Today's post will cover chapters XII and XIII of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara. If you have not read this book yet and wish to remain spoiler free do not read on.
*Spoiler Alert For Anyone Who Needs It*
So we're cutting away from the quest for the Black Elfstone. Chapter XII and XIII turn away from Tay to follow up on the quests of Risca and Bremen. Brooks did this sort of thing in the Heritage Series and I don't think it worked out so well. If we're going to label an entire section of the book The Search For the Black Elfstone, oughtn't we to stick to only what relates to finding the Black Elfstone? Cutting back and for allows us to keep the other characters in view and can be deployed tactfully to increase narrative suspense, but it comes at the price of unity. I'm not sure why Brooks structured the sections of the book as if he was going to preserve the unity of each action and then interrupted it to keep his other characters in view.
That aside, let's look at the individual chapters. Chapter XII follows Risca's attempts to assassinate the Warlock Lord on the spur of the moment. It doesn't work. The goals of the scene seem to be to establish Risca's hardcore credentials and to show that the Warlock Lord is invincible. The action flows smoothly in true Brooksian style, but I don't know that it functions well enough in the overall story to be worth it. If Risca really is the ultimate tactician, why would he make such a foolhardy attempt on the spur of the moment? Brooks also violates the "unseen monster" principle again and risks "Voldemorting" his main baddy through too much screen time. Given that his characters are all in their thirties or older, it can't be because he thinks he can pull one over on his pre-teen audience. In the end, it comes off as a bit hard to swallow and without any of the pulp flair that allows the audience to laugh and go along with it (c.f. Edgar Rice-Burroughs' A Princess of Mars). It's a good stock scene (infilitrate the enemy camp), but it suffers from poor placement and insufficient supporting logic.
Chapter XIII follows Bremen and Co. Bremen is actually out when the scene begins and so we're just left for some totally-not-going-to-fall-for-each-other quality time with Kinson and Mareth. We learn a little more about Mareth: that she can't fully control her magic and that she doesn't know her own origins. (It sounds more like X-Men to me, but ok.) Next, however, we get the unexpected pleasure of learning that we're going to get to see Cogline. Old friends are always welcome and it will be interesting to see how Brooks presents the character at this point in his life. Until we meet Allanon, this is the first character that brings us a real connection with the other books. In between all this character interest, Brooks makes sure to keep the tension high with the patrolling skull bearer and the raiding party of trolls. The incident with the trolls folds back into character development as Mareth uses more of her magic to scare them away. The chapter closes out well with a thwarted Bremen finally making his appearance to announce that they are headed to Darklin reach and Cogline.
Chapter XIV promises to get us back on track for finding the Black Elfstone. Were the past two chapters a wash? This first one could probably have been scrapped. The second works well as a discrete unit, but could perhaps have been better positioned in terms of the book as a whole. Them's the breaks... Writing a novel with multiple sub-plots isn't easy though if you're trying to follow Tolkien, using his structure might be a place to start.