Wards of Faerie: The Dark Legacy of Shannara
by Terry Brooks
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345523471
Date: 21 August 2012 List Price $28.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Acting on the words of an ancient journal, Druid leader Khyber Elessedil takes an expedition into the untamed and magic-infested wilderness, while diabolical plots against the Druid Order threaten everything she holds dear. As the balance between magic and science tips perilously in favor of the Old World's bygone technology, it may be that only the object of her quest can maintain a very precarious peace. Maybe.
In Wards of Faerie, the first in the Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has the thankless task of poring over box after box of junk tossed into the basements below the Elven palace. She is seeking any clue to lost magic, which the Fourth Druid Order (presided over by her cousin, Khyber) claims as their exclusive jurisdiction. One day, she happens across a diary which contains something truly explosive: clues to the whereabouts of several long-lost sets of Elfstones. The only known set—-the blue Elfstones used by heroes for many centuries—-is in the keeping of the Elven king, Aphenglow's uncle. What would it mean if the other Elfstones could be recovered?
Meanwhile, in the human Federation of the Southland, Prime Minister Drust Chazhul schemes to destroy the Druids once and for all. Seemingly a meek and self-effacing functionary who rose to his position by accident, Drust is truly Machiavellian; his agent, Stoon, is a ruthless assassin, and his goals are grandiose indeed. When he receives word from a spy that the Druids are onto something very big, he wastes no time in mustering a powerful military force to bring to bear on Paranor, the Druids' ancient home.
As the danger to the Druids grows, Khyber grapples with the implications of retrieving these treasures. She has no idea what power they hold—-Elven histories that far back are fragmentary at best—-but knows that if they are on par with the blue stones, they must be powerful indeed...and the Druids must have them. The problem is, the notes in the diary suggest that the stones were stolen by a Darkling, one of the Void-sworn races against whom the Elves fought millennia past. If the Darklings have the Elfstones, that is one more reason they must be recovered. She seeks guidance from the dead spirits of the Hadeshorn, and wins precious advice from the shade of Allanon, greatest of the Druids. If she hopes to succeed, she must enlist the help of an Ohmsford—-the descendants of a line of heroes. But even then, this quest will bring great sorrow. With his dire words in her mind, she gathers up her expedition.
Aphenglow returns to request the use of the Elfstones to help Khyber's quest. Unfortunately, her request is only partially granted, and after using the stones, she is attacked by killers. She is saved by Cymrian, a bodyguard she has hired reluctantly, but her leg is broken in the scuffle; she is forced to remain behind at Paranor with a handful of others—-her life mate and fellow Druid Bombax, her sister Arlingfant and Crymrian-—while Khyber and the rest of the Druids set off in search of the Elfstones.
Far away, twins Redden and Railing Ohmsford risk life and limb flying Sprints, special racing airships of their own design. In company with Mirah Leah, daughter of the Ohmsford family's oldest and most-trusted friends, they are found by Khyber and invited on her quest.
It is not long before there is mortal danger on all fronts. The expedition discovers the hazards of the magic wilderness on the one hand while Aphenglow and her few allies face a Federation incursion. Even with the powers of magic they command, and Aphenglow's discovery of a surprising ally, the Druids stand alone; there are many who seek not only their failure but their total destruction. It is a dangerous time, but if they can succeed, the Druids may yet save the world.
Brooks' latest novel embodies the best of his decades as a storyteller. The new characters are sharp and vivid, perhaps reminding long-time readers of past heroes but throwing plenty of surprises for all that. Yes, there is heroism, treachery, despicable politicians, and a quest into the unknown—-but if the ingredients are familiar, the way they are combined is not, and the result is tasty indeed.
For instance, the distrust of the Druids is at an all-time high. In the past, they might have counted upon the help of the Elves, but those days are long gone; the Elves now hate the Druids and shun them as much as they can. Khyber and Aphenglow face great challenges due to their calling, to the point that their lives are at risk when they travel to Arborlon, even if they didn't have to contend with a venomous cousin who is poised to take the throne.
Similarly, the effort to get the quest going is uncommonly troubled; the Ohmsfords are not in the hero business any longer, and securing their help is harder than ever, for a variety of reasons.
Brooks sets up a whole new adventure, opening a new corner of his world for exploration and invoking the great enemy of the Four Lands—-the Darklings that lie beyond the Forbidding of the Ellcrys—-to tremendous effect. The surprising developments in this volume set up a whole new status quo, as well as laying the groundwork for many, many more stories yet to be told.
This may be the best Shannara novel in years.