Long ago, wars of ancient Evil ruined the world and forced mankind to compete with many other races – gnomes, trolls, dwarfs, and elves. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles until giant, forbidding Allanon, with strange Druidic powers, reveals a supposedly-dead Warlock Lord plots to destroy the world.
The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, only usable by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races. Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flies into the Vale to kill Shea. To save the Vale, Shea flees, drawing the Skull Bearer after him.
The Sword of Shannara is the first book in the original Shannara trilogy. Terry Brooks has written piles of books in the Shannara world, and being new to his writing I had no idea where to start. Luckily, Brooks has a wonderfully detailed website that gives not one but TWO reading orders for his novels, one for new readers, and one for “re-visiting” readers. You can check it out here. If you are a brand new reader, like me, you would want to start with The Sword of Shannara, the first book Brooks wrote, though not the first one in the world chronologically. Perhaps once I read all the rest of the 1062 book on my “to-read” list I can go back and be a re-visiting reader and read them in chronological order. My OCD had a very difficult time choosing between two reading orders, haha. Anyhow, onto the interesting stuff…
I borrowed the summary of this book from Goodreads, since SO MUCH happens in this book it’s hard to sum it up. This book seemed very Lord of the Rings-esque to me, it being epic fantasy in a huge world nothing like our own with a variety of races: human, elf, dwarf, trolls, goblins, and more. The group of main characters is made up of a variety of these races (like LOTR) and they go on a lengthy quest to help the one human who knows nothing about the magical aspects of the land he lives in defeat the evil being and save the world (ahem, Frodo and the Fellowship traveling to Mordor to defeat Sauron). SO yeah, at every turn it sounded like LOTR. I mean, if you liked LOTR like I did then you will certainly like this book. I would have just preferred it didn’t scream LOTR as loudly as it did. Despite that, I still enjoyed it. Enough things were different that it did read like it’s own story, even if it was clearly modeled on another. And the method of the storytelling was different as well, which helped.
Something I liked about this book was that I was able to really connect with the characters and become emotionally invested in their lives. My favorite was Balinor, human and Prince whose armies are the only line of defense when the Warlock Lord attacks. He overcomes great adversity, like his brother being hypnotized by a mystic and trying to destroy his own capital city of Tyrsis. Balinor must come to terms with the fact that his brother has completely lost his mind, defeat him, take over the armies of the Border Legion, and defend his city all in a matter of days. Reminded me of Aragorn. All of the characters in this novel had different personalities and “quirks.” Two of the characters were developed more than the others, Shea, the half-human/half-elf who discovers he is the heir to Jerle Shannara and the only one who can wield the magic sword and defeat the Warlock Lord, and Flick his brother. They are both Valemen who work in their father’s inn and are sheltered from the rest of the world and its problems. We learn the most about them because they change the most. They are so naive, through no fault of their own, having never left the Vale and only knowing what they have learned through others. Shea in particular is very prejudice and idealistic. He learns a lot about his world and the various people/races in it as he travels on his quest, and his whole way of thinking changes. Finally, we have the mystery characters Allanon, over seven feet tall, dressed in black, and having a wealth of knowledge and power the traveling companions only glimpse occasionally. The best part was, we heard parts of the story from the perspective of all these different characters. Being in Allanon’s head was especially interesting, as he had many more doubts and fears than any of the other characters could even guess. For me, this is what made these books so much different from the LOTR books, and made it “not just another epic fantasy.”
Readers who liked the Lord of the Rings books, the Black Company series, the Wheel of Time series, or any other epic fantasy will enjoy this book. I’m looking forward to reading the next one, The Elfstones of Shannara. Hopefully some of my favorite characters will be back!