Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Terry Brooks
(1977, Random House)

Sword of Shannara, book 1

A group of men, elves and a dwarf trek to take command of the legendary Sword of Shannara and use it against the enemy before he invades the other realms.


-- First reading (hardcover)
August 28th to September 28th, 2013


This book was an almost complete rip-off of The Lord of the Rings -nearly every situation found in this book could be found, in a different order, in that trilogy. For the most part, the book was poorly written, too. I honestly wondered how many different forests the characters could trudge through. But after I made it through the first four hundred pages, something started to change, and the book got marginally better, such that I was actually interested in the politics in the city Tyrsis. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. I can't believe I managed to read the remaining three hundred pages after that.

Spoiler review:

It didn't take long for me to start seeing the resemblance of this book to one of my favorite trilogies ever. The format was very similar, and the story elements were all lifted from the Lord of the Rings. So many times something would happen, and I would be jolted from the story, such as it was, by thinking this exact thing happened to Frodo and Sam, or others, but just in different context.

Instead of a Ring, we have a Sword. I did like the way the sword acted, in showing those it touched the truth about themselves, something the spirit Warlock couldn't bear. But the search for the sword was interminable. How many pages do we need to get the characters through a forest? And how many forests are there in this tiny part of the world? It took nearly four hundred pages to get through all those forests, which were not sufficiently different from each other.

Instead of a ranger from the north, we have a borderman from the south, whose father is king in an impenetrable fortress-city backed into the mountains, much like Minas Tirith and Helm's Deep put together. His insane brother has taken over as king while Balinor was away, put under the spell of an evil man in league with the northern warlock, and expects the reward of ruling this part of the world. The return of Balinor to confront his brother was probably the best and most original part of the book. But eventually imprisoned, he has to wait for his friends from the Company of the Sword (so to speak) to come rescue him, which is way too easy.

I think my favorite character was Menion Leah, the prince who shirked responsibility all his life, and who grows up through the book. When he loses Shea, he has to make choices about what is more important -his friend, or the fate of mankind. So he moves around the gnome hoard to enter the city sitting directly in the path of the army, evacuates it completely, and moves them all to Tyrsis, where he frees Balinor, and later, stops the evil advisor from allowing the gnome army in through the secret tunnels. The siege of Tyrsis was pretty well-written, especially compared with the rest of the book, but it still felt like a merging of the two sieges from The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

It didn't help that I never connected with the main characters, Shea and Flick, the clueless hobbit-like humans. They ran from the skull-bearers, something like the Nazgul (and they hid in various forests...), were pretty much a detriment to most of the story until the Breaking of the Fellowship, at the time when they lose the sword. When they go their separate ways, Flick suddenly became more interesting, taking initiative as he searches for the missing Shea, and finds the captive elven king, instead.

Shea, on the other hand, didn't become more interesting at all. Trying to go over the mountains proves too difficult, so they go through it. At one point, it looked as if the druid among them would fall to some ancient power, much as Gandalf did in Moria, but instead, they make it through, and Shea only falls from the cliff once they are out again. Afterwards, he meets with the thief Panamon and the rock-troll Keltset, who rescue him from the gnomes, and accompany him all the way north to the mountains where the warlock resides. They encounter a pathetic gnome (the enemy species), who has in his possession the Sword of Shannara, but they don't realize it. This character is no Gollum, but plays a similar role. He is the one who brings the sword all the way north, while Shea and his new friends follow. It seemed to me that the story implied that the sword drove the gnome crazy, but according to Allanon, its power could only be activated by someone of the blood of Shannara.

There really seems like an epic story behind this, and the history was enough to make it seem real enough. It is another of those stories that takes place so far in the future, where the technological society came tumbling down, and magic rose to take its place. The great wars almost completely destroyed humanity, from which sprouted elves, dwarfs, and gnomes. The great enemy became so adept at magic that it possessed him, and he extended his life beyond the normal span of years. He already waged two wars over the centuries, one against the druid council, and the other against the races, who only defeated him with the Sword of Shannara. I kind of liked the idea that belief could shape the world of magic, so that when it was created, anybody could wield the sword, but the belief that only a Shannara could wield it became so strong, that it became true.

The writing style of this novel was mostly horrible. It was not only long and drawn out, but was thoroughly disjointed as the author switched from one character to another, from paragraph to paragraph. There is actually very little dialog, which is fine by me, as what is spoken was often embarrassing. But the stuff said as narration was equally cringe-worthy. I am also not a fan of books that stop the action entirely for pages on end to give a history lesson. The better way to do it is to tell it through a character's point of view.

Strangely enough, after about the halfway mark, the book became easier to read. I don't know if it got better, or if I simply got used to it. Unfortunately, while the story around Tyrsis kept my interest somewhat (though it kept being derivative of The Lord of the Rings), and Flick's disguised journey through the gnome hoard was more exciting than most, I had absolutely no interest in Shea and his new companions as they traveled north.


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