Friday, July 19, 2013

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

This post will cover chapters XXVI through XXVIII of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara.  We're nearing the end of yet another "Summer of Shannara" and I hope to have this book finished by the end of next week.  Plans are in the works for a similar blog-through of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories so stay tuned!  In the meantime, let me give the usual waver: if you haven't read First King of Shannara and want to remain spoiler free don't read on.

*Plot Sensitive Material*

Chapter XXVI closes out the section entitled The Forging of the Sword.  Here, Bremen takes the weapon forged by Urprox Screl to the spirits of the Hadeshorn.  Rising up from the abyss, the druids of the past each impart what remains of their power to convert the sword into a talisman capable of destroying the Warlock Lord.  We've already had one Hadeshorn scene in this book, but this second tryst doesn't disappoint.  The council of druid shades is frightening image and Brooks plays it to the hilt.  He also wisely holds off on explaining what the druid dead have done to the sword while the scene is playing out (though we can guess having read the earlier books).  The sense of mystery heightens the dramatic tension.  Brooks has done so many of these summoning scenes in the first eight books that it amazes me that he can make each one interesting.

As an addendum to the Hadeshorn, chapter XXVI closes with Bremen following in the destructive wake of the Warlock Lord's army.  The scenes of devastation are well-narrated, as are most scenes in the Bremen plot-thread.  The finding of Allanon in the rubble of Varfleet is the only bit that fails to work for me.  The whole thing seems forced.  To be honest, if I were Terry Brooks, I would have kept Allanon out of the main action and had Bremen anoint Mareth with the druid legacy in an echo of The Wishsong of Shannara maybe coming to claim a baby Allanon in a post-script.  If Allanon is going to be present in the main story, then I would have done more to develop his appearance as an organic part of the plot.  As I said, the way Brooks has it play out feels forced.

Chapter XXVII brings us to the section entitled The Battle for the Rhenn.  Poor Rhenn.  I swear this must be the most fought over real estate in the Four Lands.  Chapter XXVII itself deals with the preshow before the fight gets started.  We get a good performance from Bremen and a typically lack-luster performance from everyone else.  Brooks lets us know see in no uncertain terms why Jerle Shannara will fail.  Since we know that already, the author needed to put some sort of spin on the material that would make it interesting: as in the chapters relating the forging of the sword.  Since the characters are weak and Brooks decides to play it straight with the narration, there's really nothing to interest us.

Chapter XXVIII suffers from all the defects of chapter XXVII and adds to them a tired rehash of the night raid from The Elf Queen of Shannara.  I also have trouble buying in to the tactics and logistics of Brooks' armies at this point, but maybe I'm not the target audience (I've just been reading Jim Lacey's First Clash, and account of the logistics, strategies, tactics, and politics involved in the Battle of Marathon).

All this means that with less than 100 pages to go, this novel is really struggling to hold my attention.  That's ok.  When you right a book once a year for thirty years some of them will inevitably fall flat.  The thing is to get back on the horse and keep trying: and that's exactly what Terry Brooks has done.  

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