It’s no secret that I’m a big Terry Brooks fan. He and his work mean a lot to me for many reasons—foremost that his Shannara novels cemented my love for the type of storytelling that I discovered via Tolkien. Every year, I look forward to the next Shannara volume, so it was a bit of a shock when Brooks announced a couple of years ago that his latest series, a four volume set beginning with The Black Elfstone, was the conclusion to the long-running epic fantasy series.
The Shannara books are all over the place quality-wise—some legitimately terrific, like The Elfstones of Shannara and Witch Wraith, others disappointing and derivative of Brooks’ earlier work, like The Gypsy Morph or Bearers of the Black Staff. Lately, they’ve been pretty good. The Black Elfstone, which I reviewed for Tor.com, managed to be nostalgic without being too derivative, and added back a lot of the meat that was missing from Brooks’ novels in recent years. It felt, for lack of a better word, appropriately epic considering its place as the keystone in a conclusion to a 40+ year series.
I wrote on Tor.com:
A large part of this is due to the scope of The Black Elfstone’s main plot, which is focused on the Druids and their response to a ghostly invading army. The Druids, bogged down by a corrupt leader and all the other perils of bureaucracy, flounder as this army tears through the Four Lands, leaving nothing but the dead in its wake. As the first act in a larger story, The Black Elfstone suggest that the coming story is larger and more complex than the rest of Brooks’ recent Shannara novels. There’s a sense of ambition and momentum in its pages that I wasn’t sure Brooks would find again, and it’s a lovely experience to be whisked away by remembrances of what made me fall in love with his work in the first place. The Black Elfstone blows the doors open on a story that pulls together many disparate strings from the series’ history, and also propels it forward towards its inevitable and much-awaited conclusion.
The Skaar Invasion picks up where The Black Elfstone left off, literally, and expands on everything that made The Black Elfstone work so well. It uses a lot of expected elements (Elfstones, Druids, plucky young heroes, politics, airships), which I’ve criticized the series for in the past, but this time, instead of things playing out as familiar readers would expect, the results are different. Magic and power always come at a cost—that’s one of the core themes of Brooks’ work—but never has the cost been so high as it is here.
One of the most effective twists on Brooks’ formula is the relationship between Tarsha and Tavo Kaynin. They replace the prototypical Ohmsford character—young, naive, blessed (or cursed) with the power of the Wishsong—but their story is anything but typical. There’s heartbreak, and violence, loss, and no clear path forward. Often, Brooks’ plots are linear—a straight line from the empty beginning of a story to its inevitable conclusion—but here, there’s no clear outcome. The path wanders, strays, splits off, disappears. For the first time in a long time, probably since The Heritage of Shannara series in the late ’90s, Brooks is writing a truly epic story with multiple plot lines, nested sub-plots, and many characters with different goals, crossing paths with each other. Nothing’s clean an obvious. It’s messy. It’s big.
Perhaps most intriguing (and I’ll be spare with the details, because spoilers) is the Skaar themselves. 2000’s The Ilse Witch gave us our first peek outside the Four Lands, which was tantalizing and filled with possibility. Now, on the cusp of the series’ conclusion, Brooks has done the same again, expanding the possibilities and creating so many more questions about his fantastical post-apocalyptic Earth.
I’m about 40% of the way through now, and the pages are just flying by. A Brooks book is always a treat. A good Brooks book? It doesn’t get better.
I’ll have a full review on Tor.com when The Skaar Invasion releases in June.