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Terry Brooks
Del Rey, 368 pages

Terry Brooks
With the publication of Sword of Shannara in 1977, Terry Brooks became one of the most popular authors in the industry. He has published more than 14 consecutive bestselling novels since that first book.

Terry Brooks Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tanequil
SF Site Review: The Elfstones of Shannara
SF Site Review: Sometimes The Magic Works
SF Site Review: Morgawr
SF Site Review: Ilse Witch
SF Site Review: A Knight of the Word
SF Site Review: Running With The Demon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'"I have to lock you in."

"Then do so. You are wasting my time."

The gnome fiddled with the keys, slipped one clear of the others, inserted it into the lock, and turned it. The lock clicked, and the door opened with a squeal on its metal fastenings. As it did so, Khyber's prisoner wrenched free of her grip and ran screaming down the hall.'

Following on from Jarka Ruus and Tanequil, Straken is the third and final title in the High Druid of Shannara series. New readers could begin here, and still find something entertaining, but to do so would be to miss out. Straken is also the fourteenth novel set in the world of Shannara, and although written to Terry Brooks's standard formula, it's a trick that still works. The faint whiff of artistic stagnation which now hovers, is proven to be no impediment to commercial success. This is due, in the main, to the author's easy writing style and uncommon ability with regard to characterisation. Jumping straight back into the story where it left off, Straken continues the quest of unlikely hero Penderrin Ohmsford. Now equipped with the means to break in -- and back out -- of the Forbidding, where his aunt, the deposed Ard Rhys of Druids, is stranded, Pen must first get back to Paranor. His rescue attempt can only begin from within chamber where Grianne Ohmsford disappeared. Unfortunately, this will deliver him straight into the hands of those responsible for his aunt's disappearance.

It will come as no surprise to Shannara fans to learn that Brooks again uses his characters like chess pieces, manoeuvring them carefully into their positions. Everyone has a place and there's a place for everyone. What the plot lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with a combination of skillful interpretation and expert pacing. No doubt to the delight of his publisher, Brooks again delivers a satisfying dollop of straightforward, uncomplicated, fantasy. All of those who began the journey are present and accounted for by the end, mostly in ways that make perfect sense. Several times, what is to happen is telegraphed, but that doesn't seem to matter so much. The central plank of Brooks's technique is to make the characters more important than any plot device. Six threads are woven together; Pen's careering rescue mission, Shadea a'Ru's murky politicking, Grianne Ohmsford's flight from the Forbidding, tomboy elf girl Khyber Elessedil's infiltration of Paranor, the inevitable escape from Druid captivity of Pen's parents, and the weary conflict between the Free-Born and the Federation. Last time around, what happened in the Forbidding; a kind of twilight zone for evil faerie folk, was markedly dark and at times bordered on sadism. But for Straken, this element seems to have been toned right down. Mention is made of Grianne Ohmsford's demonic tormentor, but he's never seen. Similarly, the laser weapon introduced in Tanequil is reduced to a brooding threat, perhaps indicating a mid-series rethink by the author.

On the one hand, I found this book to be a fast paced fun read, with a personable cast and masterfully imagineered locations. On the other, I felt that the author was working on economy cycle. Armed with an array of very readable characters, some of whom had real depth, and two enticing new territories within his world, I'd expected more. The remote area known as the Inkrim, where the Tanequil lives, remained largely unexploited, and the deep evil that is surely present in the Forbidding stayed hidden. Ultimately, none of the characters ever deviated from what I'd envisaged, and a lot of potential was, not so much wasted, as restrained. Clearly it was by design of the author. Having said that, it's only a personal perspective, and no one who already enjoys Brooks's work would regret buying Straken. Indeed, it may be that the familiarity and certainties he offers his readers is a major part of what keep them coming back for more.

In summary, I'll draw a parallel with an advert for a wood sealant product in the UK, which features the catchphrase 'It does exactly what it says on the tin.' The same thing is true of Straken, and every other Terry Brooks fantasy novel. The consummate WYSIWYG author, he delivers time and again, just so much and no more.

Copyright © 2006 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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