Saturday, June 29, 2013

First King of Shannara (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCXXII

This post will discuss chapters X and XI of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara.  Those who have not read the book yet and wish to remain spoiler free should not read on.


*Plot Points and Perils Ahead (spoilers)*



Chapter X gets us to the action, specifically a night raid by those gnomes Tay sensed a few chapters ago.  Recycling a trope from The Elfstones of Shannara, the gnomes and a creepy skull bearer break into the castle and kill or fatally wound almost the entire royal family.  As usual, Brooks goes for violence and gore (within limits) over terror and subtly as Tay and Jerle discover what's happening and try to intervene.  This is pulp fiction and, I think, the kind of thing Terry Brooks enjoys writing most.  He's always wanting to throw us right in to the heart of the action.  The best line from the chapter is one that has stuck with me though.  It describes the skull bearer in its death-throes: "Even then, it took a long time to die."  Chilling stuff.  In all the pulp, however, we miss an important chance to develop Tay: if he saw this hunting party a few days ago and chose not to confront or follow it, shouldn't he feel responsible for the death of all those people?

Chapter XI informs us that we'll be cutting away from the political fall-out of the assassination of the elven royal family to follow the "more exciting" quest for the Black Elfstone.  Brooks likes pulp and it's with pulpy action that he's going to stay.  First, though, we get another break in the action to form yet another company with two new named characters, the Locat Vree Erreden, additional tracker (man, Brooks thinks these guys are essential for everything) Retten Kip, and a host of elven red-shirts also reminiscent of The Elfstones of Shannara.  (Note to self: there will be blood.)  Of course we need some time to explain what a locat is (someone who uses magic to find things) and introduce us to this new member of the ensemble.  Once that's done, it's off on the adventure with some suitable travel log to help us switch gears.  We also get a scene to help further develop the love-triangle between Tay, Preia, and Jerle.  In The Elfstones of Shannara, which Brooks seems to drawing from in this section, a love-triangle meant that someone was going to have to die.  We know it can't be Jerle, so that leaves Tay and Preia.  That's pretty much what romance is for in Brooks' works: to heighten the narrative tension.  It always comes off as too stilted to have any other interest.  As if to prove this point, the chapter ends with the evident capture of Preia by a troop of gnome hunters (Brooks has learned the art of how to end a chapter in the right place!).

When all else fails, plot mechanics save the day.  We'll see how Brooks keeps his readers reading in the pages to come!

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