Terry Brooks has made a mess of things.
Death. Destruction. Demons. Despair. Doom. Oh yeah, and a Dragon.
That's a lot of Ds. Through the first two volumes of The Dark Legacy of Shannara (WARDS OF FAERIE and BLOODFIRE QUEST), Brooks has literally shredded our heroic band of adventurers, subjecting them to all manner of horrors, and then displacing them through the Four Lands and beyond the Forbidding. Now, with WITCH WRAITH, the final volume in this epic, the story of the broken heroes comes to its conclusion. In the process, Brooks proves why he continues to be counted among the very best in the world of fantasy.
Aphenglow Elessidil and her protector, elf warrior Cymrian, desperately seek her sister, Arlingfant, who is the Chosen of the Ellcrys and must recharge the Ellcrys seed in the Bloodfire. With the power of the Elfstones, they discover that Arling is being kept in the Federation city of Arishaig, in the tower of the brutal and vicious Prime Minister, Edinja Orle.
"WITCH WRAITH is a success on multiple levels. It works on its own, as a logical and impressive conclusion to the trilogy, and as a key that unlocks a larger understanding of the epic of Shannara."
Railing Ohmsford, meanwhile, keeps hidden his secret meeting with the King of the Silver River, and leads them to find Grianne Ohmsford, long vanished from the world and likely dead. But he needs her --- and her power --- to usurp the Straken Lord and save his captured brother, Redden.
Seersha, the dwarven druid, is in Arborlon, pleading with the High Council and the King of the elves to unite with the other races of the world against the impending onslaught of the Straken Lord and his demon army when the Forbidding collapses. The King agrees with her, but the Council swings in opposition and takes a stand-and-wait approach.
Oriantha the shape-shifter works alongside Tesla Dart in an effort to free Redden Ohmsford from the clutches of Tael Riverine, the Straken Lord. To their surprise, the forces of evil find a break in the Forbidding and enter en masse to lay siege to Arishaig before marching on Arbolon and world domination. As events play out, an opportunity comes to do what they set out to do so very long ago: recover the lost Elfstones.
Here in WITCH WRAITH, Brooks takes a devastated party that began on a quest to find the lost Elfstones --- a party that has found itself diminished by grave losses and fragmented to varied corners of the world --- and deftly begins to maneuver them until the hidden tendrils that connect them begin to draw them together for the final conflict. The entire world stands in the balance, and he heightens the tensions by making the outcome a matter of strength and also a race against time.
Every story arc is touched, and while each of the characters undergoes some transformation and growth, the real central focus --- where the heart of the whole three-volume epic lives --- is with Aphenglow. From the very beginning in WARDS OF FAERIE, when she discovers the diary of an ancient elven princess and the secret that begins the entire fateful quest, her story is the anchor. If there is one failing in WITCH WRAITH, it would be in its ending, with the final focus on the Ohmsfords instead of Aphen. Given her being the catalyst of the mission, and the devastating and heartbreaking events she bears throughout, the more satisfying end would have been with her as she translated a letter from the Darkling boy who had stolen the Elfstones all those years ago. That section in the finale is some of Brooks's most powerful writing in the book, packing an emotional punch that would have served well as the final page turned.
This, however, is a minor quibble and not enough to ruin what is a tremendously entertaining and action-packed adventure from one of the longtime masters of the genre. Brooks released the three volumes of The Dark Legacy of Shannara in less than one year. While having to wait is usually a groan-worthy process once you reach that cliffhanger, it was a mercifully short wait for the trilogy. Impressively enough, this series of books is among the best of the work Brooks has compiled over his long and storied career. Even more impressive is the Usual Suspects moment longtime readers will have. That's when they read the book and begin to see all the pieces of the puzzle, the larger and broader story of Shannara, and how Brooks has masterfully and magically tied story points from older works into the fold and crafted a solid history for his world.
Because of this, WITCH WRAITH is a success on multiple levels. It works on its own, as a logical and impressive conclusion to the trilogy, and as a key that unlocks a larger understanding of the epic of Shannara. Terry Brooks has impressed me almost beyond words with how well he played the game, and it makes his world all the more enjoyable in which to play.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on July 19, 2013