Friday, October 09, 2015

Review: "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks

I’m sure most of us have “those books” – the ones that friends and people whose opinions we usually agree with love, but we just can’t get into. One of those for me has always been Terry Brooks’ “The Sword of Shannara” ($7.99, Del Rey).

I first heard other fantasy fans raving about it when I was a teenager, and I picked up the whole original trilogy at a local used bookstore. It’s been 25 years or so, and I’ve never finished the first book or even cracked the ones that came after.

I’ve tried. At least four or five times over the years, I’ve started the book, but I’ve never gotten very far. It just didn’t pull me in.

With the new Shannara series set to air on TV, I thought I’d give it one last try. I’d either finally finish the book or just give up on it completely. Well, I finished it, with very mixed feelings.

For those few not familiar, the book follows the story of Shea Ohmsford, a half-elf who is the unlikely heir to a mystical sword that is the only weapon that may save the world from the former druid Brona, now known as the Warlock Lord. Brona has armies of trolls and Gnomes (read that as orcs) ready to invade the Southlands, and Shea and his companions must travel into the heart of Brona’s territory to retrieve the fabled sword.

First off, it’s no secret that “The Sword of Shannara” is pretty much a Lord of the Rings knock-off. Maybe if Tolkien hadn’t been my introduction to fantasy, I might have finished it sooner, but that being the case, the similarities turned me off in previous reads.

Of course, lots of fantasy books over the years have been knockoffs of Tolkien, but I was still astounded at just how liberally Brooks “borrowed” from The Lord of the Rings for this story. The characters bear a striking resemblance to Tolkien’s, only not quite as likeable. (Allanon is definitely no Gandalf). But more surprising to me as I read past the point where I’d dropped off previously were the major plot points and scenes ripped straight from Lord of the Rings and only thinly veiled, if that, by Brooks.

I came close to giving the story up again on this read because of those, but I pushed through and was surprised to find that, about halfway through the book, my view changed a little. Somewhere along the way, I stopped griping so much about the blatant Tolkien rip-offs, and started to have a little interest in the story. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but far from the worst.

By the end, I can say that I liked the book. But I still don't love it, and had it not been for Brooks’ reputation in fantasy circles, I likely never would have finished it. The start is slow, and the Lord of the Rings copycat is strong. I’ve been told by several fans that the sequel “The Elfstones of Shannara” is the best book in the series, and far better than the first. I may give it a shot one day, but probably not soon.

So there, I’ve read it. Now maybe one day I can make myself slog all the way through a David Eddings book.

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