One of the saddest things I see in modern science fiction and fantasy is when an author, having created a world that sells books well, starts churning out books where the world doesn’t really change that much, and the characters keep doing the same thing over and over again. Many people will still buy these books, because of the familiarity of the author and the world, and maybe they like reading about the same things over and over again, but they somehow fail to satisfy me.
However, Terry Brooks, in his Shannara series, seems to have avoided this trouble, at least up to the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy (to save typing, “Voyage” from this point forward), which honestly is as far as I’ve read in this series, not because I don’t want to, but it’s the old problem of lots of books in the reading pile, not a lot of time for them; something most readers should identify with. Fortunately, Voyage is available both as individual books, and as an omnibus edition, both in dead-tree and Kindle versions.
Voyage is the third series set in Shannara by publication date, and Brooks does a good job of injecting a large dose of science fiction into his fantasy world. There were hints of this in previous books, with items resembling modern flashlights, and people searching for the lost science of what they call the Old World, but it really comes to the fore in the Voyage trilogy, which firmly establishes Shannara as a post-apocalyptic world where magic has replaced science. In Voyage, an elf is found badly wounded, but with a mysterious map in his possession. The elves ask the current high druid, Walker, for his help. Based on the map, he puts together a team to follow where the map leads, using the “airship” Jerle Shannara as their base of operations. Along the way, Walker and his companions — including an Ohmsford, of course — encounter artifacts of the Old World, including computer chips and lasers. It’s not all science fiction, however, as the treasure thought to be at the end of the map’s route is also sought by the Ilse Witch, who has powerful magic of her own, and a burning desire to become powerful enough to defy her master, known only as the Morgawr.
Brooks is also not afraid to kill off old familiar characters, even powerful ones that made up a large part of the earlier stories. Most notable among these is Allanon, the druid who set the events of the original trilogy in motion. However, members of the Ohmsford family also appear, develop their various skills and talents, and then move aside for the next generation. While this may sound like the repetition I decried above, the Ohmsford characters are different enough, both in skills and personality, that it doesn’t feel at all repetitive.
From the original Sword of Shannara trilogy, through the Heritage of Shannara tetralogy, and now into the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy, Brooks manages to keep telling new and fresh stories in a familiar world, adding to the world while keeping intact what he’s already written. By adding science fiction to his magical world, he opens a lot of new possibilities for storytelling, and I can’t wait to keep reading about Shannara.