Friday, March 14, 2014

The High Druid's Blade (The Defenders of Shannara #1) by Terry Brooks

Paxon Leah is a young man trapped in a job he neither loves, nor truly disdains, to help his mother and sister survive.  He knows that there must be more to life but is unable to decide on a direction, until his sister Chrysallin, is kidnapped by the evil wizard Arcannan. On his way to save his sister, he picks up the Leah family sword and discovers in battle that it is imbued by magic.  Determined to learn to wield that magic, Paxon joins the druid order to train as a  protector.  Having seen the mythical sword of Leah in action however, Arcannan is determined to go to any length to possess it.  This brings Paxon on a collusion course with Arcannan, even as the Druid order struggles to discover the saboteur in their ranks.

Normally speaking, I am not a fan of high fantasy but I decided to give The High Druid's Blade a chance given the fact that Terry Brooks is a New York Times bestselling author.  Unfortunately, I found myself struggling to finish this book because I did not find the story or the characters engaging.  Paxon, the protagonist, fell completely flat and I felt like we were never offered anything substantive about him, beyond the fact that his blood allows him to wield the sword of Leah.  

Every hero needs motivation to act but I am tired of it always being the case of a damsel in distress. First, Chrysallin is kidnapped because she gets herself into a situation way over her head.  We are told that this is an example of her impulsive behaviour. Paxon acts to save her and then she is kidnapped again.  Each time, she warns that her brother will come to her rescue.  We were given a small respite when Chrysallin seeks to escape but of course, this only makes her situation worse. Ultimately, Chrysallin  is little more than the sassy victim incapable of defending herself.  We have the Ard Rhys who is the head of the druid order.  We are told that Ard Rhys is very strong but it's the kind of strength that promotes her into a position of power without us getting a true sense of her. We are told that the Ard Rhys is alone because she has lived so long and we get a vague sense of sadness about her but never really get to know her in any real sense.  The same is true of Leofur and Jayet.  These women seem to just pass through the story to help Paxon on his journey.

There is also the issue of the torture porn in the middle of the novel.  Chrysallin gets kidnapped and tortured in order to convince her to kill Ard Rhys.  Until this point, Brooks's writing was not very descriptive but suddenly, he decides to write in exacting detail about the torture.  I really could have done without this scene altogether.  Why is it that when the story switches point of view from Paxon to Leah, it is to reify her pain?  

We are lead to believe that there is a mystery regarding missing objects.  This was supposed to give tension to the story, yet I knew from almost the beginning of this story line who the thief was.  Brooks made it so obvious that a small child could have figured this out without breaking a sweat.  When we finally reached the big reveal, I found myself bored.

The High Druid's Blade is a typically erased high fantasy novel.  Brooks managed to conjure a world in which powerful magic, wizards, elves and druids exist but somehow couldn't come up with a character of colour, a GLBT character or a disabled character.  

When I finally reached the end of High Druid's Blade I didn't feel like I knew the characters and that is disappointing, given that the novel is 320 pages long. Paxon seemed to move along from crises to crises with little characterization or development.  The side characters added little to the story and were just as under developed as the protagonist.  It's a shame really because this happened in an interesting world. High Druid's  Blade was simply let down by the writing.  Brooks seemed more interested in building his world, than developing his characters and story line, making High Druid's Blade forgettable at best and outright boring at worst.

Editor's Note:  A copy of this book was received through Netgalley