Book Review: “The Black Elfstone”(Book 1 of “The Fall of Shannara”) by Terry Brooks

It’s a rare thing that I finish a book in three days, but that is just what happened with fantasy maestro Terry Brooks’ most recent book The Black Elfstone, the first in a planned tetralogy titled The Fall of Shannara. Set roughly two hundred years after the loosely connected Defenders of Shannara series,  this novel sees the Four Lands under assault from a mysterious invader, one that possesses a form of magic that stymies even the Druids. These mysterious invaders, led by a powerful young woman, overcome anyone who stand in their path, including a Druid delegation. As a result, they threaten the very stability and order of the entire Four Lands.

The exiled Ard Rhys Drisker Arc, one of the story’s four protagonists, gradually finds himself drawn into this conflict. At the same time, he also takes on an apprentice in the form of Tarsha Kaynin, a young woman blessed (or cursed) with the power of the wishsong, who desperately wishes to tame its power so that she can save her afflicted elder brother Tavo. Meanwhile, the High Druid’s Blade Dar Leah has to contend with a Druid order that appears poised on the brink of chaos. All of them, in one way or another, will clearly be drawn into a conflict that might well bring to an end the entire world that they have so far taken for granted.

The pacing in this new novel is as breakneck as anything that Brooks has written, and it’s hard not to be swept up in the pace of the events unfolding. While we are only given tantalizing glimpses of the invaders that seem poised to conquer the entire Four Lands–and while the many schemes and plots, particularly those undertaken by the Druids, are still only half-glimpsed–that only makes the novel that much more tantalizing. Brooks has always been a master at plotting, and this novel proves to be no exception. While some might complain that he always ends his books on a cliffhanger, I personally find that that heightens the anticipation for the next novel (at least we don’t have to wait more than a year for the next installment).

Some have criticized Brooks’ recent work for being repetitive, but I tend to see this as a deliberate attempt on his part to show the ways in which history, and those caught up in it, often can’t help but repeat the mistakes that came before. This is most clear with the Druids, who once again seem so entangled in their internal squabbles and power-plays that they can’t see the larger threat that may sweep them away in its wake until it is too late. The ongoing tale of the Shannara bloodline reveals the brutally cyclical nature of history. Just as humankind seems to have lifted itself out of its own petty squabbles and achieved some measure of stability, its own folly and desire for destruction seems to plunge it right back into its darker nature.

While the Shannara books have always been marked by a fair measure of violence, Brooks looks to be striking out on some new territory here, showing us that the Four Lands have become an increasingly dangerous and unstable place. The Elves have retreated, once again, into their own enclaves, content to let the rest of the world succumb to its own folly. The border city of Varfleet is as seedy as ever, and there are entire guilds devoted to nothing but the taking of human life. This is not a world for the faint of heart.

Given this, it’s hardly surprising that this kind of world produces some very broken and troubled characters, chief among them Tarsha’s brother Tavo. Unlike his sister, for whom the wishsong is a blessing, for him it is a curse, a titanic force that he cannot control and that slowly drives him mad with rage and bloodlust. While they are disturbing, the chapters devoted to his perspective are some of the most compelling in the entire novel. He is a person who is fundamentally shattered in his psychology, misunderstood by his parents and tormented by practically anyone else. Is it any wonder that, in his fractured state, he should see his sister as his enemy? We don’t know yet what his part will be in the climax, but my guess is it won’t be pretty. I do hope, though, that he is offered at least a measure of salvation or redemption.

The writing here is lean, and Brooks tends to not spend too much time describing meals or clothing (a foible that sometimes bogs down otherwise quite compelling works of fantasy). However, no one has quite the ability to describe a landscape as he does, and the Four Lands remains one of the most exquisitely described landscapes in the history of epic fantasy. These are lands that have outlasted many of the characters that we have grown to know and love, and so there is something both comfortingly familiar and yet strange about them.

While I’m sad that Shannara is coming to a chronological end, I’m glad that Brooks is doing it on his own terms, and I am supremely glad that it is off to such a strong and stirring start. As someone who has grown increasingly irritated with George R.R. Martin’s chronic inability to produce a volume in anything resembling a reliable manner (and as someone who has been disappointed with the declining quality), I find Brooks reliability to be a great boon. What’s more, he has also stated that this won’t be the end of Shannara altogether, as there are still several bits of history that he may flesh out. Presumably, this means that we may yet get to see the formation of the First Druid Council under the Elf Galaphile, along with a number of other stories.

Still, I know that I will be shedding more than a few tears as I make my way through this chronological end of one of epic fantasy’s greatest sagas.

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Book Review: “The Sorcerer’s Daughter” (Terry Brooks)

Though I finished Terry Brooks’s most recent book some time ago, I’ve just now got around to writing my review of it. This book, The Sorcerer’s Daughter, focuses on two parallel plots:  one traces the adventure of Leofur, the daughter of the malevolent sorcerer Arcannen, as she attempts to rescue her friend Chrysallin. The other, unsurprisingly, follows Paxon Leah as he attempts to save a Druid delegation pursued by Federation soldiers.

There is much to love about this rather slim, briskly paced novel. Most of the characters are ones that we have met in the previous two novels, but it was quite refreshing to see both Chrysallin and Leofur get their own narrative arcs. Brooks has always excelled at blending together firm characterization with well-laid plots, and The Sorcerer’s Daughter is no exception.

I have been reading Brooks’s work for over twenty years, and even now I’m still astounded at his marvelous ability to conjure spaces and places that are truly, viscerally terrifying. The Murk Sink, the lair of a particularly nasty witch, is one such place. Full of monstrous creatures whose size dwarfs anything that we’ve seen in quite some time (Mr. Teeth is a particularly terrifying creation, precisely because he is such an unpredictable and deadly leviathan). Though this world may be our future, it is a terrifying future, one filled with creatures the likes of which we cannot, at this moment, imagine.

All of this reinforces the sense that the world of the Four Lands continues to exist in an unstable relationship between chaos and order. On the one hand, the possibility of a rapprochement between the Druids and their allies on the one hand and the Federation on the other implies that this world might at last find a measure of peace. On the other, forces such as the sorcerer Arcannen continue to pose a threat to this order, the dark lure of chaos always lurking just around the corner.

What interested me most about the novel, however, was its remarkable queerness. I mean this not only in reference to the same-sex couple that appears (albeit briefly) in the novel, but also to Imric Cort’s experience as a shapeshifter. To me, at least, the inner turmoil that Cort repeatedly faces was the emotional heart of this novel, as he struggles with the sense that he is not who he should be, that he always has to keep a part of himself hidden from the rest of the world. Any queer person (by which I mean LGBTQIA+) knows this experience well. We live in a heteronormative world, and we are always conscious that the way we are exists as the flip side of everything that culture tells is “normal.” In this novel, Brooks manages to capture this sense and while Cort is, strictly speaking, “straight,” his experience is certainly not. Just as importantly, his relationship with Leofur does not “cure” him of his shapeshifting tendency; instead, she is an anchor that allows him to be who he is without guilt or self-hatred. It really is a stunningly beautiful relationship that Brooks has crafted here, perhaps one of the most emotionally resonant and complex that he has ever created.

If I have one complaint about Brooks’s latest outing, it’s that I wish there were more of it. In this concluding novel of this informal trilogy he has given us a satisfactory conclusion to a number of the ongoing trials of Paxon, but the ending is bittersweet. I actually find it rather refreshing that Brooks avoided the easier path of a happy romantic ending for his hero, opting instead to show us that, sometimes, life does not quite end up as we would like it to. Instead, we must sometimes rely on our friends to see us through those dark points in our life.

All in all, I would say that The Sorcerer’s Daughter nicely sets the stage for the epic showdown that seems to be looming in the near future. Now that we know, per Brooks’s own words, that the chronological end of Shannara is near, we can get a clearer sense of the final trajectory. Perhaps, finally, the people of the Four Lands may find some level of harmony and peaceful coexistence.

But then again, perhaps not.

Only time will tell.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Safehold”

So, here we are. The penultimate episode of The Shannara Chronicles has dawned, and it was definitely one of the finest episodes (if not the finest) that the series has produced so far. In this episode, the brave fellowship of young people finally make their way to Safehold and the Bloodfire, while Allanon ensures that Ander at last takes the throne that is rightfully his. And, of course, the last leaf at last falls from the Ellcrys, ensuring that the Dagda Mor is now free to march on Arborlon with his demon army at his back.

This episode had a lot of gems for those fans of Brooks’ novels. Those who have read the entirety of his oeuvre recognize in the rhetoric about the children of the armageddon (of which Eretria is a descendant) the Genesis of Shannara trilogy which revealed that the world of the Four Lands is indeed our world in the distant future. Furthermore, the emphasis on Eretria’s blood–it ultimately unlocks the Bloodfire–suggests that it may be her heritage, as much as Wil’s, that will influence the fate of her children and their many descendants.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This series has really done wonders bringing Eretria to magnificent life. While she was certainly a feisty and compelling character in the original novel, Ivana Banquero manages to convey both her phenomenal strength and her intimate vulnerability. Even now, as they near the end of the quest, she still feels the pangs of love for Wil (which she believes are not reciprocated), and it is this deep, and very human, need for love and acceptance that grants her character such depth.

And how amazing was it that we (we being Brooks’s faithful readers) finally have a solution to the mystery of Safehold’s location. We can now say with certainty that it is in the ruins of San Francisco/Oakland (Wil uses a stone to scratch in the missing letters on an old street sign). This is a bit of a mixed blessing, as it clears up one of the most enduring mysteries of Brooks’s world, and yet there is something a bit bittersweet about learning the exact location of this mysterious form. Fortunately, the series also leaves a great many questions unanswered (we still don’t know exactly what the Bloodfire is, for example, nor do we know why it’s located in the ruins of San Francisco).

If there was one thing I did not particularly like about this episode, ti was the way in which the witch sisters Morag and Mallenroh appeared. They were always one of my favourite parts about the novel, precisely because we knew so little about them and yet they seemed like such an integral part of the world Brooks had created. They were, according to the mythos, part of a coven, and they had long existed in a stalemate of hatred. None of that complex backstory made its way into the adaptation, alas, with the two witches appearing as straightforward guardians of the Bloodfire.

That minor quibble aside, this episode managed to bring out the very best that this series has to offer. We got some politics, the fulfillment (almost) of the quest, and the climactic death of the Ellcrys. This is the kind of storytelling that the series should have focused on all along. Indeed, I would argue that it really does best dramatically when it stays true to the epic roots from which it so clearly draws. With this kind of emphasis, it gives the characters, and their arcs, more depth and heft than they have gained (up until this episode, that is). Hopefully, this is a lesson that the writers will take into account if the series is granted another season by the powers that be.

Given the strength of this episode, I can say without a doubt that I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this first season. I will also admit that I am fervently hoping that it will be renewed for a second season. With the vast tapestry of Brooks’s work to draw on, especially the intergenerational component, the series could easily fit into the anthology model that has become increasingly popular and common in the cable media sphere.

Are you listening, MTV?

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Utopia”

Events on The Shannara Chronicles continue to speed forward in “Utopia,” as Amberle and Wil set out to save Eretria from the clutches of the Elf-hunters and from a group of peace-seeking humans in a settlement called Utopia. Meanwhile, Ander must finally make the choice of whether to become the king that the Elves need, while Allanon braces for his final confrontation with the Dagda Mor.

While Wil and Amberle are supposedly the narrative and character center points of this series, this episode showed why both Eretria and Ander have always threatened to steal the show. Both are broken in their own way, she from the cruel and heartless treatment from her “father” Cephelo and he from the fact that he is the youngest, and most disappointing son of an illustrious dynasty. Now, they both have opportunities and risks to face. She ultimately has to decide whether she will throw her lot in with Wil and Amberle or stay with the (ultimately corrupt) denizens of Utopia. He must decide whether he will take up the mantle of kingship that was never meant to be his. In many ways, their drama seems to be much more compelling than that of Amberle and Wil, and while this may seem like a good thing, I’m not entirely sure it’s what the series intended.

In many ways, it’s hard to believe that we’ve almost reached the ending of this first (but hopefully not last) season of The Shannara Chronicles. We haven’t even attained the Bloodfire yet, and the Demons have yet to launch their all-out assault on Arborlon, and yet there are only two episodes left until the season is over. It seems like the series has opted to focus (understandably, given the way in which it conceptualizes its target demographic), on the personal rather than the epic scope. Unfortunately, this has the effect of sometimes emptying out the larger scale drama of its significance. This is not to say that the epic and the personal cannot be intertwined, only that the series has not been terribly effective at bringing them together.

While I liked the introduction of the sarcastically titled city of Utopia, this again felt like a plot twist too quickly resolved to have any lasting impact. We’re briefly introduced to yet another set of vaguely malicious and unscrupulous characters, only to have them consumed by Trolls at the end of the episode. While this sort of structure works to keep each episode moving along, it doesn’t really add up to anything, and the disappearance of the Demons from the narrative only exacerbates this narrative problem.

Speaking of Trolls…I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the series’ treatment of them. In the novels, the Trolls, while primitive in some respects, do have a solid social structure, and they don’t go about hunting and eating Elves. Given that, I’m not sure that the series will ever be able to do anything truly meaningful with them, but I could be wrong. Given the substantial role that Trolls play in several of Brooks’s later works, I sincerely hope that they give this particular Race more development in future seasons.

This was, all in all, a very satisfying episode, though I do worry that the last two episodes are going to feel rushed and therefore unsatisfying. Hopefully, should the series get a second season, the writers will develop a better sense of pacing and characterization, so that we don’t spend so much time in trite (and not very compelling) drama and move into the truly interesting bits at the heart of Brooks’s epic vision.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Breakline”

Now that The Shannara Chronicles has finally discovered the meaning of momentum, things are happening at a pretty good clip. In this episode, the company is scattered (after their encounter with the Reaper). Amberle and Eretria discover a long-lost remnant of the Old World, while Wil gets assistance from Perk, a Roc-riding Elf. Meanwhile, Arion and Ander confront the Dagda Mor. Though Allanon arrives, fully healed, in time to save the younger prince, the elder son is killed by the Demon lord. Utterly bereft, Ander nevertheless manages to kill the Changeling. After a deadly encounter with the Elf-hunters, Amberle is saved by Wil, while Eretria falls into their hands.

The addition of Elf-hunters seemed a bit ham-handed, and the idea of them cutting off Elf ears in order to sell them to Gnomes verges on the silly. However, I’ve begun to notice that the series, understandably, has taken some of the larger threats portrayed in Brooks’s novel and channeled them into more human obstructions. While they don’t always pan out as well as the writers no doubt thought they would (the obvious sexual tension between Eretria and the Elf-hunter Zora seems designed to titillate more than add nunace to Eretria’s character), they are understandable responses to a limited budget.

Speaking of Eretria…she is slowly emerging as the most compelling and complexly drawn of the three young leads. She’s a broken person, and this quest seems to hold out the promise that she might somehow be able to put herself back together again. Those who have read the books know how her story ends up, but for those who don’t…well, I won’t give it away. I will say that the series does a great job of making us care about her, as well as inspiring in us a wish and a desire that she will somehow find happiness, whether or not that ends up being with Wil (who, by the way, didn’t seem to have much to do in this episode).

The revelation of the party hall was a nice touch, both appealing to the show’s target audience and also making clear the essentially ephemeral nature of both youth and human accomplishment more generally. It is one of the few genuinely reflective moments in the series so far, in which we as viewers are led to experience, at least for a moment, an almost terrifying sense of our own impending destruction. Could it actually be that we are trembling on the threshold of doom, all unknowing? It’s a frightening question, and I give the show a lot of credit for daring to ask it.

I was immensely pleased with Allanon’s healing scene, which allowed us a glimpse of his father and mentor Bremen. While not exactly as I imagined him, he is nevertheless a stern and imposing presence, and it is clear that he continues to exert a powerful (one might even say inexorable) force on Allanon’s life. While the younger Druid seems to feel overwhelmed by his burdens and by the refusal of those in the Four Lands to heed his warnings, Bremen reminds him that that is part of what it means to serve.

And I am also glad to see the Changeling storyline finally resolved and to finally get Arion out of the way. Ander is one of the series’ more fully-fleshed characters, and it will be interesting to see him change and develop into a king in his own right. After all, he now has the unenviable burden of overseeing the defense of the Elves and their homeland against the horde that is preparing to sweep down upon them.

All in all, I found this to be the most satisfying episode so far. There was a bit of everything on offer, and it did a great deal to not only move the plot forward, but also show us what the show can do when it really hits its stride. Let’s just hope they can keep that momentum going for the next three episodes.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles:” “Pykon”

Note:  Spoilers for the episode follow.

In the most recent episode of The Shannara Chronicles, the small company heading toward the Bloodfire confronts a pair of deranged recluses in a mountain fortress, Allanon struggles with both the seer and the increasing power of the Dagda Mor, and Ander finally sees for himself the enormous forces gathered to sweep across the Westland.

While I really, truly do like this show, I often find myself frustrated with the choices it makes in terms of narrative and dramatic construction. While I’m totally okay with changes being made to the show for the sake of clarity and increased drama, it doesn’t make any sense to me why they would introduce characters that do not appear in the books (in this case, the deranged recluse and his mentally scarred daughter), other than to act as mere titillation. After all, they are both dead by the end of the episode, so one is left wondering:  what, exactly, was the point of what just transpired? I can’t help thinking that the narrative space taken up by this rather superfluous storyline would have been better used to beef up some of the other plot threads that are, in the main, infinitely more interesting.

However, this episode did give us a little more information about Eritrea, who makes an attempt at seduction of Amberle. While I’m sure some will read this as mere pandering, I actually think it adds a layer of complexity to her. She is gradually emerging as a young woman scarred from the years under Cephelo’s cruel and uncaring hand, and as such she wants to find affection wherever she can. This scene also sets the stage for an emerging dynamic among the three leads. No matter what happens, it’s almost a certainty that at least one person is going to end up getting very hurt.

I am also increasingly impressed by the growing relationship between Ander and the Gnome Slanter. Although Slanter doesn’t actually enter the Brooks’ universe until the book The Wishsong of Shannara, it’s actually a little nice to see him here in this narrative. He actually seems to be a fairly complex and contradictory character. Of course, it remains to be seen in what ways his arc will continue to develop, though we can hope that he will take a leading role in the fight against the demons.

Of course, the biggest shock of the night was the seeming death of Allanon. The Changeling continues to sow chaos throughout the royal palace and beyond. I’m still not entirely sold on this particular storyline, as it seems to raise more questions and narrative challenges than it solves, but I suppose I just have to have hope that the writers have a larger game plan in mind. Though Allanon didn’t get a great deal of air time in this episode, I am absolutely confident that he will come to the fore again as the final confrontation with the Dagda Mor and his armies at last comes to pass.

So, was this a great episode? No. However, it did lay the groundwork for what is to come, and I sincerely hope that the writers finally figure out what they are doing and finally get to the meat of the story they want to tell.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Reaper”

Warning:  Spoilers for the episode follow.

In the most recent episode of MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, the three young heroes have at last begun to make their way through the wilderness of the Westland. While they are briefly captured by the Rovers, they manage to escape and take Cephelo captive, only to find themselves confronted by the Dagda Mor’s newest weapon, the killing machine known as the Reaper. In Aborlon, the Changeling finally murders the king, setting the stage for political chaos to follow.

While there were a few hiccups throughout the episode, overall I felt this was one of the strongest outings yet. The action has finally begun to move forward, and really it is about time. We’ve now halfway through the season, and there is a great deal of material to cover before we reach the much-hyped titanic battle between the Demons and the Elves, to say nothing of Amberle and her own quest. That’s a lot of plot to get through, but I have confidence that they will be able to do justice to the material (though I still think they could have compressed the previous couple of episodes).

I was also quite excited to see the race of the Gnomes at last brought into the light. So far, they’ve simply hovered at the edges of the narrative, but with their introduction we get another glimpse at the darkness that runs beneath the Four Lands. It’s sometimes easy to forget that, in Brooks’s universe, one unfortunate byproduct of the downfall of the Old World was the genetic damage wrought upon many of the humans. While the Elves predate humanity, the other races (Dwarves, Trolls, and Gnomes) are the byproduct of mankind’s proclivity toward self-destruction. Their introduction into the series gives me hope that the series will continue to provide us glimpses into the other Races that comprise the political landscape of Brooks’s world.

The Reaper was certainly worth waiting for, as it has always been one of my favourite of Brooks’s many compelling and deliciously evil villains. The creature as it is presented here is a being that desires nothing more than killing anything and everything in its path, a being of such mindless hate that nothing short of absolute destruction has any hope of stopping it. Millennia of imprisonment in the Forbidding have given it a thirst for blood, and it remains to be seen just how many innocent people it will take down before it too is destroyed.

During the confrontation with the Reaper, we also get out first glimpses of Wil’s struggles with the Elfstones, for he finds that they refuse to respond to him in this desperate hour of need. As with all magic in Brooks’s world, they demand something of the user in order to work properly, and Wil’s half-Elven heritage means that it takes even greater effort than it did for his father. Furthermore, their lack of response also suggests that Wil is not nearly as confident as he might appear at first, and that he will have to make many sacrifices if he hopes to see this quest through to its completion.

If I have one other major complaint, it would be the premature murder of King Eventine by the Changeling. I mean we still get the privilege of seeing Jonathan Rhys-Davies (who has always been one of the highlights of the show), but I find it difficult to imagine how they are going to reshape the rest of the season to make this incident fit into the established narrative arc. It just seemed like a bit of a cheap move, but perhaps there will be some payoff later in the season.

All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying episode, and as always I cannot wait to see what next week’s episode has in store.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Changeling”

In the most recent episode of MTV’s fantasy drama, Amberle finally enters the Elcrys and overcomes her personal demons and is granted the precious seed, Wil emotes and sleeps with Eritrea, who in turn is finally forced to accompany them both to the Bloodfire. Allanon finally uncovers the Changeling and seemingly kills it, only for it to return to life and slay the Elf charged with destroying its body.

On one level, I can understand what this episode was trying to do. It wanted to give us a little more insight into the motivations of these characters, what makes them tick, and how they continue to navigate what is obviously a very troubled and fractious relationship. And certainly, it also wants to provide its target demographic with the sort of soap opera (and I don’t use that term derogatorily, btw) antics that it believes tweens and teens want to see. But haven’t we seen a great deal of that already in the episodes we’ve already seen? Why do we need to spend more time loitering about the palace, when there’s a quest to be undertaken, and no one really knows quite where the Bloodfire is?

Given the fact that there is a great deal more to happen (I assume) within the space of the season, I remain somewhat flummoxed why so much time was spent on what amount to relatively trivial matters (especially given the fact that, you know, apocalypse is basically looming just around the corner). There remains much in this episode that feels far too much like filler, and I’m left wondering why they didn’t spend more time developing the characters of some of the other key characters, such as the Captain of the Guard, or even the King and his sons (though it also remains unclear to me why his elder son stubbornly clings to his disbelief in magic, despite all evidence to the contrary).

I’ve heard it said that Manu Bennett almost seems to be in a different TV show than everyone else, and while that’s true to an extent, I also think that’s part of the series’ appeal. Allanon and Eventine are the only two who seem to have a true grasp of the enormity of the challenges and dangers they face, and it is up to them to pull the younger, more foolish people into the maturity they need in order to survive. However, this particular dynamic can only remain interesting for so long, and it is high time that the series moves on with showing the youthful trio begin that painful (in this case no doubt both literal and metaphorical) journey into adulthood.

On the plus side, I continue to enjoy the appearance of the Changeling. I’ve long thought that one of Brooks’s singular talents as a writer of fantasy has been his ability to craft exceptional villains, and the series has done him justice. I have no doubt that the Changeling will continue to wreak havoc in the palace and beyond, with consequences that might prove dire for at least some of the characters that we have already begun to know and love (no spoilers, I promise!)

Overall, I found this to be the weakest outing for the series thus far. While it had its enjoyable moments, it far too often fell into the trap of pointless bickering for bickering’s sake, leaving its young leads little room to grow. Fortunately, however, it appears that next week’s episode is set to show us the epic quest in its proper form, as well as one of Brooks’s most formidable demonic creations:  the Demon known as the Reaper.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Fury”

In this episode, Amberle and Wil find themselves captured by the Rovers, whose leader Cephelo is a greedy and uncaring fellow. Fortunately, they are rescued from their capture by Allanon, who finally gets them back to Arborlon. There, a reluctant and plainly terrified Amberle is finally granted access to the Ellcrys, who will determine whether she is worthy to carry the seed to the Bloodfire.

The young cast continues to do itself credit. Eritrea has finally begun to gain a bit of depth. Beneath that petulant and sneering exterior beats the heart of a young woman deeply embittered by the world in which she lives and by the “father” that continues to treat her as a piece of (sometimes) valuable property. While she sometimes comes off as more than a little petulant, we can’t really blame her, not considering how awful her “father” continues to be.

Speaking of Cephelo. Though he is, without a doubt, one of the series’ most despicable and ruthless characters, there is a certain amount of charisma about him (which is exactly how he appears in the book). You want so much to like this character, even as you realize that there is an intense and even somewhat sociopathic cruelty and malice underneath all of that, a darkness that will have significant consequences for everyone with whom he comes into contact.

Naturally, Manu Bennett continues to be the heart of the show as the great Allanon. In my humble opinion, the Druid has long been one of the most compelling of Brooks’s many creations, and Bennett continues to do him justice. This is a man on whom the burden of the fate of the Four Lands has disproportionately fallen. As he tells Amberle, the centuries that have preceded them have led up to this point, and none of them–not Amberle, not Wil, not Allanon himself–have the power to resist the power of the past, of history, and the burden of the future.

This episode allows us to see, if we haven’t already, that this is not an easy world to inhabit. The Demons are monsters are implacable hatred and cruelty, and they are clearly willing to do anything in their power to bring about the deaths of their nemeses the Elves. What’s more, we also learn that the Elves are themselves divided, and their relationships with the other Races (including and especially Men and Gnomes) are fraught and often violent.

What’s more, we also get an increased sense that, in Brooks’s world, magic often exacts a terrible price on those who use it. While not as intricately imagined as some other magic systems (such as that in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, for example), Brooks leaves us in no doubt that the Elfstones will have an impact on Wil beyond the moment. Though he has finally mastered the art of using them as a weapon, readers of the book know that his actions will have effects not only on his own body, but also for generations of Ohmsfords to come.

If anything, “Fury” is an even better episode than the premiere. The story continues to move forward at a good clip, and even though I know the eventual endpoint (having read the books several times over my life), I still find myself wanting to watch more. If anything, I’m as excited for the potential changes to the story as I am to see the familiar notes adapted. What’s more, I sincerely hope that the series will pick up steam, and an another season, so that I can see many more of Brooks’s magical words brought to vibrantly beautiful life.

Book Review: Defenders of Shannara: “The Darkling Child” (by Terry Brooks)

I’ve been an avid reader of Terry Brooks for many years, and he has always managed to keep me riveted with his extraordinary writing abilities.  The latest installment of his long-running “Shannara” series, The Darkling Child is no different.  As always, Brooks manages to ask pointed and deep philosophical questions while still maintaining his trademark storytelling abilities.

The novel has a brisk pace, picking up shortly after where the first novel in the trilogy, The High Druid’s Blade, left off.   Paxon, devoted servant to the Ard Rhys Aphenglow, finds himself struggling with his identity.  When Reyn Frosch, a traveling musician in command of the wishsong, reveals his power, Paxon accompanies the Druid Avelene to attempt to bring the boy to Paranor.  Of course, the dangerous sorcerer Arcannen also has designs on the singer, intending to eradicate the Red Slash, an elite corps of the Federation army responsible for the destruction of Arbrox, a community of pirates who gave him shelter.  The inevitable showdown ensues, and while Reyn flees into hiding as a doctor, Arcannen escapes again and the Druid Avelene is slain.  The novel ends with a broken and lost Paxon visiting Leofur, the sorcerer’s daughter, in the hopes of rekindling their romance.

Throughout his long and storied career, Brooks has crafted a number of compelling and disturbing villains:  the Dagda Mor and Reaper from Elfstones, the Mord Wraiths of Wishsong, Brona of Sword and First King.  With Arcannen, however, Brooks has really outdone himself.  The sorcerer is a man driven by his own needs and desires, dangerous precisely because he has a vision of the world that forces everyone else to accommodate him.  Indeed, I would even go so far as to suggest that Arcannen is this world’s version of a sociopath.  His sociopathy becomes all the more terrifying in that he does seem to have at least some moral compass; his desire to eradicate the soldiers of the Red Slash, for example, is driven (at least in part) by his desire to gain vengeance on behalf of the people of Arbrox who were ruthlessly slain by the Federation army.  It is precisely this sense of a twisted moral logic that makes him such a compelling, and almost understandable villain, an agent of chaos that threatens the

While most of Brooks’s works (with the exception of “Landover”) have had world-altering consequences, that is less the case in this present trilogy, where the focus remains pretty rigorously centered on the ongoing conflict between Arcannen and Paxon.  Indeed, there is something refreshing about the ways in which Brooks’s vision of his world can accommodate these various kinds of stories, showing us the many questions that the best fantasy novels can ask and the ingenious and complex ways in which they can begin to think about, if not to conclusively, answer them.

All of this is not to say that the novel doesn’t still contain some sense of that epic scale of wonder that has long been a trademark of Brooks’s work.  He has stated that he is beginning to wind up the Shannara series, and one can sense even in these more tightly contained novels a sense that this is a world on the brink of a profound change.  After all, this is our world many years in the future, when an apocalypse has destroyed most of what was once gained by science.  Now that things have slowly begun to reach their pre-apocalpyse stage of development–the Four Lands are now faced with both airships and increasingly-advanced weapons of war–a final showdown between the wielders of magic and those of science is bound to happen.

What emerges from this novel, in other words, is a bleak existential look at the nature of what makes an epic hero.  While Brooks has always been a deft hand with portraying his heroes, particularly those of the Leah family, as tortured souls contending with the world around them and with the sometimes nigh-unbearable forces arrayed against them, Paxon is of a different order.  This is a young man struggling with the immense demands placed on him as a result of his various heroic roles:  as brother, as servant of the Druids, and as relentless foe of Arcannen.  At the same time, he also has to contend with his failures, and it remains to be seen whether his heroic destiny will break him or whether he will rise to fulfill it.

While those familiar with the “Shannara” world will probably gain the most pleasure out of this novel, it is also an ideal starting place for those looking to see what all the fuss is about.  With interest in the series starting to pick up thanks to MTV’s forthcoming scripted series (based on Elfstones) entitled The Shannara Chronicles, those who find this novel compelling will be glad to know there are numerous other entries in the series, just waiting to be read.

Score:  10/10