Warning: This post may contain spoilers for Terry Brooks’s The Last Druid, as well as other books in his Fall of Shannara series
As I mentioned in my other Fall of Shannara reviews, it is difficult to separate out a single book to discuss it when that book is a part of a series that is part of a saga stretching over decades of real world time and dozens of installments, but I will do my best. This book, quite frankly, had enormous shoes to fill: it had to be a good book in and of itself, it had to be a satisfying conclusion to the Fall of Shannara series, and it had to be a pleasing ending to the entire Shannara series. Next week, we’ll do a review that covers how it did in the latter two categories, but I will do my best in this post to constrain myself to looking just at this piece.
By itself, this was probably the strongest book in the Fall of Shannara series (sub-series?). To me, it had the most emotional impact, and the most substantial story. Some of that is the weight of hundreds and thousands of years of in-world history lining up to make this book significant, but regardless, I enjoyed this book. It was worth reading, and not just because of how invested I’ve been in Shannara for so many years.
However, it had its weaknesses. I’m not sure if it’s because what I read has changed, or because how Brooks writes has changed, but the writing of this book, like the others in the series, felt a little too stilted. In the maxim of writing, there was a little too much telling going on, so that it was hard to ever feel completely pulled into the story and immersed in the world. That’s a shame, considered how much world-building has been done in the Four Lands both in and out of the published volumes.
The storylines were all resolved, albeit to varying degrees of satisfaction. Clizia Porse went from being a complex, conniving villain with deep schemes and immense power to being a revenge-crazed old woman with no long term plans and a clear death sentence written over her storyline. From the beginning of the book, when Tarsha manages to will herself from one place to another using the wishsong, it became clear that Clizia wouldn’t be able to defeat her, though knowing that didn’t make the eventual battle and resolution any less satisfying. But while Tarsha matured in her status as a magic user, she didn’t seem to mature in any other way, and it seemed at times that if she wasn’t incinerating enemies with powerful magic, she was crying.
Drisker, the semi-failed Druid, had probably the second best storyline in the series. His complicated decision to step down, and then his inability to completely abdicate responsibility, and his relationship with his own pessimism, was well-written and compelling. Throughout the book, he is a man who is struggling to come to terms with difficult decisions and to do the best he can in the very, very harsh and unforgiving world of the Forbidding, without losing his humanity in the process. His interactions with Weka Dart, a long time Shannara character who made a reappearance in this book, and Grainne Ohmsford, one of the most interesting characters Brooks has ever created, were some of the most fascinating and, to me, real in the series.
Then there was the machine destined to go change the weather in Skaarland and its travelling companions. To me, this whole storyline felt contrived. Something like it had to happen for the plot to move along and to resolve the conflicts, but it just didn’t work for me. There wasn’t enough foreshadowing of the twists that came along to make their job more difficult, and then Shea Ohmsford discovered things about his heritage at a most convenient time that I really think shouldn’t have even been in the book at all. Better to let him be his own person, in my opinion, and more interesting that way. There were also a couple of loose ends here with side characters that were never tied up, or were terminated rather abruptly and unnecessarily.
In my other Fall of Shannara reviews, I expressed that I found the Skaar and especially Ajin to be the most interesting players in this series, and that continued to be true here. Ajin’s ending was the second most satisfying, after Drisker’s (I know, strange, if you’ve read the book). She had a lot of struggles both internal and external to overcome, and she grew a lot in the process. Her relationship with Dar Leah was also a bright spot, and I was pleased that Brooks carried through on Dar’s personality conflicts laid down at the beginning of the first book in the series, even if they ended up being resolved in a somewhat contrived way.
There were, I guess, some slight hints about Balladrin Russ’s true nature before, but that reveal still seemed a little forced and sudden. It almost made it seem like we were supposed to assume that any competent character in this series had to be Skaar. For what she did to work, I think we needed to have more hints about her, a lot earlier. Her storyline was one of several that made me feel like this series was not nearly as well planned out as it seemed in the earlier books.
This was a good book; I enjoyed it, and I would read it again, someday (if I ever get through my ever-expanding list of books that I need to read). It was even a good ending to The Fall of Shannara. Yet at the end, I don’t know that I see how this is the end of Shannara. For all that the beginning of the series indicated that this would bring permanent change to the Four Lands, it doesn’t completely feel like it did. My guess is that it won’t be too long before we’re back in Shannara once again.