We ended off the last post at book 10 of The Scions of Shannara, the first book in Terry Brooks' Heritage of Shannara series. This post will bring us up to the end of book 15. If you want to remain spoiler free, don't read on.
Chapters 10-15 bring all the scions of the house of Shannara to their meeting with the shade of Allanon at the Hadeshorn. Par has the worst time of it (Shadowen and Spoder Gnomes at every turn), but that's fitting as he seems to be the main character (for this book at least). Walker Boh has a few challenges to face, mostly due to Par (and them Spider Gnomes), and Wren gets a cake walk. The moral of the story seems to be that when the shade of a long dead druid summons you its in your best interest to go immediately. Wren goes immediately and she's fine. Walker stays put and has a bit of trouble, Par hikes in the complete opposite direction and has one mischance after another. Ironically, I thought the chapters with Wren were the best written, the passages with Walker the next best, and the passages with Par the most forced and lacking. However, all of it is better than Mr. Brooks' previous efforts in The Elfstones of Shannara and The Wishsong of Shannara, so points there for improvement. With that as an overview, let me jot down a few notes:
1. Wren Ohmsford is an engaging and well-written character thus far. Perhaps Mr. Brooks has finally learned how to handle female characters? Bravo if he has.
2. Brooks likes gentle giants. Garth is a good follow-up to The Wishsong of Shannara's Helt, and the fact that he's deaf is an interesting touch. We sense that there's a lot to be told here; more importantly, that it may never be told. His interactions with Wren are genuine and interesting and, as Wren's competent protector, he gives us a trust-worthy character that we can look to for how we're supposed to feel about the rest of the cast.
3. Walker has about the right mix of "sturm und drang" and knowledgeable competence for someone in their late twenties to early thirties. As Brooks has grown up so have his characters. Aging seems to have allowed him to write a variety of ages more credibly (young authors take note!).
4. Teenagers still equal hobbits for Terry Brooks (why!?!).
5. Coll is a good foil for Par. Though their dialog is sometimes a bit stilted, the emotional tenor of their relationship seems true and it adds interest to the story. I'd compare them to Shea and Flick, but it's been years since I last read The Sword of Shannara.
6. Speaking of dialog, Brooks seems to have trouble finding the right "voice" for his main characters. They all speak in a stilted, formal American English with no contractions. It makes them all feel a bit like Lieutenant-Commander Data at times.
7. The episode with the Shadowen on Toffer ridge is rather creepy but undercut on two fronts. First, we've had too many run-ins with the Shadowen in too short a time for the episode to have its full dramatic force. Second, there's a bit too much of an awkward sexual angle on that scene. It really disturbed me, and I thought the scene's implications were a bit too heavy to be used as flavoring in a throw-away episode. Stuff like that needs to be handled responsibly; especially in light fiction.
8. Overall: pushing two-hundred pages in and it's a bit of a mixed-bag; some of it works and some falls flat. Though there is an overall improvement in quality from previous volumes, I'm not ready to go out and recommend it yet. We'll see if that changes.