This morning's post will take us all the way up to the beginning of chapter 18. We're more than half-way there folks.
The minute the company leaves Arborlon the body count begins to rise. Tolkien hated character killing, but Brooks has always been willing to spill blood. Early on, he did this with armies of red-shirted-ensigns. With The Elf Queen of Shannara even the ensemble are no longer safe. In a matter of a few chapters we lose both the Owl and the Queen. From a plot standpoint, this is necessary to allow Wren to assume leadership of the company and thus become "the Elf Queen of Shannara." Killing them off also raises the stakes forcing the reader to acknowledge that no one in this book is safe as well as investing the audience more deeply in the work via the pathos created by the death of a beloved character.
Brooks' writing, from a plot standpoint, is at its best in this portion of the work. Everything that happens is logically connected and subordinated to the ultimate goal of making Wren queen. Using the Loden weakens Ellenroh allowing her to contract a fever that leads to her death. That fever is contracted in the swamp that they become lost in due to the disappearance of Stressa after the raft is attacked. They might have been able to get out of the swamp, but the Owl is killed by a darter, a poisonous plant that Brooks has been careful to nonchalantly introduce earlier in the work. The loss of Stressa and the Owl doom Ellenroh to death. The maddening conditions of the jungle and the loss of his aunt act to unhinge Gavilan and thus cement Ellenroh's decision to make Wren her heir. The urgency of the Queen's illness, the loss of their guides, and Garth's inability to track in dense jungle terrain all force Wren to use the elfstones and thus become the group's de facto leader. Stressa does return, but too late to keep Wren from using the magic or being able to provide the root he used to help assuage Wren's fever (which Stressa has assured Wren did nothing to actually cure her anyhow). Stressa's return, however, adds just enough lightness to help the audience bare the death of Ellenroh and accept Wren's sudden boost of determination to take charge and fulfill her grandmother's dying request.
To sum up, Brooks' story mechanics are firing on all cylinders here. This is finally the stuff that I remember being so riveting and enjoyable as a kid. It's also a reminder for writers of the increase in power that comes from paying careful attention to plot.