Audiobook Review: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Series: Book 1 of The Sword of Shannara Trilogy
Publisher: Del Ray Books (1977)
Tiara’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
I have a dirty secret to confess. I am no fan of Tolkien’s writing. If you were to check out my Goodreads profile now, you’d see that I’ve one-starred almost everything he’s ever written. This may be a seeded dislike due to the fact that I had to read these books in high school (even though I wasn’t one of those kids who was normally traumatized by high school reading experiences), but even attempting to reread them again as an adult was a labored effort, a true test of my patience, an effort that I am willing to admit was a disgraceful defeat. However, I do love the movies very much if that’ll grant me any measure of immunity.
The Sword of Shannara gained popularity in the late 70s and early 80s and is often used in the same sentence as Tolkien, which may tempt some readers but is a little off-putting for me. This seems to be one of those divisive books with readers either decrying it for being a Lord of the Rings rip-off or lauding it as a brilliant epic fantasy adventure. There are few people who seem to walk the middle road with this book.
I’ve been making it my mission to read classic speculative fiction. After reading The Lathe of Heaven for my science fiction pick and The Haunting of Hill House for my horror pick, I started searching for a classic fantasy pick and settled on this after reading a brief blurb on it. It sounded interesting enough, and believe it or not, I’d never actually heard of the series before now.
From the beginning, yes, it’s pretty obvious that this is influenced by Tolkien. I’d started jokingly calling Allanon by Gandalf’s name and Flick by Sam’s name even before I knew about the Tolkien connection. However, I didn’t say these things to necessarily be condescending toward this book. That’s just the way things are. So many books regardless of the genre, especially a first novel for a writer, contain elements that are similar to others in that same genre.
When I started publicly saying things like that, then people came out the woodworks saying that it really was “just like Tolkien.” I didn’t even realize I knew so many people who read this series. Even opinions from friends ranged from “5-star read” to “turn back, dead inside.” So, reading this book has been quite the journey from the actual reading to the various interactions I’ve had with people thanks to this book.
On with the review. I should warn you. This review is a little derpy if you haven’t figured that out by the Adventure time gif following this, and I can’t promise it’s completely spoiler free.
The Sword of Shannara follows the adventures of Shea Ohmsford, a half elven man living in Shady Vale with his adopted father, Curzad Ohmsford, and his adopted brother, Flick Ohmsford. One night when Flick returns from peddling his merchandise in the nearby town of the Shire (because I am absolutely sure it was the Shire), he encounters Allanon, a tall, mysterious man who saves him from a shadowy creature in the woods. Flick takes Allanon to his village where Allanon insists on meeting Shea.
More importantly to this narrative, Allanon looks like Manu Bennett because MTV said so. Who am I to fight MTV about this? [Insert heavy breathing.]
Anyhow, Allanon tells Shae that he is a direct descendant of a line of royal elves. These elves are the only ones able unlock the power of the sword of Shannara. I imagine that to be a lot like He-Man powering up. The Druids have kept this relic, believed to be a myth by many, locked away in their keep. The sword was originally created to defeat Brona, whose name I kept seeing as Brony when I was reading portions during immersion reading, 500 years before the start of this book. Brona is a powerful Druid-turned-sorcerer. However, just as they had traitors within when Brona attacked 500 years ago, the Druids find themselves attacked again by traitors (who’d think that would happen again?), and Brona has returned to finish what he started, but I kind of forgot what it was he wanted during the course of the story. World domination? Probably. Isn’t that what they all want either to control or destroy the entire world. Much of their hope to defeat Brona, now called the Warlock Lord, rests on Shae’s shoulders and what slim shoulders they are we are reminded repeatedly throughout the story.
The quest starts with the brothers, Shae and Flick, leaving the Vale to escape the Warlock Lord’s minions, the Skull Bearers. Along the way, they pick up Menion Leah, a friend of Shae’s and the prince of Leah, Balinor Buckhannah, the prince of Callahorn, Hendel, a dwarven warrior, Durin and Dayel, elven brothers sent to accompany them on their journey from the elf kingdom, Orl Fane (very briefly and more a foil than anything), a gnome who has deserted his cause and invokes shades of Gollum, and the thief Panamon Creel and his rock troll companion, Keltset. Together they face countless obstacles including murderous gnomes, haunted tombs, a large water serpent that shoots lasers from its eyes (I may be slightly exaggerating because I’m sure it only shot fireballs from its mouth), and giant monsters made of flesh and steel before facing the Warlock Lord himself with THE SWORD OF SHANNARA!
I finished this through a combination of reading the book on Kindle and listening to it on audiobook, but the bulk of this was completed through the audiobook. The narration of this by Scott Brick wasn’t spectacular. He did a fine job with the story, but I wasn’t moved by his reading. I don’t fault him for that more than I fault the unspectacular nature of the book itself. The story was clunky for me. There was so much of it that was nonsensical with shaky plot direction. Not to mention the parts that were inconsistent with what was happening in the story. I can remember rereading certain passages numerous times and thinking, “This is literally impossible in the context of this story.”
There’s just something about most classic fantasy, especially fantasy from the 70s and 80s, that always makes me think that I’m not really going to get a story that’s much better than the old Dungeon & Dragons cartoon (which I still cry about because they never produced that last episode and the ending of the script gives me goosebumps). I love that damn cartoon.
This book was ridiculous, but I never went into this story seriously either. If you check my Goodreads updates for this book, you’ll see many of my statuses are silly in regards to this story. Aside from the obvious lame Lord of the Rings analogies, there was lots of stream crossing (where I interject elements of other things into what I’m currently reading/watching). There were such thoughtful musings as: “Balinor Buckhannah and his bountiful, billowing cape of boon-filled bravery standing boldly before the baleful beast…” and saying Menion probably looks like the wrestler Seth Rollins, which means curb stomps for everybody.
I also concluded that Panamon Creel masquerades as Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s Dorian in his free time while twiddling his mustache and compared the bit about Balinor’s homeland and it’s impregnable walls to Attack on Titans: “On that day mankind received a grim reminder…”
So, in other words, my bar is set pretty low in that regards, and I rolled with it. I went into this story expecting it to be schlocky fun, and that’s what it was. I was entertained, and there’s nothing more that I could ask for from this book. I don’t need savant-like brilliance from a story to be entertained.
The most annoying part of this book to me was Brooks’ incessant need to remind me how lithe, agile, slim, or lean such characters as Shae, Menion, Durin, and Dayel were. Sure, he’d mention how tall characters were often, especially Allanon who is freakishly tall, but not nearly as much as he liked pointing out how lean theses characters were. Okay, I get it. They’re fit. You could make a drinking game out of this, but it’s also likely you’d get alcohol poisoning if you did. Also, I don’t mind head jumping, but sometimes, he was jumping in multiple heads in the same paragraph, which can be a bit much. Finally, I am so disappointed that the final battle didn’t end with Tyrion in chainmail using the power of DOOM metal to defeat the Warlock King (who by this time had started being called the Skull King randomly after hitting the 60% mark in the book).
You know what? Forget that. As far as I’m concerned that is exactly how this battle ended. I have my headcanon. You can’t take it away from me.
I like to think of this as being Lord of the Rings for Dummies by Tolkien Lite if we have to go that route. It’s not nearly as heavy to digest as Tolkien’s books. Despite the hefty page count (726 according to my Kindle), there’s not all this meandering prose. It moves fairly quickly. I’m not going to say it doesn’t have its rambling moments, though, because I did start getting restless toward the end. However, to be fair to Tolkien, this isn’t nearly as inspired as his books either. On the other hand, to be fair to Brooks, I feel like his writing and fictional situations have probably improved since this initial offering. He’s not a terrible writer, so I’m curious to see how his writing has evolved over almost 40 years.
While I wasn’t bowled over by this (I can be so wishy-washy about fantasy, especially in this vein), this was a palatable enough experience for me and fit well within my expectations for it. I had fun with it. Besides, there are tentacles in it, and tentacles are relevant to my interests and gives this book an automatic 2 stars. Will I finish this trilogy? I think perhaps I will, and yes, all my reviews for this series will probably be derpy.