I know, I said I would read all of the Shannara books in order, and I do have Morgawr on the shelf waiting for me. But—I wanted something to listen to a few days back, and the library had all of the Dark Legacy of Shannara audiobooks downloadable, so I gave into temptation.
I did enjoy it, but overall, Dark Legacy of Shannara is the series’ weakest entry thus far, even if Oriantha and Tesla Dart are my favorite characters in the whole mega-series.
There are some spoilers for previous books in the trilogy—no surprise there—but the trilogy does stand on its own, and I have to admit, the spoilers were things that had already been spoiled for me—I’m pretty careless about avoiding them.
Anyway, on to the trilogy itself: I enjoyed listening to it, and Rosalyn Landor is a top-notch narrator. Like all of Brooks’ books that I have read, it moves swiftly and provides a good adventure; this accessibility and adventure is, in fact, the main reason I keep reading Terry Brooks. On the other hand, Dark Legacy is definitely the most mixed of the series I have read so far, with some really good bits, some downright dire moments, and a sense of opportunity wasted.
Just so you know: There are definite spoilers for the trilogy below.
Let’s face it: This is basically Elfstones of Shannara retold in three-book format, complete with dying Ellcrys, misused Elfstones that are changing the protagonist, an unidentified shape-shifting spy, a demonic invasion, and a quest for the Bloodfire. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing: It offers Brooks the chance to complicate matters a bit and to point out that, perhaps, the original people of Faerie were a little too quick to banish entire nations and peoples to a wasteland without hope of return. To an extent, he does so, giving the love story between Aleia Omarosia and her “Darkling Boy” as one powerful argument that the peoples were not so different and the guide Tesla Dart for a more nuanced look at the group.
This premise is largely wasted, however, as aside from those two individuals, everything in the Forbidding is, in fact, trying to kill the heroes, usually very unpleasantly and apparently mindlessly. Mostly, everything there looks evil as well. Once the Forbidding opens, the result is an immediate invasion by Tael Riverine (not mindless) and his hoards, all of whom fling themselves at whomever they are fighting with the same careless regard for life and limb as their predecessors did in Elfstones and who bring the same waves of destruction. With no indication that some diplomatic alternative was possible or any other outcome likely, the moral ends up being “Yes. Lock them all away.” Granted, Brooks might follow this up in a future trilogy, but this was a giant, three-book chance that didn’t get taken.
Dark Legacy has both the best romance in the Shannara series thus far and the absolute nadir of romantic developments. The developing relationship between Cymrian and Aphenglow is sweet and given time to unfold and grow over the course of the books, making it by far the most solid and sweet of the mega-series’ romances.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Railing and Mirai is a truly dire point in the series. Mirai, as portrayed, is all over the map, first flirting equally with both twins, then reflecting that she doesn’t want their friendship to change, then flirting with Austrum—which is honestly a relief while it is happening as it gave me a moment or two of thinking that a truly cringe-worthy triangle was going to be neatly severed. Then there is this: “Why don’t you just take me…Take me Railing, your brother did,” followed by, “He reached for her, pulled her into him, and kissed her hard—none of it gentle or sweet, just demanding.” What?! This is all cliché—stale, reheated, cliché. It’s also pushing the idea that women really want to be forced. This last is mitigated by the way Mirai has to spell everything out for Railing in words of one syllable, but it’s still one of those ideas that needs to die an immediate death. By the way, Mirai was lying about poor Redding, which does not improve matters in the least.
Character-wise, the series is again hit-or-miss. There are some memorable, enjoyable characters and some wasted opportunities.
First of all, I loved the Aphenglow- Arlingfant relationship. It’s the first of the books I have read where Brooks has included a pair of sisters among his focus siblings, and the friendship between the two sisters is a joy to read with the two complementing—and complimenting—one another steadily through the series. They like one another and enjoy spending time together quietly, even when not in peril.
The second focus siblings were not quite as successful—Railing and Redding are perfectly comfortable as brothers, and Railing’s loyalty to his brother is commendable. The real problem is I spent the majority of the book being as unable to tell them apart as anyone else was. I never really could remember which brother was sitting miserably in a dungeon and which was flying miserably on an airship. When Mirai said she could always tell them apart because one was bolder than the other, I stopped and said “Really?” I had noticed this no more than any other character in the book—including their mother, who really ought to have known if the distinction was that basic.
The real missed opportunities were, quite uncharacteristically for Brook, the series’s big bads: Tael Riverine and Edinje Orle, particularly the latter. Tael Riverine is a pretty much standard Evil Overlord here, complete with sneering, lusting, cheating in combat, and invading just for the sake of invading. Edinje has the possibility to take the role of necessary evil that Brooks ends up forcing onto Grianne. As the leader of the Federation and a magic user, she has reason to believe Aphenglow and Arlingfant’s story of the upcoming demon invasion and the resources to help the Elves in battle. There are even a couple of moments when it looks like the book might go this way, breaking the now-tired stand-off between the two powers and shaking things into a new pattern. Sadly, she ultimately settles for simply being evil, managing to do nothing her predecessors have not achieved before her (She’s something of a cross between the Ilse Witch and Rimmer Dall without the charisma of either).
Back to the good stuff: Oriantha, and Tesla Dart are among Brooks’ memorable outsiders; they are the trilogy’s best point and may, in fact, be my favorite characters of the entire mega-series. Matters are only made better by their spending quite long spells together in an uneasy alliance. Both of them are strong, self-sufficient figures with well-developed survival skills. Oriantha knows fighting best, but she has enough sense to stay hidden when needed. Tesla has a second-generation grudge and friendship for Druid outsiders. She is not a fighter, but she knows everything there is to know about staying out of sight and learning what is happening, and she’s amazingly loyal to her newfound friends. The most moving moment in the book is Oriantha running to try to keep Tesla Dart from being pulled back into the Forbidding when the army is pulled in. This is one thread I hope to see continued.
And about that whole Bloodfire Quest–Why, exactly, did no one think to make a map of the exact location last time? Allanon wrote down a general location but not an X marks the spot? Why? Basically, this whole subplot was unnecessary.
Finally, there is the big shocker of the trilogy: Grianne Ohmsford re-re-incarnated as the Ilse Witch. For now, I’m putting this in the “wasted opportunity” bin, although it’s really more in the “Why?” section. On the one hand, there is the shock value when she shows up as the wrinkled, malicious, elderly witch-creature. On the other, there is no need for the character outside of this. She might stall Tael Riverine, but she is not actually necessary to his defeat—the restored Ellcrys takes care of the entire army quite tidily about three and a half minutes after the showdown. And Grianne has had a full, long, and developed arc. I suppose the reset button might be useful in a future trilogy, but for now it is more annoying than anything else.