Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More Elf Queen of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXXVII

This post will cover chapters two and three of Terry Brooks' Elf Queen of Shannara.

*Spoiler Warning*

When you grow up in the North East and rarely travel outside it, there are things you're going to miss.  I don't know what I imagined the Blue Divide to look like back in Jr. High, but it's now obvious to me (having lived there) that the coastline he's describing is that of Southern California.  This doesn't disappoint me, rather it helps to establish a richer picture of the setting.  I haven't been to Hawaii, so maybe my vision of Morrowindle will be correspondingly impoverished.

In other news, I find it hard to make the switch from The Druid of Shannara to The Elf Queen of Shannara.  The sudden change in tone -getting dropped back into serial adventure land- jars after the more complex world of the previous book.  The writing is still smooth and the characters are lively, but there's a feeling that something missing, that we've passed back into the mundane.  When the entity that had been stalking them through the two previous books revealed itself as another monster shadowen I was frankly disappointed.  Here we go, typical pulp serial fair again.  I hope that doesn't remain my experience of the book (I remember liking this one as a kid).  It does, however, underline the oddity of The Druid of Shannara in the series.

Falling flat as well was the reveal of the elfstones.  Having read Brooks' other books we know that all purported magic is real and that it will eventually reveal itself to be devastatingly powerful under pressure of a horrible monster attack.  Now, here's an interesting point: when I first read The Elf Queen of Shannara, I hadn't read the prior series and everything was a bit more of a surprise.  This is why, unless someone's really committed to the project, I would recommend skipping the original Shannara Series and jumping strait into the Heritage Series.  The prior three books really do serve better as prequels, or interesting background reading (since they're frankly not as good).

Now, what does Brooks get right?  So far, the writing is nice and smooth.  Wren remains an interesting character (Brooks has had trouble in the past writing female characters so she represents a real achievement) and her relationship with Garth is welcome and compelling.  The landscape of SoCal is faithfully described and made a fitting setting for fantasy adventure.  Finally, the discovery of the Roc Caves, complete with Roc, was exciting and well handled.  That's good material that can be built on, so we'll see where this book goes.


Herch said...

I also read Heritage before I read the first three.

(Actually, that's not quite true. The summer before my sophomore year I checked out The Sword of Shannara from the library. The other book I checked out at the same time was The Silmarillion. As The Silmarillion was the shorter book, I decided to read it first. By the time I had actually made it through The Silmarillion, the books were almost due, and so I only got a couple chapters into The Sword of Shannara before I had to return it. As I got it though inter-library loan, I couldn't just check it out again. Then we moved and switched libraries and the new library only had the Heritage series. So I just started in on those.)

I did find the "prequels" to be a bit of a letdown after Heritage. Sword was too much of a Lord of the Rings knockoff, Elfstones felt like a spin-off that tenuously connected to the world of Sword (it also didn't help that he had to come up with a completely new map to tell his story), and I felt the idea of the Ildatch cheapened the villain of Sword and was generally a silly idea. One of these years I'm going to re-read them to see if my slightly more refined palate has anything new to say on the subject.

(Or I could just re-read The Silmarillion. Again.)

James said...

Ok. So I'm not the only one who read them out of order. I agree with your general assessment of the original series. You're really not missing much if you skip them.