My second book review! YAY.
Disclaimer: I have never thought of myself as much of an art critic – I sort of always thought it wasn’t my place to disagree with the storyteller. As in, if I didn’t enjoy a book or movie, then it probably says more about me not being the intended audience for it, right? But I don’t think that need stop me from sharing my thoughts on such-and-such a book.
So here I go…
Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannara is a classic of fantasy fiction, maybe the author more than the book series itself? The books seem to be the kind of classic that is often referenced but never actually ever read (or reread).
Which means when I came upon this book, I recognized only the title and had no clue on the characters or story. Reading the brief one-page introduction by Brooks, he explained how he left his dull career in law to write this story, which in his mind was combining pulp action-adventure tales with Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.
Sounds good to me!
Well, not so much.
I won’t say that citing Tolkien as inspiration put some unfair comparisons into my head while reading, but it did not help. The similarities in stories were obvious but instead of coming across as a clever retelling or building off of Middle-Earth, it was a lot more like fan-fiction that made me only want to read Tolkien instead.
Full disclosure: this was a struggle to get through.
Without its reputation being what it was, and my own determination to research the genre I write in, I would have gladly given up on it many, many times.
Which is one way of saying it was super long – not simply in page numbers but in pacing – and in my opinion could have been cut down by at least half to make a better read.
Sure, there were some neat parts like how he switched up a few tropes: Dwarves who are afraid of going underground; a world that reads like old fantasy that is actually a sci-fi dystopian future; Druids who are not druids; Gandalf reimagined as a temperamental asshole more like Dumbledore on a bad day…
That was about it though, and the rest of the near-500 pages was a lot of repetitive scenes with long descriptions of landscapes and weather.
Not that I was expecting to find much representation in classic fantasy, but this is a tale that spans multiple lands and many months yet the first woman mentioned does not come until about page 274.
She is a princess of course and a distressed damsel too, who doesn’t do much more after being rescued besides fall in love with the prince who saved her life.
As a reader, it was frustrating how many things were teased throughout the book and then dropped completely (character relationship arcs) or else failed to have any payoff twist whatsoever (why someone knew so much about something). I’m not sure if the author is to blame here or perhaps the editors?
As a writer, I noticed how much attention was devoted to describing some things (landscapes and weather, as I already said) and so little to others (food, for example), which is not necessarily a flaw but notable.
What is a flaw, though, was how often the reader was ‘told’ that some characters bonded or one character was changing, as opposed to ‘showing’ that happen and not having to thump me on the head so that I didn’t miss it.
Finally, I have to bring it back to Tolkien again, what with this story having a
fellowship band of semi-strangers (coincidentally token representatives of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Druids) on a quest to retrieve a powerful weapon before the evil wizard does first.
I found it to be a real missed opportunity in how a few characters were woefully underused and underdeveloped – to the point that there was very little indicator (in the dialogue, in their behaviour, in their styles) these people came from different cultures.
Overall – I am curious about how the remainder of the series played out, but won’t be reading them anytime soon…
Thanks for reading what I’m reading.