Sunday, September 09, 2012

More Talismans of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CXCIV

Today's post will cover chapters XVIII through XXIII of Terry Brooks' The Talismans of Shannara, part four of the Heritage Series.

*Thar be spoilerz ahead me hearties!*

This section brings us further conflict between the Elves and the Federation.  We also see Walker Boh defeat the Four Horsemen at the cost of Cogline's life.  With the last of his connections to his old life stripped away, Walker's transformation into "the druid of Shannara" is complete.  The rest of these chapters is spent with the Freeborn and their quest to bust Padishar out of the clink.  This they succeed in doing with fine fighting flair leaving Damson and Morgan (and Matty) free to pursue Par Ohmsford.  The big question we're still left with is "what has become of Par and Coll?"

With many of the original supporting characters killed off if the first three volumes (and now Cogline too), Brooks is obliged to bring in a cast of relative light-weights and second-stringers to help carry the story.  To compensate for this, as we've seen before, Brooks falls back on plotting, using rich locations, and tone.  The Talismans of Shannara is an excellent example of how a popular writer can escape the corner he's painted himself into and pay off his narrative debts if he knows what keeps an audience turning pages.

I've discussed plotting in the last post, so I'd like to turn here to a brief consideration of location.  Brooks has always understood that setting is key to a fantasy novel.  The fun of reading fantasy is the ability to explore an imagined world.  If that world is weakly described, or poorly imagined in the first place, it puts a heavy strain on the other facets of the book.  By the seventh volume of his Shannara series, Terry Brooks has built up a host of interesting locations invested with a real sense of history and familiarity.  He has also grown skilled at matching these locations with the right characters and action to exploit their narrative potential.  When the story turns to Paranor, Tyrsis, or the Westland I see them quite clearly in my mind's eye.  The abiding atmosphere of late summer in North America is palpable and we are reminded of it at just the right times to lend flavor and reality to the scenes.  As I said earlier, Brooks' use of rich locations is one of the main elements holding The Talismans of Shannara together.

Moving on from location to tone, I think the words that come to mind are "desperate struggle" and "high adventure."  The Talismans of Shannara has a much more pulpy (in a good sense) tone than its two immediate predecessors.  We get the sense that epic deeds and world-changes are afoot and that the quests of scions of Shannara are about to reach a rousing finish.  That finish, however, will be reached at great cost, and we can be sure that evil will put forth all its power to prevent it.  Use of this particular tone comes at a price and Terry Brooks is both willing and able to pay it to make his novel work.  The price of epic tone is epic pacing and that fast pace with its tight, short, interlinking plot threads is what Brooks has been excelling at for the last 266 pages. 

So there you have it: a few thoughts on The Talismans of Shannara chapters XVIII through XXIII.  The end is in sight, but there's still plenty of pages left go!

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