Monday, January 16, 2017

Witch Wraith

Well, here it is.  The final book in Terry Brooks' Dark Legacy of Shannara series, Witch Wraith.  I finished it about a half hour ago and needed some time to think about what I was going to say about it.  The problem was that the book was all over the place.  It was predictable at times, boring at others.  Sometimes bewildering, other times trying to convince me to care.  But the good parts were so very good. 

Witch Wraith started off with the boring.  Railing Ohmsford is on his way to the Tanequil, intent on discovering the fate of his great-aunt Grianne Ohmsford (previously the Ilse Witch, later the Ard Rhys of the Third Druid Order).  He sits on the airship feeling sorry for himself for keeping his visitation with the King of the Silver River a secret from his companions (especially Mirai Leah).  The King of the Silver River had given him a warning that Grianne would not be the same person she was when she became an aerid 100 years ago.  Railing is then summoned by the Grimpond, a shade that gives visions of the future (often without speaking plainly).  The Grimpond insists that it speaks plainly, saying Railing can succeed, but says so in such a way that its words echo the warning of the King of the Silver River.  Railing keeps this meeting a secret as well.  He and his companions are attacked and his mentor is gravely wounded in said attack; the older man passes away.  They find a place to bury him and Railing hangs back to confess his secrets over the grave.  Mirai hears some of it.  She then gets Railing to have sex with her in an effort to bring him back to himself (she says he has become a different person since he got separated from his brother).  This story line was finally getting a bit interesting, then it cut to Aphenglow.

Aphenglow and Cymrian get horses and chase after Arlingfant, who has been brought to the Federation capital city, Arishag.  Arling awakes to find herself in Edinja Orle's tower in Arishag.  Edinja drugs Arling with some sort of truth potion to find out what the heck the elves have been up to.  She then brings her down to see her crazy mutant creations.  Edinja leaves to address the Federation people (after much backstabbing from behind the scenes, she is the Federation Prime Minister).  Arling escapes (because Edinja apparently set her up to escape?) and tries to get out of the city but the gates are closed because the demon horde has appeared outside of the city.  She doesn't know that Aphen and Cymrian are there, and so the three elves spend a few days chasing each other around the city (explained in summary when they finally find each other) while we get several chapters about some guy who was given command of the city defences (and is fighting a horribly outnumbered, losing battle).  The elves reunite and are confronted by Edinja, who gives them a small aircraft to get out of the city, saying she doesn't want them to fail in their quest.  They escape just before the city is overrun and sacked by the demons.  For their part, the demons then turn to march on Arborlon. 

I completely skimmed over it in that summary, but there was a really fun scene where Cymrian has Aphen pretend to be his wife so they can get into the Federation city.  At the end of it all, they're together on a bed in an inn and he admits he would like it if she was his wife.  It was sweet.

Anyway, while all of this is going on, Oriantha and Tesla Dart have been trying to free Redden Ohmsford from the cage he's been stuck in by Tael Riverine (the Stracken Lord).  Oriantha eventually gets him free.  The three then have to outrun pursuit and decide that their best chance is to run back into the Forbidding, then cross back into the Four Lands closer to Arborlon.  I don't remember why, but they decided that was the best place for them to go.

Railing during this time has found the ruins of Stridegate (which is where the Tanequil lives).  He is determined to face the Tanequil alone, even though Mirai wants to go with him; Railing doesn't want her to come in case the Tanequil wants to trade her for Grianne Ohmsford.  Railing meets with Grianne Ohmsford, who tells him she cannot help him.  Railing insists on speaking with the Tanequil.  He offers nothing to trade with the Tanequil, but is insistent that he won't go away until the Tanequil gives him what he wants.  Father Tanequil (the upper part of the tree, with whom Railing speaks) warns him yet again (the same warning he's already gotten twice before), then tells him the matter is up to Mother Tanequil (the roots).  For some completely unknown reason (seriously, I don't understand at all why Mother Tanequil agrees), Grianne Ohmsford is returned to them.  But it isn't the Grianne Ohmsford who was the Ard Rhys.  No, it's the Ilse Witch who is returned, because she is the one who will be able to stand up to the Stracken Lord (or so Mother Tanequil decided?).

I found this part of the story very, very tragic, but it wasn't given its due respect.  Grianne refused to help Railing.  She had chosen her life as an aerid and was very happy there.  But because of Railing's demands, Mother Tanequil decided to give Grianne up to help the boy.  As far as I can tell, Grianne was given no say in the matter.  And worse than that, she was turned back into the Ilse Witch, the very thing she spent YEARS of her life trying to atone for.  Yeah.

I have to say, this part was in many ways predictable, except I really thought the Tanequil was going to demand Mirai Leah in exchange for Grianne.  The fact that the Tanequil gave her up pretty much without a problem was really odd.

So from there on, Railing now broods over how he brought the Ilse Witch back and how selfish he was in going on this quest in the first place.  He finally comes clean with the rest of his companions, but there's nothing that can really be done about this now.  So they travel on, terrified of what the Ilse Witch is going to do.  She has admitted that she will go and face Tael Riverine, but she cares nothing for what happens to the rest of them (or of the Redden Ohmsford's fate).

Oh yeah, and Seersha and Crace Coram are doing things.  They fly to Arishag just in time to see the remains of the city and the army already on the march to Arborlon.  Seersha sends Crace to muster the dwarves and border cities while she will go to Arborlon to warn the elves.  The king had previously been assassinated (and his brother implicated in the murder) so Phaedon has declared himself king.  Phaedon has been the most difficult person for everyone to deal with, so Seersha incapacitated him in order to get the army mustered to defend the city.

Aphen and Arling get the Ellcrys seed back from that guy who took it (this doesn't need any more explaining because it was a weird and rather dumb waste of time).  They find the Bloodfire and Arling quickens the seed.  But then Edinja appears and kidnaps Arling with the intention of bringing her to the elves herself so she would be the hero who saved the Four Lands.  She leaves her moor cat to stall Aphen and Cymrian.  Cymrian is mortally wounded, but manages to kill the cat.  They then take off after Edinja.  They kill her, but Cymrian is killed in turn.

That was a very sad and unexpected moment.  I really liked Cymrian.

So battle is happening outside of Arborlon.  Seersha wounds Tael Riverine's dragon but is badly wounded herself.  She's back in Arborlon being healed and discovers the weird shape shifter traitor in their midst (Edinja's magic creation/spy).  She manages to kill it but is even more badly hurt.

Redden and Oriantha discover that Tesla Dart knows where the missing Elfstones are!  They go to recover them, but get trapped by their pursuers.  Redden combines the power of the Wishsong with the Red Elfstones, shredding their pursuers.  He knows something is badly changed within him.

Railing and company arrive with the Ilse Witch who challenges Tael Riverine.  She manages to defeat him (that was a super cool scene - she surprised everyone by her unexpected victory), and then takes his place as leader of the Jarka Ruus.  She is about to continue the assault on Arborlon and attacks the Ohmsford boys (who reunited there on the battlefield).  Redden again combines the Wishsong with the Red Elfstones and becomes catatonic.   They are saved when Aphen and Arling make it to the Ellcrys and Arling becomes the new Ellcrys, thereby returning the Forbidding to full strength.  All the demons get sucked back inside.  So does the Ilse Witch, because she became their leader.  The unfortunate side effect is that Tesla Dart is sucked back into the Forbidding, too. :(

Aphen then has to decide whether to remain in Arborlon or return to Paranor.  Meanwhile, Railing and Mirai take Redden home.  Thanks to the ring the King of the Silver River gave Railing (and a crap load of time), Railing is able to bring Redden back.  The end.

So if that plot summary felt all over the place, don't feel bad.  It was a lot worse reading it.  Every time something that I cared about started happening, the book would skip to several chapters of boring fluff.  The demon attack on Arishag was all boring fluff in my opinion; rather than seeing the elf trio trying to find each other through a city in lockdown, we got the city's commander fighting a losing battle.  I think it would have been far more relevant to miss that and just cut the elves finding each other and escaping the city, then to Seersha and Crace finding the city in ruins.  Railing's chapters were also super boring because pretty much all he was doing was feeling sorry for himself.  I would have loved something from Grianne's perspective as she evolved back into the Ilse Witch.  But no.

So what was the good?  Honestly, most of the stuff with Aphenglow, Arlingfant, and Cymrian.  Arlingfant didn't sit around and wait to be rescued.  And we got to see how she slowly came to accept her destiny to become the new Ellcrys.  Aphenglow and Cymrian were super cute while also incredibly capable.  As I said, the Tael Riverine vs the Ilse Witch moment was awesome.  I had a feeling that she would win, but how she did it really surprised me.  Oh, and I was super sad that Tesla Dart was sucked back into the Forbidding.  I really liked her and was sad that she didn't get a happy ending.  But really, this whole story wasn't a happy ending. 

Oh yeah, especially since Tesla Dart had the remaining three Elfstone sets in hand.  So they all went back into the Forbidding too.

So this entire story seemed completely pointless overall.  There was no reason to go on this quest in the first place.  Everyone was warning them not to go.  Then everyone seemed to forget about it anyway because more important things were happening (like the Ellcrys dying).   The Federation politicians were doing crazy things because they were basically hellbent on being mustache-twiddling bad guys.  Edinja was the most fleshed out (barely) and she just wanted to rule the entire world (and make mutant monster things?). 

While reading this trilogy, I kept feeling like maybe I'm done with Terry Brooks and Shannara.  I looked back on Goodreads, and I've rated most of his new books in the 2-3 star range (Bloodfire Quest is the only 4 star book, and I'm still thinking I only gave it that because it was so much better than Wards of Faerie and not because it actually deserved the 4 star rating).  And Witch Wraith was no exception to this rule.  But I have all three books in The Defenders of Shannara series, AND I just found out there are going to be four more books that will be the chronological end to the entire Shannara series.  So most likely I will keep reading (and hope the books improve from here!!!!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Swimming Lessons

I got an advanced reading copy of Claire Fuller's Swimming Lessons, which is due out at the beginning of February.  I thought it was really cool to get an advanced reading copy, and really wanted to make a point of reading it prior to its release date.

Since I'm writing this almost a month before the book is released, I'm going to hide my plot synopsis with a spoiler button because I am going to go into quite a bit of detail:

So that's Swimming Lessons.

This was the first book I've ever read by Claire Fuller, and I have to say, I found it very, very hard to put down. I found Ingrid's letters fascinating and I was almost always sad that I had to get through a chapter of Flora before getting back to the letters.  I say almost always, because near the end I started to see parallels between the two stories, which started to make me more interested in Flora's story; I was looking to see what connections I could make between the two texts.

It's stupidly late, so I'm not going to write anything more about this at the moment.  As I said, I really, really liked this book and had a hard time putting it down every night. Fuller had beautiful prose, and Ingrid was so very alive despite not being physically there in the book.  I know that some people (like my mom) may not like the subject matter (because it deals with adultery), but if that doesn't bother you (or can get past that), this is a very interesting book that I think is well worth the read.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bloodfire Quest

Alright, continuing with the Dark Legacy of Shannara, I just finished Bloodfire Quest.  And I have to say, this book was a ton better than Wards of FaerieWards of Faerie was the setup book where honestly not a whole lot happened.  Bloodfire Quest is sort of just jumping into everything.

As we learned in Wards of Faerie, the Ellcrys is dying, which is why the Forbidding is failing (and how half of the Druid's Quest for the Elfstones got into the Forbidding because there are holes appearing).  The Ellcrys has chosen Arlingfant Elessedil is the one who will succeed her.  Arlingfant wants nothing to do with this.  But she meets with the Ellcrys every night to talk about such things; the Ellcrys understands completely because she didn't want to be the Ellcrys either (I'm pretty sure that this Ellcrys is Amberle from The Elfstones of Shannara).

When Aphenglow hears that the Ellcrys is dying and that her sister is the chosen successor, she drops everything to both restore the Ellcrys and try to get her sister out of succeeding the Ellcrys.  That involves a journey back to Paranor to check the Druid Histories for clues as to where the Bloodfire is (luckily Allanon made a note of it).  The sisters return to Arborlon to tell their grandfather what is happening and obtain the Blue Elfstones to help them find the Bloodfire).

Inside the Forbidding, the Straken Lord Tael Riverine has captured Khyber Elessedil and Redden Ohmsford.  He is readying his forces to conquer the Four Lands in search of Grianne Ohmsford, who he still wants (100 years later) as his straken Queen.  He challenges Khyber to a duel - if she wins, the two will go free.  If she loses, she will die and the Straken Lord will do what he wills with Redden.  She ultimately loses.  Redden is left alone in a cell until being brought along with the Straken Lord's army, presumably to the boundary of the Forbidding.  Oriantha, the shapeshifting daughter of one of the druids, remains in the Forbidding as well (but is free at this point, trying to save Redden).

The remaining party which is made up of the Gnome Tracker, Railing Ohmsford, Mirai Leah, Seersha the Druid, Woostra, and Crace Coram have decided to look for Grianne Ohmsford.  Crace Coram was in the Forbidding and brought word of the Straken Lord's plans.  Everyone believes she has been dead for 100 years, but they decide to look into the Druid Histories and Khyber's journal for any clues as to what happened to her.  They discover that Grianne's journal was given to the Ohmsford family, and so is in the care of Railing's mom.  Mirai distracts his mom while Railing sneaks into the house to retrieve the journal (Railing's mother would flip if anything happened to her sons, so they don't want her to know that Redden is stuck in the Forbidding).  The journal luckily does tell them where she is.  On the night before they are going to set out to find her, Railing is visited by the King of the Silver River, who gives him a mysterious ring and some advice (specifically that Grianne Ohmsford has been an aerid for 100 years - if they succeed in bringing her back, she will not be the same person she was 100 years ago.  Railing thinks hard about this advice for the remainder of the night, but decides not to say a word to the others.  And so they are setting off the find Grianne.

Meanwhile, Aphen, Arling, and Cymrian have set out looking for the Bloodfire.  They are followed and attacked by a Federation airship, crash landing.  The assassin Stoon is commanding the other vessel; he was given weird mutants to help him deal with Aphen.  Stoon is upset with this entire mission because he is an assassin, not a tracker.  He sends the mutants to go and kill the elves.  There's an awesome and tense tracking and fight scene where Cymrian takes on the mutants.  He almost gets killed because Stoon is there too, but Stoon misses an attack and hits one of the mutants, making them turn on him, too.  Cymrian was buying Aphenglow time to heal her sister, who almost died in the crash.  Aphenglow arrives in time to stop Stoon from killing Cymrian (who she now knows loves her, and she finally decided she loves him, too).  After killing Stoon, she heals Cymrian and they fall asleep exhausted.  They wake up to find Arling gone.  A random couple happened on Arling and brought her to the Federation airship for some bizarre reason.  The guy took the Ellcrys seed off of Arling (but no one else knows that right now).  

I have to say, I liked Bloodfire Quest a lot more than Wards of FaerieWards was honestly really boring because it took them so long to get going anywhere.  There were parts of Bloodfire that I wasn't as fond of (honestly, I'm most interested in Aphen's Quest right now; the stuff going on in the Forbidding has been pretty boring because it's mostly been people sitting around in a cell).  But people were mostly off doing stuff, trying to deal with everything they've gotten themselves into.  The Federation also makes me laugh, because in attacking Aphen's ship, they could quite easily doom the Four Lands to be overrun by demons from the Forbidding.  

So that's where Bloodfire Quest leaves off.  Absolutely everything is a mess and will have to be resolved in the final book of the trilogy, which I am quite looking forward to reading. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Wards of Faerie

It's been a long time since I've read a Terry Brooks book.  Back in 2008 I read the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, then in 2012 I read the Legends of Shannara duology.  Both of those series bridged the Word and Void trilogy with his other Shannara books.  All the other Shannara books I've read prior to starting this blog.  I think it was the trilogy before Genesis of Shannara, the High Druid of Shannara, that was the last series I read as they came out; in the year between book two and three being published, I forgot a huge chunk of what had happened (but didn't realize that was so until I started reading book three and got super confused by what was going on in the first chapter).  So since that time, I've been hoarding trilogies and other series as best as I can so I can read them one after the other.  The Dark Legacy of Shannara is no exception; I've had it since it was published, but didn't get around to reading it until now (although honestly I wanted to long before now.  Every time I thought I had a weekend to devote to reading the trilogy, obligations came up that I couldn't ignore).  I have been rather excited to read the Dark Legacy of Shannara because I knew it was going to involve a quest to find more Elfstones.  Other than the Blue Elfstones (and the odd random other ones like the Black Elfstone), the others have been lost to the world for millenia.  Everyone has believed they were gone forever.  Until now.

The granddaughter of the elf king, Aphenglow Elessedil has chosen to become a Druid.  She got her grandfather's permission to search through the Elven histories, looking for clues to help her and the other druids uncover lost magic.  She finds the diary of a long gone elven princess.  Aphen almost dismisses the diary as probably everyone else before her has, but flipping through to the back she finds the princess make mention of the missing Elfstones, and how they were taken from her by a Darkling boy.  Aphen is attacked not long after this discovery, which convinces her to return immediately to Paranor.  There the Ard Rhys is awakened and the Druids decide to embark on a quest to find the missing Elfstones.

The current Ard Rhys, Khyber Elessedil, goes to the Hadeshorn to speak with the dead in the hopes that they will give her clues as to the Elfstones' location.  The shade of Allanon speaks to her, warning her that this is a very dangerous undertaking.  He provides her with what help he can (all the while cautioning her heavily - he even says that she will curse him by the end of this expedition).  He also cautions that they must have an Ohmsford with them if they want to have any hope of success.

Meanwhile, Aphen returns to Arborlon to ask her Grandfather if she can borrow the Blue Elfstones to help them on their quest.  The king agrees to let her use them, with the stipulation that she can only use them once and while still in Arborlon.  After using them she is attacked again and almost killed.  Luckily she has recently hired an Elven tracker named Cymrian as a protector.  Aphen escapes with a broken leg.

Back at Paranor, the Ard Rhys decides that Aphen cannot go with them due to her leg.  Khyber skives the memory of what the Seeking Stones have shown Aphen, then sets off with most of the other druids to start their quest.  She recruits twin boys Redden and Railing Ohmsford, as well as Marai Leah, to help with her quest.  They must go deep into the uncharted northern parts of the Westland, following the landmarks shown by the Seeking Stones.  Khyber also recruits a seer who is the only man known to live in those lands as a guide.

The Federation decides to show up at Paranor once the Ard Rhys and most of the other druids are gone.  They had snuck someone into the castle earlier who was instructed to fire a weapon at the Federation airships, giving the Federation the okay to attack the Druid Keep.  The Keep itself responds to the attack, defending itself.  From here, the Federation's inside man opens a door into the Keep, causing the Druids to retreat into the inner parts of the castle.  The Federation sieges as best as it can, having to be careful that the Keep's defensive wards will not be activated.  They start tunneling under the walls, prompting the Keep to desperately try to summon Aphen to its magic.  From there, Aphen okays the Keep clearing out the invaders; she has only a little time to get her people out before the magic attacks (it will attack either everyone or no one).  They succeed in getting an airship and getting out of there just in time; one of the other druids, her lifepartner, Bombax, is fatally wounded though.

Meanwhile, the Ard Rhys and company keep getting attacked by strange creatures their seer guide has never seen before in the area.  They lose many of their troll protectors and Railing's leg is broken in the attack.  The twins are separated as a result; the Ard Rhys insists that Redden must come with her even though he does not want to leave his brother.  They find what looks like a waterfall that leads to a tunnel.  Going through it, they find themselves stuck on the other side when a dragon attacks.  It is only in the aftermath of the dragon that the Ard Rhys realizes the truth - they are in the Forbidding.

So yes, that was Wards of Faerie in a nutshell.  There was a whole lot of build up for honestly a whole lot of nothing happening.  Sure, Aphen got attacked repeatedly.  But the Federation had no idea what she had found, only that she seemed to have found something.  There was some political things that happened with the Federation, but it was a bit all over the place (and some of it felt a bit unnecessary).  It took until chapter 20 for the Ard Rhys to finally find the Ohmsford twins and ask them to come with her (there are only 31 chapters in this book - so the quest felt like it FINALLY got going over half way through the book).

I also have to say, the names in this book were a bit ridiculous.  I know, I know, it's a fantasy book.  But I've read a lot of Shannara books, and I have a feeling for what the names should sound like.  Aphenglow was weird.  So was her sister, Arlingfant.  Bombax was a bit off.  And so was Railing Ohmsford.  I think the worst was the elven king, Emperowan.  These all really felt like Brooks was running out of ideas for character names, which was unfortunate.

But once I got over the long slow build up and the names, I have to say, there were some interesting things going on in this book.  This is the first Shannara story where Allanon was literally telling them maybe you shouldn't go (but they went anyway).  This was also the first time we got to see Paranor attacked (and how the Keep was able to defend itself).  So that was really cool.  I remember being a bit disappointed with how things worked in the Forbidding in the High Druid of Shannara series, but I'm hopeful that we'll see some more interesting things there in the other two books (especially since this time there's a bunch of people who hopefully won't be captured right away the way I vaguely remember Grianne Ohmsford was).  So while I wasn't a huge fan of this book, I am looking forward to the next two in the series.