(2019) Terry Brooks, Orbit, £20, hrdbk, ii + 335pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51024-8
Following The Black Elfstone and The Skaar Invasion comes the third book in the triumphant four-part conclusion to the Shannara series, from one of the all-time masters of fantasy.
The Skaar have arrived in the Four Lands, determined to stop at nothing less than all-out conquest. They badly need a new home, but peaceful coexistence is not a concept they understand. An advance force under the command of Princess Ajin has already established a foothold, but now the full Skaar army is on the march - and woe betide any who stand in its way.
But perhaps the Skaar victory is not a foregone conclusion. The Druid Drisker Arc has freed both himself and Paranor from exile. Drisker's student, Tarsha Kaynin, has been reunited with the chief defender of the Druid order, and is learning to control her powerful Wishsong magic. If they can only survive Tarsha's brother and the Druid who betrayed Drisker Arc, they might stand a chance of defeating the Skaar. But that is a very big if… as Tarsha's brother now carries the Stiehl - one of the most powerful weapons in all the Four Lands - and is determined to take his revenge on everyone who has wronged him.
“The Shannara Chronicles is NOW A MAJOR TV SERIES” proclaims a sticker-like blurb-circle on the front cover of this book. Sadly, “was” could be substituted for “is” because after two seasons the show has been cancelled. Pity, because after the success the Peter Jackson Tolkien films, and Game of Thrones, Terry Brooks’ legendary 'Shannara' series was ripe for picking and there were certainly enough books to adapt given that The Sword of Shannara appeared in the 1970s and since then Brooks has – by my reckoning, although I’m running out of fingers – twenty seven other novels before this one, and has picked up the pace in recent years by bringing out almost a book a year in the new millennium.
I’ve always thought they were pretty broad-brush novels, with epic themes and tropes, building on the works of Tolkien and Lewis and Moorcock, but not always staying within the boundaries of high fantasy, thus energy weapons and airships have appeared in some of the novels, although given that the series has spanned 3,000 years some technological advances were bound to happen.
The Stiehl Assassin is the third of a four-part 'Fall of Shannara' series. We have already met the dreaded Skaar in the first two books with their seemingly unstoppable magic led by Princess Ajin d’Amphere (who features on the covers of this mini-series with great artwork by Mike Bryan), and we’ve also met the three major characters who are making a stand against the Skaar – a reluctant Druid, an adept at magic and a warrior with a magic sword, all pretty staple characters for a Brooks adventure.
In the previous two books, Brooks has been building up the tension, the scale and the stakes. What do we get here? Well, some political intrigue and Druidic back-stabbing, romance, dodgy deals, an unstoppable weapon, and a supporting cast made of different races, and even the effects of climate-change are thrown into the mix as the Skaar seek to build a new homeland in The Four Lands. Given that this is the “end”, Brooks does give several nods to what has come before and the stakes get higher and higher as he sets the stage for a mighty conclusion in The Last Druid due out in the middle of 2020 (although he has promised to revisit Shannara in the future, but only to fill in the gaps between his novels and not continue the timeline beyond this mini-series).
Somewhere in Hunter Towers is a battered, stained, creased copy of The Sword of Shannara which I got signed at a Fantasycon years ago that is dedicated to my son with the words “magic, forever” above Brooks’ signature, so I guess that Last Druid can count me in for one final adventure.
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