Friday, May 02, 2008

Review - Dark Wraith of Shannara

I finished reading Dark Wraith a day or two ago. First let me say/acknowledge that I've been a Brooks fan for, wow, about 20 years now. I've read all of his books except two -- First King, which for some reason I just cannot get into -- and Elves of Cintra, which is on my reading list for the summer. Except for First King, I've thoroughly enjoyed them all (the movie adaptations are a little iffy, yes). Terry has a great way of creating worlds and characters that are very believable and accessible. Even though his genre is fantasy, his character's situations and dilemmas are universal which makes his books all that much stronger.

When Terry announced that there was going to be a Shannara graphic novel, I had mixed emotions. I read comics as a kid and have enjoyed some of the graphic novels out there. I'm not a graphic novel die hard by any means. I was worried that the graphic novelization of the Shannara world could taint it or corrupt it somehow. The world seems to be in a graphic novel loving frenzy these days and I'm sure that's part of the reason for the push at this time. I enjoyed the art from the Hildebrandts and I have the art compendium for Shannara. While it's fun to see artists' representations, it can sometimes hurt the imagination.

Still, I was excited to see a new story from the Shannara world. I was also excited to see the sense of movement and excitement visually presented.

As I dove into the pages of Dark Wraith, I was not disappointed. First, it contains a great welcome from Terry in the beginning as well as a great intro to the Shannara world to help make the story accessible to any new readers. It was a good overview since it's been many years since I read the first trilogy (something I plan to do again).

The story begins with Jair working to thwart the powers of darkness and finding a strange new power in the Wishsong (I'm going to try to leave out spoilers without being too vague). The power, like most of Brooks' magics, is powerful to the point of potential consumption and Jair promises his sister he won't use the Wishsong again because it is just too dangerous and she doesn't want to risk losing him to the magic.

The story continues in the same way many/most of the early Shannara books did, with Allanon appearing to give our hero a quest. Naturally, Jair accepts and the adventure begins. We meet up with characters familiar to us from other Shannara tales. It's cool to see how their personalities are slightly different in this time period due to more or less passage of time (depending on which book's version you're comparing them to). It's nice to see the characters progress and develop different traits through different adventures.

One part of the quest is fulfilled and the final portion remains. Jair pushes on to fulfill his quest and is presented with difficult morale choices of keeping his promise to his sistetr or succumbing to the call of the magic, hoping he's strong enough to withstand it's pull.

I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of the Shannara world and fans of fantasy and/or graphic novels. The story is engaging and the artwork is fabulous.

My main criticism is the seeming lack of length/depth. The story itself is only ~160 pages and it travels fairly quickly. I agree with the comments of the adaptor who said this could easily expand into something much larger. If a "picture is worth a thousand words", then we're probably still pretty close to a standard novel size, maybe still a bit shorter. So much of the struggle that goes on in Shannara books is internal to the characters, something that is difficult to bring into a graphic novel and still maintain the pacing created in this form. The adventure itself goes very quickly. The general pacing of the travel and the adventure is good, I just want more of it.

Again, I haven't read the original trilogy for a while, so I may be perhaps dwelling too much on the modern Brooks. I definitely recall that over the years, Terry's plotlines have become much more complex...intricate spiderwebs of motivations and subplots. I think I wanted to see more of that in this book. But that may have been a bit overwhelming for the graphic novel form and it may also be that this style is more true to the original Wishsong.

4 out of 5 stars

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