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The High Druid's Blade: The Defenders of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Cover Artist: Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345540706
Date: 08 July 2014 List Price $28.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Through many adventures, the Leah family has faced great danger and produced brave heroes. Long after the last Ohmsford has vanished into obscurity, Paxon Leah seeks his own destiny--and he may find it in a most unusual calling.

Terry Brooks returns to the "done in one" novel in High Druid's Blade, a Shannara tale that turns the spotlight over to the steadfast and stalwart Leahs. Once rulers of a sprawling borderland, Paxon Leah now is the sole support of a mother and sister, struggling to keep a small air freight business going while dreaming about a bigger and more fulfilling life.

His dreams come true (in a way) when his sister Chrysallin is kidnapped and Paxon is provoked into coming after her. He takes up the Sword of Leah, once enchanted by the Druid Allanon, and heads off to face a sorcerer in his lair. The clash comes to the attention of the Druids, whose Ard Rhys (leader)--the Elf once known as Aphenglow Elessedil--offers him a new career: paladin to the Druid Order.

If he is to be worthy, he must train with the rough-and-tumble Gnome Oost Mondera and journey with the Druid Starks into Grimpen Ward to seek out strange magic. He comes to understand and gradually master the powers of his black sword, tempering himself as well through hardship and harrowing adventures, until he approaches a reckoning with a very dangerous and determined enemy.

Even so, Paxon will also face great challenges inside the walls of Paranor itself. Not all enemies announce themselves and not all dangers are evident, after all.

Before he is done, Paxon will be up against a monstrous conspiracy against the Druid Order itself, using an innocent life as a murder weapon. He will have to unravel a mystery and navigate dangerous places, and if he cannot check his headstrong tendencies, his enemies might well defeat the Druids' new champion.

Brooks takes some unexpected dark turns in this volume, which offers more than a young hero learning to use a magic sword. Paxon is ready for adventure, but he has a lot to learn before he can be a full-blown hero; more than any of his protagonists to date, Brooks walks through the process that shapes Paxon's natural talents, such as when he figures out his teacher's first lesson and when he's first sent out to learn firsthand about the hazards of magic when used by amateurs.

Where it gets dark is in what happens to an innocent close to Paxon. Brooks puts this character through a truly horrific wringer, with a terrible goal in mind. Although Arcannen is the main villain, the torturer in this case is the more evil of the two by far. He does a brilliant job of creating pragmatic, ruthless and despicable villains in Arcannen and his chief ally Mischa, neither of whom the reader is likely to soon forget.

That said, he also plays against type several times in this story, setting up expectations only to deviate at the last second--though saying more would give away some crucial plot points. Suffice it to say that Brooks is setting up some twists unlike what readers might have come to expect.

Fans of the Shannara series will be well pleased by this solid, well wrought entry, introducing a new hero and continuing the saga into its future. Brooks has two more novels in the Defenders of Shannara trilogy, and if they are as good as this one, we'll be quite happy indeed.

Recommended.

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