I had really high hopes for The Elfstones of Shannara because I started watching The Shannara Chronicles (the TV show adapted from said book) and it’s rather good. But the novel itself ended up being a little disappointing in comparison; the opposite of what usually happens where the film or TV adaptation doesn’t live up to the book.
I should probably explain that The Elfstones of Shannara is the second book in Terry Brooks’s Shannara trilogy, following The Sword of Shannara, and preceding The Wishsong of Shannara. They’re marketed as a trilogy, but each book can be read as a stand-alone story, and since the series I was watching was adapted from book two, I decided to dive right in with that.
The Elfstones of Shannara is a high fantasy novel so I was expecting magic, adventure, and action, and I did get all those things, but the story’s slow pace rendered the magic sparse, the adventure wearisome, and the action stale.
There are times when Brooks spends two or three pages describing the landscape of a battle scene before he actually gets into the battle itself, and even then the battle narration seems labored. I think this is due to the overall writing style, which I had issues with because it didn’t excite me or stun me in any way, and wasn’t particularly imaginative.
In part this is due to the way Brooks uses ‘stock phrases’, where he repeats the same descriptive phrase or adjective to narrative the same thing throughout the novel. For instance, when describing the Druid’s fire abilities for the first time he calls it ‘blue fire’; this is fine as it sets up a colour differentiation from your average orange/yellow fire-throwing abilities and gives us a bit of imagery to play with. But, in every instance after this for the rest of the novel he describes it as ‘blue fire’, which becomes repetitive and simply unnecessary. We know it’s blue Terry, you’ve told us it’s blue. You’re allowed to just call it ‘fire’ until you want to vary your lexicon or make a colour change (heads up: he doesn’t make any colour changes, it’s blue for the rest of the book). While I’m not expecting a complete lack of repetition in a 600 page book, there’s a noticeable and vexing amount in this novel and it could have really benefited from more lexical variety.
Having said this, the action scenes, when they came around, were pretty gripping and had far better pacing; the last 100 pages in particular were great. This is due to the plot culmination and an unexpected final twist, which I won’t spoil, but will say made me feel sad about for the main characters. I did, however, find it refreshing for the plot. The characters of Wil, Amberle, and Eretria were enjoyable to journey alongside, but I didn’t feel the same closeness with with them that I do for other characters, and this was again down to the writing style. Brooks describes their emotions, but in a detached way that doesn’t build empathy with them; I feel more attachment to the same characters in the TV show than I did reading the novel.
Overall, this was a good book, but it didn’t wow me in the way I was expecting. The plot pacing was slow and plodded through the novel; Brooks’s descriptions were also overly long-winded at times although there were some great scenes in the final few chapters. I’d say the book could have benefited from being cut to 400 pages (the edition I was read was 614) and would have read far more fluidly as a result.