2003; 416 pages. Book 1 of the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, a subset of the Shannara series. New Author? : Probably not, but I could be wrong. Genre : Epic Fantasy. Overall Rating : 6½*/10.
The Ard Rhys has disappeared into thin air! Literally. In her locked bedchamber, guarded by a squad of uber-loyal trolls, and with magic spells surrounding the room to ward off any who might have mastery of the druidic arts.
Of course, she might have purposely wandered off on a field trip. She’d just been on one of those a short time ago. But she would almost certainly have had the rock troll Kermadec, accompany her. And surely she’d tell Tagwen, her trusted servant, of her intended whereabouts. It’s also possible someone killed her, but why then wouldn’t the corpse be there in the bedchamber?
Well, rumors are already sprouting up that the troll guards are to blame. That leaves Tagwen to start the search for the missing Ard Rhys.
But where do you being to look for someone who vanished without a trace and without any notice?
What’s To Like...
Jarka Ruus (which means “The Banished People” in Shannarian) is the first book in Terry Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara trilogy. Brooks has been writing stories set in Shannara since 1977, and is still doing so. This particular series checks as the seventh sub-series, with the ninth one currently in progress.
I may or may not have read one of the Shannara novels a long time ago, even long before this blog came into existence. The trilogies are interconnected, but that was not a problem this time around, as Terry Brooks spends considerable time incorporating the backstory into the book. Still, this is one of the few instances where I felt like I was missing a lot by not having read the books of the earlier series.
The writing is geared towards YA, or perhaps even juveniles. The emphasis is on the storytelling, and the plotline is straightforward and not particularly complex. The story was a bit slow to begin with, as the author takes time to develop the intrigue, but once we get beyond that into the “quest” portion, the pace is brisk and the action is nonstop.
There is a definite LOTR feel to Jarka Ruus. You have a Frodo (Pen), a Gandalf (Ahren), and even a Gollum (Weka Dart); all out on a seemingly impossible mission. But have no worries, the storyline here goes its own way, and there's nary a hobbit to be seen.
There’s a cornucopia of critters to meet and either greet or flee from, and that’s a treat in any Epic Fantasy tale. There’s also some dimension-hopping here, and I’m always kewl with that. A couple maps are placed at the beginning of the e-book, but the descriptions of the lands were vivid enough to where I didn’t have to make use of them.
I liked that the Druids (think “magic users”) were portrayed neutrally. Some are good, some are evil; and the former are not necessarily more powerful than the latter. The same applies to our protagonist, Pen, whose magic “talent” is being able to “communicate” (more or less a gift of empathy) with plants and animals. It comes in handy when traipsing around in the wilderness, but when wizards start throwing fireballs at you, it isn’t worth much.
Kewlest New Word...
Brume (n.) : mist or fog.
“My brother is off visiting the Prekkendorran,” she said, brushing Ahren’s concerns aside. “He gives little thought to me. For the most part, he doesn’t even know where I am. He doesn’t know now, as a matter of fact.”
Ahren looked at her. “Does anyone?”
He nodded. “Your passion for the Druidic arts, for elemental magic’s secrets, can’t sit well with her. She sees you married and producing grandchildren.”
Khyber grunted. “She sees poorly these days.” (loc. 2221)
They were trapped. The Gnome Hunters were already spreading out, moving through the crowded room like wraiths. (…) Penn thought of fleeing through the kitchen, but he didn’t know if it led outside or not. His mind raced, seeking a way of escape. Maybe Molt didn’t know they were there. He didn’t seem to. He was standing in the middle of the room, black cloak shedding water on the wooden floor, hard eyes scanning the room. It was dark back here. He might not see them.
Cows might fly, too. (loc. 3979)
High Druid of Shannara – Jarka Ruus presently sells for $1.99 at Amazon. The other two books in the trilogy, Tanequil and Straken, go for $4.99 and $7.99 respectively. You can also buy the three e-books bundled together for $17.99, but if you go this route, you really need to bone up on your math. Terry Brooks has a slew of other e-books to offer, generally ranging from $1.99 to $16.99.
“Ultimatums are the last resort of desperate men.” (loc. 4670)
I had some issues with Jarka Ruus. One of them was the glaring deus ex machina in the form of the King of the Silver River. He conveniently pops up at a crucial time to hide our heroes from a pursuer, and then clairvoyantly tells them what magic artifact to search for. Yet somehow, he can’t tell them where the magic artifact is located, nor can he accompany them on the quest.
Then there's the matter of the “color” of the characters. They’re all either black or white. I like my characters better when they’re gray.
But my biggest gripe is the ending. There are two storylines. One ends with a cliffhanger, which I despise. And the other just comes to a rest along the way, to be continued in the next book. Is it too much to ask for a novel to have a complete story, even if it’s only part of a greater saga?
Although in fairness, you can say the same about the LOTR too, and I am a Tolkien fanatic.
6½ Stars. There’s no denying the success of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series among YA and upper Juvenile readers, so perhaps it’s just a matter of me not being the target audience. Still, there are a lot of YA books/series that adults will also find entertaining, the Hunger Games and Harry Potter to name just two. It’s a pity then that this book didn’t fall into that category for me.