Review – Dark Wraith of Shannara

From Hub Magazine**, October 2008

“Dark Wraith of Shannara”
by Terry Brooks
published in the UK by Orbit, £6.99

Why give up the “wishsong”?

Also, while we’re at it, what the blazes is this “wishsong” anyway?!?

Straight off, I’m a “newbie” to Brooks’ fantasy world of Shannara* and this seemingly small detail of the main protagonist, Jair Ohmsford, wanting to stop using some seriously powerful magic ability that he possesses dumbfounds me. Or, more plainly, the lack of any form of explanation dumbfounds me. As a reader I am thrown straight into the deep end, starting with a dream sequence referencing the preceding works, “The Wishsong of Shannara” and “Indomitable”, a short story which served as the epilogue to “Wishsong…”. In the introduction Brooks says, “No introduction in the form of previous Shannara stories is needed to read this book”, but I’m not so sure. This is Brooks’ first foray into the world of the sequential art form so let’s think about this for a moment; you’re reaching out to not only your hardened fans but also a huge customer base who just might not have ever read your work before.

Enter me, stage left, pursued by bear…  A fan of fantasy and a fan of comic books – that sequential art form I mentioned a few lines back. I guess I should be prime target audience for this project. Anyway, back to this “wishsong” – I’m guessing it’s good but, if overused, it can be bad… ok, I’ll admit, I had to check out the stub on Wikipedia for that one but it just goes to show that even the prologue does little more than to promote Brooks’ other books without giving a proper grounding for “Dark Wraith…”.

The story revolves around the aforementioned Jair Ohmsford and his quest to foil the plans of the Mwellrets and their new ally, the Croton Witch, to steal the magic of the Druid’s Keep. To do so, the Mwellrets have kidnapped two of Jair’s old allies, Kimber and Cogline, and it’s a race against time to save them! However, Jair must call upon another old friend, Slanter, grumpy gnome and tracker extraordinaire, to help him find them.

Unfortunately the dialogue and overall narration is fairly monotone until the introduction of Slanter into the story. The action-gnome who likes his ale constantly berates Jair and questions his actions. There also seems to be a constant struggle between what you’re seeing and what you’re “hearing”; the visuals clashing with the written narrative or dialogue. Action scenes with long descriptive narrative boxes often makes for a slowing of pace which defeats the point and this certainly occurs at more than one occasion during the book. There are also little to no “sound effects” which, as an avid comic book reader, was highly unusual.

On to an artwork quibble: in my opinion, the toning is far too strong in places which makes for a very dark look to the whole book. Looking at the “making of” pages at the back, I personally prefer the look of the artwork before toning was introduced, when the strength is in the detail of the line drawing.

The novel is lined up, it seems, to dip into the fan-base of the hugely popular “Tokyopop” series of books; the format of the book appears to be based on that of the Westernised Manga line of graphic novels that fill whole sections of Waterstones. However, I feel those who will get the most from this book are the folk who are already enraptured with the world of Shannara, already familiar with Brooks’ previous works and who need no introduction to the characters or physics of how the world works. It’s good but it could be better and feels a little too much like a marketing exercise. Reading this has certainly piqued my interest to read more of Brooks’ novels but, then, maybe that was the point?

Phil Lunt

* Shannara isn’t actually the name of Brooks’ fantasy world but the name of a noble family. “Four Lands” is the world’s name but even that isn’t explained in this book apart from a quick mention on the blurb, I had to rely on Wikipedia.

**I’m not sure which issue this was published in as, at the time of putting this together, the Hub website is out of action. I took over on design & layout duties as of issue 74, February 2009.