Supposedly, that's the end of Shannara. Terry Brooks claims that The Last Druid was the latest he intends to go in the in-world timeline. This series was supposed to radically alter the Four Lands forever, and I was expecting something big. The first couple of books were promising, with the Skaar invasion and the fall of the current Druid Order (the Fifth?); the Skaar were such a compelling, dominant force that it seemed certain that they were going to be in the Four Lands to stay.
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.
If you've been following along for the past few weeks, you know that I've been rereading the existing books in the Stormlight Archive before I read the newly released Rhythm of War, which I've been eagerly anticipating since I finished Oathbringer for the first time back when it came out. When I finished Words of Radiance, I realized that I should probably also read Edgedancer, which is a Stormlight novella, and part of Arcanum Unbounded. Since I haven't posted reviews for any of these stories before, it seemed worthwhile to also post about them here on the site.
So yes, I've gone on a bit of a Sanderson kick recently, with the excuse of wanting to derive maximum enjoyment and satisfaction from my first (and likely subsequent second) read of Rhythm of War. I would have left Warbreaker out of that, and settled for just the other three books in the Stormlight Archive, plus Arcanum Unbound, except that I am fairly certain that the peculiar black sword that appears in Oathbringer is tied to a certain sword in Warbreaker. Plus, it has been quite awhile since I've read this novel, and it's worth rereading every now and then.
We may have talked about "second book syndrome" before on the site. If you've read, or even watched, many series, you've probably noticed it: the first installment comes out strong, and then the second falters a little before things improve again in the third. By no means is this universal, but it is common enough to be remarkable, which is why we're remarking on it. Whether it's the result of the author trying too hard to replicate the success of the first book, or the fact that the pacing of a second book can feel a little like the pacing of the middle of a novel, which is always the hardest to keep interesting, second books often falter. Not Words of Radiance, which takes what made The Way of Kings fantastic, and built upon it to create a sequel worthy of the Stormlight Archive.
Technically, this is not a new book to me. In fact, this is at least my fifth time reading The Way of Kings. It is one of my go-to books when life looks particularly bleak, or when I need to remind myself of what epic fantasy should be. This time, my excuse for rereading was the release of the newest installment in this series, Rhythm of War. I don't do that for all series, especially not ones with which I am already as familiar as I am with Stormlight Archive, but these books are simply so good that it makes a great excuse. Since I have not yet reviewed the books here on the site, I decided it was also an appropriate time to rectify that gross negligence.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I try very hard to read broadly. For the most part, I enjoy the books that I read, even the ones that are outside what I'll call my core genres. This especially true of much of the nonfiction and biographic texts that I consume, all of which come with the added benefit of improving my knowledge just a little bit more. Then there are the times that I return to the core fantasy genre, and I remember why fantasy and science fiction are my true favorite genres. Wintersteel was just the kind of reminder for which I was looking.
In the previous two books in this series, a lot of time was spent bringing players into place and setting up introductions. There is plenty of action, but it all retains a fairly light touch - there is a sense that, although things are happening and changes are occurring, nothing really major has changed yet, and anything that has changed is not necessarily permanent. This is common in series, when you start to look at them holistically; it takes time and words to put all of the characters into the places they need to be for the plot to start really picking up. With The Stiehl Assassin, the plot definitely accelerates.
There's something vaguely amusing about the fact that as I go through and read The Fall of Shannara series, I find myself most interested by, and rooting for, the invading Skaar and their hyper-competent Princess Ajin. It's not that I don't like the other characters (most of them, anyway), or that Brooks hasn't done a good job at making them sympathetic. To me, though, Princess Ajin is exactly what the best characters should be.
Where do I even start with a Shannara review? Shannara is epic fantasy in the very literal sense of the word, spanning hundreds of years of in-world history across myriad series and trilogies and stand-alone novels. Perhaps Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere may eventually be larger in literary scope, but even that will likely not sprawl so much as Shannara. Where a series like Wheel of Time covers a single story arc, Shannara has era, ages, and dozens of independent arcs. Sometimes, one has to wonder if Terry Brooks can bring himself to write anything that isn't Shannara: supposedly his Knight of the Word trilogy began as something new, and morphed into a prelude to Shannara.