It has been a while since I read a Terry Brooks novel. I loved the original Shannara books, but stopped reading them at some point. I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with Terry Brooks as an author and to see what was happening in the world of Shannara with this book, though this story is actually part of a prequel to the Shannara stories, "Legends of Shannara," and a sequel to "Bearers of the Black Staff." I enjoyed this story and I would read it again.
The story opens with the Ragpicker. We quickly learn that the Ragpicker is a demon and he is on the hunt for the bearer of the black staff. The Ragpicker is also after Prue Liss. Indeed, the Ragpicker would have caught Prue Liss had there not been timely assistance from an unexpected source. At the same time, Panterra Qu finds himself the new bearer of the black staff. Pan struggles with his new role and alternates between overconfidence and doubt. Fortunately, once Prue Liss joins Pan the pair is much more than the sum of their parts.
Of course, if this story was only about Pan and Prue Liss, it might be interesting but relatively unimportant. Pan and Prue live in a valley long hidden from the world. The valley did have protection from those who would be quite happy to eliminate the inhabitants of the valley, to enslave them, or worse. Unfortunately, the protection is gone and the trolls know how to find the valley. Pan and Prue are working against the inevitability of discovery to try to get defenders for the valley.
Complicating matters is that princess Phryne Amarantyne's stepmother has imprisoned Phryne (where have we heard this one before?), accusing Phryne of killing her father, the king. Phryne's stepmother has a completely separate agenda from protecting the valley or even the Elf city. Since the Elves are the only credible force capable of stopping the inevitable troll invasion, Pan and Prue have to gain the help of the Elves, which may mean rescuing Phryne.
The story wends its way through the valley from Pan and Prue's home to the Elf city and then outside the valley as the story threatens to become epic, but falls just short. I was unable to stop reading this story. Author Brooks used a cliffhanger style and I had to keep reading to pick the story up again. Brooks used this style effectively from beginning to end, which made the story quick for me. I must admit that the elements of this novel reminded me of another author's novels, that being Stephen King. The Ragpicker had points where he reminded me of Randall Flagg from "The Stand." The way old technology entered the story reminded me of places in "The Dark Tower" series. Of course, this story is completely different from King's stories; I just kept having feelings of déjà vu.
This novel is hardly ground breaking. Indeed, many of the story elements are familiar from countless other stories. However, Author Brooks wrote the story well and I enjoyed most of the story from beginning to end. I wished Brooks had time to expand some of the details, but that is a minor quibble. The real point of this story is the journey, and the journey was fun for me. The only other thing I found slightly annoying was the internal conflicts of the characters. Strangely, had the internal conflicts not been there, some people would have complained that the author spent insufficient time in character development. Sadly, an author can never satisfy everyone.
As I noted earlier, it has been a while since I read a Terry Brooks novel. I can see that I have a lot of catching up to do. Brooks has expanding Shannara's world significantly since the days of "The Sword of Shannara." Shannara's world has a prehistory and lots of development. I need to fill in the holes and read all the books to see how it all ties together. This novel has given me the enthusiasm to do just that.