I usually avoid contemporary high fantasy that makes the best seller lists, but I needed travel reading. I gotta admit, I was pleasantly surprised. I actually liked The Elfstones of Shannara. The post technology and human domination seemed a little pointless as it went undeveloped which was too bad, but the traditional elf, human, troll, Druid, witches, magic, battle, journey elements were all well used.
There are 2 basic plots. One is the quest undertaken by Wil Ohmsford and the elf princess Amberle. The interesting bit here is that neither one initially wants to do it, but the Druid Allanon is persuasive and persistent. As they travel, the two bond with each other, thankfully not in an explicitly romantic way, and both start to care deeply about their mission. They have to take the seed of the Ellcrys tree to the Bloodfire, otherwise the tree that protects the Elves from evil demons won’t be able to regenerate.
This book almost went down the road of too classic. Wil is a stereotypical dreamer who doubts his ability to follow through, and he’s totally wishy-washy about the 2 girls in his life. I would have loved to see him forced to choose instead of the choice being made for him. Amberle is also a traditional maiden who exists to be protected but in the end has a final moment of strength that saves everybody. What keeps things interesting is Allanon’s unexpected coming and going throughout the trip, and the appearance of side characters like Hebel and the 2 witch sisters.
Plot 2 is the demon invasion of the Elven city Arborlon, home of the Ellcrys. The king is old, and the surviving princes don’t get along (Amberle’s father died in an accident a decade ago which caused tension). I wish there was some more exploration of the royal elf family dynamics because that would have added some more relateable detail and uniqueness to the characters. Ander, the younger brother with an inferiority complex, ends up in charge of defending the city, which he manages to do with a lot of help. The discovery of the traitor-spy was one of the best elements of this plot line. An attentive reader can figure it out pretty quickly (it took me about half the book) and then you spend the rest of the time mentally yelling at the characters about how obvious it is. By the end of the story, Ander’s the king.
Suspense and interest are maintained by alternating between the quest’s progress and the preparations and action of the battles. Some of the battle sequences do go on too long and they seem very similar, but the quest stays interesting with the introduction of the Rovers, a group of gypsy-like travelers. Some of them help, and some get in the way. In a lot of ways, the Rover leader Cephelo is more interesting villain than the major demons. His motives are more complex and he himself is openly untrustworthy in his dealings with everyone yet Wil falls for it a couple of times. Eretria’s (Cephelo’s daughter) crush on Wil is a little cliche, but thankfully that didn’t turn into a traditional love triangle and I admit I kind of liked how it all turned out.