any of the Shannara books. I started on Sword of Shannara at one point and discovered that I got over 100 pages through a book with less than 1000 pages and nothing had happened. No activity and as I recall, almost no character introduction or development. At that point I decided that I had found someone interested in giving Tolkein a run for his money as a long-winded picture-painter and that he had not done as well as Tolkein.

Now remember, that perspective is coming from someone who read 100-120 pages of the Sword of Shannara twice roughly 18-20 years ago. That's the impression I have of it today.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on January 11, 2005 09:39 AM

I started it, got part way through it, and gagged. Felt too much like LotR with global search-n-replace for my 12 yr old mind, so I gave up. Never went back.

He's a local author, too.

Posted by: Humbaba on January 11, 2005 04:10 PM

Humbaba's reaction is just about identical to mine, though I think my gag reflex kicked in faster. And SA is more persistent than I; I only tried once, and I know I didn't last a full 100 pages.

(Mind you, at least at one time, I qualify as a hard-core Tolkien geek. One evening in grad school, rather than work on a seminar I was to give the next day, I went over to the Union and took the Tolkien trivia contest that was being given that evening, cold, no preparation. I won. I was horrified.)

Posted by: Feff on January 12, 2005 10:06 AM

I'm going to have to start posting some LOTR trivia questions, just to see who is the biggest Tolkien nut. Violent disgust with Terry Brooks is a primary symptom.

Posted by: Observer on January 12, 2005 10:19 AM

I suck at Tolkien trivia. I surrender to Feff.

Posted by: Humbaba on January 12, 2005 10:33 AM

(Laughter) That was back in, oh, 1981 or so. Nowadays I'll get my doors blown off because I haven't had the time to read the history of Middle-Earth books on the how JRRT developed his stories. At least for the last 10 days, I've been frantically working on course materials for my freshman physics course. Oscillations and waves. Great fun :-/

Posted by: Feff on January 12, 2005 03:28 PM

Besides, I see "Allanon" and all I can think of is Alcoholics Anonymous.

Kinda like why I'll never own a Kia. They might be nice little cars, but 35+ years of wargaming and military means that for me, "KIA" means "Killed In Action". N.F.W. you'll ever see me in one of those willingly.

Posted by: Feff on January 12, 2005 03:32 PM

Doh, that should be "wargaming and military history". I would never pretend to have actually served. I am too much a civilian lard-ass.

Posted by: Feff on January 12, 2005 03:33 PM

I believe that the Shannara epic, so far, that I've read, has been very contenting. It's other reader's fault that they can't comprehend the vocab. or what's going on, so they shouldn't decide it as horrible. But I must remember, this is just opinion on books, and opinions always vary and none is true. But still, so far as I've read, First King through Wishsong, I've resolved that they are genuinely compelling, exciting, and satisfying books.

Posted by: Kelsey on February 19, 2005 10:26 AM