Sailing in the sky

January 11, 2008

The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, by Terry Brooks

The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, by Terry Brooks.

I used to like Terry Brooks quite a lot when I was younger: his very much Lord Of The Rings-influenced epics were, to my mind, meatier than the tales he was emulating and, after the original story (The Sword Of Shannara) he deviated away from the Tolkeinesque fantasy structure and found his own voice. There were, however, a couple of things that made me wander away from his stories for a time: first, an authorial voice that dramatically overdescribed every single part of every single often interminable journey, leading to pages and pages of information about forests and inhospitable mountains and not quite enough about the protagonists or their occasionally sketchily-drawn adversaries. And second, the apparent inability for any of the leads to obtain any sort of victory until right before the death-knock – hell, people, if you’re imbued with powerful magic or superior fighting skills, you should be able to use them occasionally.Anyways. Picked up this, a sturdy and quite beautifully done hardcover (1234 pages) of a series he’d written subsequent to his excellent, but a little overlong, Heritage Of Shannara tetraology. And have come away from it a few days later very impressed. Brooks has refined his latent tendency for irrelevant overdescriptiveness down to prose that cuts like a knife; in fact, on one or two occasions throughout this massive one-book trilogy, he’s overdone it and I, no doubt hypocritically, wished for more description. But generally it’s a breath of fresh air, and the story is allowed to breathe and surge because of it, keeping the pages flying by. I’m glad I got this one volume edition because the individual books (Ilse Witch, Antrax and Morgawr) would have driven me insane if I’d had to read and obtain them one by one – it’s all one very interconnected story, and each volume effectively ends on a cliffhanger.It’s much bloodier than his predecessors, with the decimation of friends and foes alike being rendered often in dismembering detail. Which is fine with me >:P There’s less of the earth-shaking plots of previous Shannara tales; no epic battles, for example, but that’s fine – The Voyage Of The Jerle Shannara is essentially a commando mission into enemy territory pursued by malevolent forces to find a monstrous power, with aerial seaships, powerful magics and horrific creatures as the fantastical trappings. Intriguing, too, that Brooks plays no favourites with his characters, and the strongest and most prominent may not be the ones who survive… if any.

The flying ships are so cleverly described and designed that they’re a joy to read of, which is good considering how much of the journey is quest-based or war-based upon them. It’s a melding of strange technology into fantasy that shouldn’t work but does, and is viciously enhanced – especially in Antrax – when the properties of the power they are looking for, and its ancient guardian, became hideously clear. Oh, and if you didn’t think the concept of a zombie could fit perfectly into fantasy epic conventions, think again…

Conclusion? Twelve hundred and thirty-four pages flew by on the radian draws of a flying battleship. Eminently readable, total adventure, occasionally horrific and even moving. Look out for wronks…


2 Responses to “Sailing in the sky”

  1. Cliff Burns Says:

    Saying that Terry Brooks was “influenced” by Tolkien is a bit disingenuous, don’t you think? Brooks, like most fantasy hacks, has never escaped the Tolkien shadow…and neither he nor his fans particularly want him to. Far easier to sharecrop an existing universe, no new ideas required (and only three working synapses needed to comprehend the resulting derivative drivel).Until fantasy fans become more demanding, the genre will never grow, never develop and they will have to contend with the hacks who are drawn to just such a mentality like flies to dung…

  2. sarcade Says:

    You’re obviously not a fan of Brooks, which is fine; if people didn’t like different things there would only be one book, after all. I’d question your rather narrow outlook on ‘sharecropping’, particularly considering the recent — and, yes, surprising — spread in Brooks’ own fictional universe.

    I think fantasy fans HAVE become more demanding: look at China Mieville, Alan Campbell, George R R Martin, Richard Kadrey, Steve Erikson, Lian Hearn etc. for more recent evidence of that.

    You’ve a right to your opinion, but your tarring of Brooks and, by inference, many other fantasy authors as ‘hacks’ appears to me to be ill-founded and mean-minded. Brooks in particular has written bad books, and better books, but any direct ‘plagiaristic intent’ was knocked out of him after the original Shannara series. His MO has changed somewhat since then. And to include the authors I’ve mentioned above as well, not to mention many others in the field today, shows at best an indiscriminately shallow overview of the fantasy field.

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