THE VOYAGE OF THE JERLE SHANNARA is the latest in the popular Shannara series by Terry Brooks. I had never read any of the Shannara books, but Brooks gives enough background information throughout the story to make it accessible to a newcomer to the series --- and doubtless there are characters and clues to later action that longtime fans will recognize as well. With JERLE SHANNARA, Brooks launches a new trilogy.
The book opens with an Elven Wing Rider, Hunter Predd, finding a half-drowned castaway clinging to a piece of wood in the middle of an ocean. The man has no eyes or tongue, but he carries a bracelet bearing the royal crest and a scrap of a map written in an old language and leading to a treasure. Hunter brings the man to the nearest town with a healer. Hunter is then sent to the king, Allardon Elessedil, to tell him that a man --- who may be his brother Kael --- has been found 30 years after setting off across the Blue Divide.
Allardon sends Hunter to Walker Boh, the last remaining Druid, because Walker is the only person who can decipher the map. Walker and Allardon are old enemies, but Walker agrees to help. Walker learns that the map points the way to an unknown and powerful magic, which could unite all the people of the Four Lands. However, he has a nemesis, the powerful Ilse Witch, who he knows will try to beat him to the treasure and wouldn't mind killing him in the process.
The king is killed in an assassination attempt just as he is meeting with Walker. As he lays dying, he dictates the decree giving money and resources to Walker for his mission.
Walker proceeds to assemble his force. Among them are two young men, a fragile seer, an Elven prince, a thing named Truhls Rok, and a crew of Rovers to fly an airship. The trials that await them when they finally take off across the Blue Divide, and the truths that are revealed, make up the rest of the book.
Brooks uses many of the characters and structures of classical mythology to tell his tale, so it will feel somewhat familiar to the reader, while the fantastic events and adventures will keep you turning the pages. Most of all, I enjoyed the many complex personalities and relationships that drive the story. THE VOYAGE OF THE JERLE SHANNARA ends with a cliffhanger --- readers won't be able to wait for the next chapter in the series.
Reviewed by Amita Guha on January 24, 2011