Friday, October 16, 2020

Book Review and Writing Lessons: The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks


Thousands of years after the destruction of the age of man and science, new races and magic now rule the world, but an imminent danger threatens. A horde of evil Demons is beginning to escape and bring death upon the land. Only Wil Ohmsford, the last of the Shannara bloodline, has the power to guard the Elven Princess Amberle on a perilous quest to save the world, while the leader of the Demon force aims to stop their mission at any cost.

Series: The Shannara Chronicles (Book 2)
Genre: MG Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey (October 10, 2000)
Page Count: 576 pages

Last year, I got this book for free in the Realm Maker's grab bag since Terry Brooks was the guest of honor at the conference. He's been lauded as a grandfather of modern fiction in the lines of Tolkien. I'd never heard of him before the conference, but I decided to give him a try. Maybe I'm just too used to modern-style fiction, but this was the worst book I've read in a while. 

The Plot:
 The plot is very basic fantasy. Chosen one has to go find thing to save the world from bad things. Honestly, this nearly 600-page book could probably be 200 pages shorter because a lot of the book is rambling for pages long about world-history, back story, long battle plans, character description, every single freaking detail of traveling, and generally lots of telling--which I skipped (and normally I never skip in books) because some character was bound to repeat all of that information in a consolidated form shortly after. So I feel like I've heard the same information at least four times. Basically, the pacing was really really bad because of excess information and description. I ended up reading mostly the dialogue because I was getting bored.

Some people could compare this with Tolkien, but often when Tolkien rambled he was witty about it. Brooks seems to be Tolkien but without the wit. 

Also one huge plot hole really bugged me. I'm not too concerned about spoilers here because I doubt you guys are going to read this. Wil encounters this chaotic neutral gypsy character and decides to hide that Wil and Amberle are saving the world from him which then creates a string of problems because the gypsy named Cephalo makes this hard for them because he has his own agenda. Why didn't they just tell the guy that they are saving the world?! I'm sure he doesn't want to be wiped out by demons either! It's like from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Rocket Raccoon: Why would you want to save the galaxy? 
Peter Quill/Star-Lord: Because I'm one of the idiots who live there!

The Characters:
 All of the characters were very cookie-cutter, except like one. A few of them had the potential to be unique, but the opportunity was squandered. Most of the characters were elves which was kind of interesting except the elves just seemed like people with a slightly different culture and pointy ears. Characters just generally kept doing dumb things and making dumb decisions and it was driving me nuts. It's like I don't care about any of you and if someone dies I'm like I feel nothing. Also these characters just seemed to be waiting their entire lives to spill their backstory to the first person who might possibly listen.

Wil's most interesting characteristic is that he's a healer, but that's just about it. He's a chosen one and a healer and he likes Amberle. That's the extent of his character. He also frustrated me several times especially with his dealings with Eretria. JUST TAKE HER, DUDE! STOP WHINING! And he doesn't trust Eretria with the information about his mission but he spouts it to this random elf boy flying on a giant eagle. And also he treated this poor little creature like crap and didn't give a wit when he was brutally murdered by a demon and regrets nothing. Dude! He could not be in the book and it would have been better. Give someone else the elfstones. 

Amberle had the potential to be really neat, but again opportunity squandered with cliches. I actually thought of a better twist for her than the one that actually happened in the beginning. It was also kinda laughably easy to find her. I also do not like that she was described as having “a child’s face.” I guess it was along the lines of the Never Ending Story, but I kept getting pictures of baby-faced teenager. 

"She's ran away from her duties in disgrace. We haven't seen her for years ..."

Two seconds later ...

*Wil and Allanon find her in a village teaching some kids*

There were some other characters I kinda liked like Wisp, Perk, and Artaq the Horse. 

My favorite character was Eretria the Rover. I wish she was the chosen one because that would have been way cool. Eretria was nice to the cute little creature and was the most clever character out of all of them.

The Setting: 
 This world had so much potential to be super cool, but again squandered, because this is supposed to be set on earth, but way in the future, saying that elves have been around throughout earth's history but invisible. But nothing was ever done with this cool concept. This story could have been set in its own world and there wouldn't have been a difference. 

Ellcrys the Guardian Tree is kinda interesting. It reminds me of Thalia in the Percy Jackson books or of a tree in the garden of eden. And then there are people who guard that tree. It would have been neat if those people went on the quest since they're picked from all different backgrounds. 

I kinda like that they use druids instead of wizards, but usually, druids have more nature-based magic and in this case, the druids just seem like wizards you just call druids.

Some of the worldbuilding elements just didn't quite work like at one point someone mentions a roving band of evil gnomes slaughtering people and all I can think of is the gnomes in Gravity Falls going on a rampage. Or the trolls seemed so eloquent and that's just not the general nature of trolls anywhere. 

Epic Things:
 The most interesting groups of people were the Rovers and the Wingriders. Besides the fact that the Rovers are misogynists, I like having gypsies in a fantasy world. I also like seeing Rocs in a fantasy novel cause they're really neat. I liked the enchanted minions made of sticks. That was kinda neat. I also liked when the Elcrys gave Allanon one of her branches as a staff. 

I also really liked Manx the Wolfhound until he was replaced with a demon and became Manx of my childhood nightmares. 

The Theme:
 I don’t really know. 

Content Cautions:
 There is some violence since we're dealing with demons and battles here such as a massacre where people are mentioned to have been torn apart, someone is found with a broken neck, a cloak covered in blood, general battle violence that I don't know the details of because I skipped most of it cause I was bored, there's a bloody battle between an elf and a demon, mangled corpses are mentioned, a surprising amount of named characters die mostly off-screen, and general battle violence. I don't remember all of it since I skipped around so much. Also Wil gets a little drunk. 

What We Can Take Away For Our Writing:

 Just refer to characters by name - Throughout the book, Wil and Amberle are frequently referenced to as the Valeman and the Elven Girl respectfully. Though the book is written in omniscient, this especially depersonalized them. It’s like there’s a million Elven Girls but only one Amberle. Call her what makes her stand out.  

How this can be applied to writing:
 This sort of writing style is often used so it doesn’t feel repetitive, but honestly it’s not needed most of the time. Calling a character by an alternative name is fine but make it more natural such as “her friend,” “my sister,” or “the doctor.” The reader wants to feel close to the characters. 

 Main Character Coming in Late - At first I was really confused about who the main character was because according to the back of the book it’s Wil, but he doesn’t come in until page 61.

How this can be applied to writing:
 It’s possible pull off a short prologue with a character who isn’t main character but rule of thumb you want to start your book with the main character. It’s less confusing and you want your reader to bond with them as soon as possible. 

 Be So Careful with Good Coincidences - Wil and Amberle were time and time again saved by coincidences. There happens to be a boy flying on a giant eagle whom they never heard of before but who is willing to help them. There happens to be a cursed elf who’s willing to help them escape from a witch. Or the worst offender, when Wil and co were escaping from a witch’s castle, the witches twin sister happens to show up and they get into a cat fight and kill each other. .... WHAT!?

How this can be applied to writing: The Characters need to work for their rewards. The universe can’t keep bailing characters out of tough situations. It’s just lazy writing and it makes the characters look like weenies. 

 Be Careful with the Time Between POV Switches - Most of the book is in Wil’s POV, but among other POVs it goes into this elf prince’s. It actually goes into the prince’s before Wil’s. Well Wil is in a tense situation and then the book switches to the prince’s POV for chapters upon chapters of him going through this battle and it’s the most boring battle ever. And I’m just like I don’t CARE!

How this can be applied to writing:
 Multiple POVs are difficult. One of those challenges is making sure characters have just the right amount of page time. But it’s never good to have one character have chapters of page time when another character is an equal amount of peril and frankly their story is more interesting. Readers get bored. 

 Even Action Sequences Can Be Boring -  Going back to the Prince’s might battles with the demons. Honestly they were the most boring battle scenes I’ve ever read. I got all of these pages of detail about battle strategy and it was like I was watching it all from a helicopter with the occasional splash of blood. I didn’t feel in the scene. I felt like a spectator and that’s just not what I want as a reader in a book. 

How this can be applied to writing:
 Readers pick up books to really immerse themselves into a story. You want them to feel something with all five senses. Sometimes you don’t want to do that all the time but I’ve written extensively about that. Anyway, you can also go the opposite direction and make the reader feel far too distant. When writing scenes especially intense ones make sure to make your reader feel like they are there. 

 I hate bashing a book so bad especially one that’s revered, but there was just so little I liked about it that it shocked me a little bit. This book gets the lowest score I’ve given out in a while. 
About the Author:
 Terry Brooks is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including the Genesis of Shannara novels Armageddon's Children and The Elves of Cintra; The Sword of Shannara; the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy: Ilse Witch, Antrax, and Morgawr; the High Druid of Shannara trilogy: Jarka Ruus, Tanequil, and Straken; the nonfiction book Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life; and the novel based upon the screenplay and story by George Lucas, Star Wars(R): Episode I The Phantom Menace. His novels Running with the Demon and A Knight of the Word were selected by the Rocky Mountain News as two of the best science fiction/fantasy novels of the twentieth century. The author was a practicing attorney for many years but now writes full-time. He lives with his wife, Judine, in the Pacific Northwest.

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