Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review - The High Druid's Blade

As many friends and regular readers know, I've been a fan of Terry Brooks since I was introduced to Sword, Wishsong and Elfstones books in Junior High School. I devoured them and found a taste for his style of fantasy adventure. For many years after that I regularly read each of his books as they were released and eagerly looked forward to the next volume. In recent years, I haven't been as diligent at keeping on top of his yearly (sometimes twice yearly) releases but I still have a fair amount of nostalgia towards Brook and Shannara and I am indebted to his books for helping to respark a love of reading that threatened to wane a little through middle school.

In his latest book, The High Druid's Blade, we're introduced to new characters and new plot but it does have a large sense of familiarity. The book is set within the Federation reign and druid rebirth sometime after the High Druid and Dark Legacy series. The book is listed as part of the Defenders of Shannara series but I've read that the intent is to have 3 stand alone novels in the series rather than a serial story. So, as you might expect, this novel wraps things up with moderate tidiness.

As is common in other Shannara stories, the central characters in this book are descendants of a powerful family. This time, it's the Leah family. Even though the Leah's have been involved in the novels since the first Shannara book, I believe this is the first time a Leah was the central character rather than a supporting actor helping out the Ohmsfords or others.

We are introduced to teenage brother and sister Paxton and Chrysallin Leah. Paxon spends his days managing the family air shipping business while Chrys apparently spends her days trying to get into trouble by being a flirty little teenage troublemaker. For those unfamiliar with the family heritage, Brooks gives us a little background and points readers to the heirloom sword of Leah which, many years ago, held mystical powers and helped slay demons and turn the courses of numerous battles. Today it hangs as a reminder of days gone by.

Once we're adequately appraised of the mundane lifestyle of the Leah's things are thrown into upheaval. Chrys's friend rushes over to Paxon to reveal that Chyrs has just made a stupid bet in a dice game and gambled away her freedom to a stranger. Paxon races to the pub to get details and help pay the debt but instead finds Arcannen, the man who won Chrys. He shows Paxon, from a distance, that Chrys is very willingly boarding his airship bound for the big city where she'll serve in his house of ill repute. Paxon tries to fight the situation but cannot. Instead, he rushes home, grabs some supplies and the sword of Leah and sets of to free his sister.

As you might expect, Arcannen is not your ordinary businessman looking to add another harlot to his bordello. Rather, he hoped Paxon would come for his sister and bring the sword. And yet, in spite of an elaborate scheme, Paxon somehow manages to free his sister and return home. While there was some fun action in the escape scene and there was magic involved, the whole thing felt way too lucky to be believable.

Setting believability aside, Paxon returns home and is approached by the druids who want him to come and wield the sword of Leah in a sort of bodyguard position. Since he was disatisfied with the airship business anyway, he agrees and leaves his home and family, exacting a promise from Chrys that she'll stay safe and not make any stupid decisions. He spends the next many months training and learning how to use a sword properly and how to hone the innate magic of the family heriloom. Naturally Chrys is not safe and Arcannen makes an appearance again causing Paxon to set off on a quest, this time with the help of the druids though still largely on his own. There are a few moderate twists and turns in the plot though even those had a twinge of familiarity as I think back to earlier Shannara books.

The plot was relatively quick and fluid with solid adventure elements and fair character building. In my experience, I've generally found the psychological interactions between the characters to be stronger than some of the story arcs in Brooks' books. This time, they felt pretty balanced at the detriment of the character building. Sadly they felt a little watered down and static. I definitely enjoyed the book for the nostalgia and for the fun adventure that always permeates the Shannara story. But I missed some of the depth and meat that's been present in Brooks' work of the past. Compared with some of his more epic stories (such as the Genesis or Heritage series) or his more contemporary Knight & Void stories, this book felt a little more flat or maybe more "bubble-gum"-y. A night light adventure but not much more too it. That said, it did accomplish its goal. It entertained me and I had fun reading it. Even when believability was stretched I was still drawn in enough to enjoy the story and accept the little hiccups. So not the best Brooks out there, but still an adventure worthy of the Shannara title.

3 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on Goodreads.com

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

ah thank you for this...our stories are not much different...brooks was who kindled my reading in middle school as well...with sword and elfstones