Nov 19, 2013

[Books] Straken (High Druid of Shannara Book 3)

Today's review brings us to the end of Terry Brook's High Druid of Shannara trilogy of books, which has been an interesting romp in the world of Shannara. And while this wasn't a necessarily brilliant work, it was still a pretty fun ride.

The world of Shannara and the writings of Terry Brooks in general seem to have quite a number of recurring themes. You can call them tropes or many just key standards of the world that come back and back and back. And for the Shannara books, our big focus will always be the Ohmsford family. This has been a good thing and and a bit of a band thing depending on the particular book and the story worked the family into the narrative. But in many ways, they'll always be the heroes of the series.

This trilogy really took things to a particular level given it has all been about the effort to rescue Grianne Ohmsford from the Forbidding - an effort that involved quite a number of members of the Ohmsford family as well. I appreciate the focus, but man it's like the whole range of possibilities won't let this family get a break. And I really think they could get some time off some time.

Synopsis: Straken is the third and final book in the High Druid of Shannara series written by Terry Brooks.

At the end of the events in Tanequil, Pen Ohmsford finally fulfills a major part of his quest in successfully obtaining the darkwand from the Tanequil tree. But the larger challenge remains - to find a way to get into Paranor, make the crossing into the Forbidding and rescue his aunt. But before he can even think of a plan, their little party is captured by a group of Druids dispatched airship to find them. Pen agrees to go with the druids back to Paranor in order to save his friends, but the elf Khyber manages to stow away on one of the ships.

Back in Paranor, Druids Trefen Morys and Bellizen work to help Bek Ohmsford and his wife from escape from Paranor's dungeons. However the two Druids aren't particularly experienced and their range of magical skills don't include combat. On the Prekkendoran Plains, we are introduced to Pied Sanderling, the Captain of the Elven Home Guard, as they fight on the front lines to repel the Federation army. Given how the King and his sons were killed by the Federations frightening new weapon, Pied struggles to keep the remnants of the Elven forces together long enough to reinforce the Free-born and hold the line.

Given this is the final book in the trilogy, there was some degree of urgency in how the writing panned out, it seems. There was definitely a need to resolve the many different plot threads in the story, but to address all of them was clearly a stretch for any author. We have the separate groups of Ohmsfords to follow around plus Khyber in hiding. And then we had the battle on the Prekkendoran, the plots of Federation Prime Minister Sen Dunsidan and the machinations of Moric, the changeling demon from the Forbidding. Oh, and we can't forget Grianne Ohmsford herself who continues to struggle to maintain her identity despite the hardships that she's experiencing among the demons.

Given all that needed to happen, I felt the overall pacing of the story certainly accelerated and the writing quality suffered as a result. Tasks that had seemed so daunting in the first book turned out to be remarkably simple to do once the time came around, There was a lot of instances when the magic would just take over and resolve things for the characters instead of needing extra effort from them. Pieces just kept falling into place one after the other to the point of being almost convenient.

I'm not sure if it was a good idea to devote so much time to the "enemies" of the story in this case. Brooks has long enjoyed showing both sides of the story to act as a way to further the plot in a more interesting fashion. I think he really got into this when he wrote The Elfstones of Shannara that also featured a lot of back and forth (and another changeling demon, coincidentally enough). Here I think he ended up losing precious "book time" that could have been better devoted to giving the protagonists more compelling challenges instead of needing to water things down.

The book is still decently fun and the end resolution still made sense for the most part. But in other ways, I think the story could have ended on a higher note or perhaps even earlier than it did, where it not for additional lingering plot threads that begged for resolution.

Straken suffers from a heavy burden to wrap up the story as best as possible within a limited amount of page space. And while it did manage to do just that, it didn't do that in a particularly exemplary manner. So the book can only really merit 2 really weird character names like Pied out of a possible 5.

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