Friday Review: The Black Elfstone (Fall of Shannara #1) by Terry Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts the final quartet of the Shannara Chronicles. The book starts with peace having reigned in the Four Lands for many years. But in the far north, an enemy army is preparing to invade and conquer. An enemy that wields a strange, deadly form of magic that not even the powerful Druid Order is familiar with, nevermind being able to combat. A mission is sent from the Druids at Paranor under the protection of Dar Leah, the current guardian of the Order. Meanwhile, exiled former High Druid Drisker Arc is visited by Tarsha Kaynin, a young girl gifted with the Wishsong, and seeking the Druid’s help to learn to control and use that gift. Once she has, she intends to find her brother who also has use of the Wishsong, but for him, it has led to madness and a twisted need for vengeance against the sister he feels has betrayed him. But someone also wants Drisker dead and after two attempts on his life by hired assassins, he and Tarsha set out to find out who is threatening him and why. With the threat from the invading army drawing closer, these three will be pulled into the war for the Four Lands. A war that may see a final end to the world as they know it.

Forty+ years and 29 novels, as well a few shorter pieces and a graphic novel. That’s just the main Shannara books, and doesn’t include the Shannara-adjacent Knight of the Word stories. That’s a lot, and while it is kind of sad to see something I have read and enjoyed for so long reach an end, I do understand Brooks’ desire to end the series himself. He has said that he has known for a long time how he wanted it to end, and that he wanted to be the one to write it. I think that is how it should be. It’s his world- it should end with his words.

So, the book. Yes, I enjoyed it. No, it’s not a huge departure from the formula of the rest of the series. But that is part of what makes this long-running series work. There is continuity, if not directly from one book to the next (except for the internal set of three or four in a sub-series). The stories are all at heart quest tales and many include a coming-of-age aspect in at least one protagonist. The worldbuilding has been established for a long time, so there is little exposition needed there, other than the few new places we are taken. Many of the characters will feel familiar. Dar Leah is of the Leah family that has been swept up in the magic of the Ohmsfords part-elven heritage from the beginning. The Druids are ever-present, if sometimes scarce in numbers, and serve as the enigmatic, speaking-in-riddles guides along the journey. In this one, we meet the Skaar, the invading force with a formidable magic of their own who are determined to win possession of the Four Lands since their own homeland is dying. A lot here that sounds familiar if you know the series.

But- this one feels different. Even though I enjoyed the previous two cycles in the overall series, they felt a bit off. Not quite as if Brooks was simply dialing it in, but they didn’t have the sweeping epic feel of many of the earlier books. It’s back in this one. This feels like an epic fantasy should: somewhat larger than life, high stakes, a new and powerful enemy, arcs of pure light and deep, deadly darkness. Does it end on a bit of cliffhanger? Yes, but it is a four book cycle, so that’s to be expected. There are threads that are tied off by the end, but there is plenty of room for more.

I will be sad when I reach the end of the series, but if it closes as it has started, it will be one heck of a ride.

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