Published: 3rd May 2005 by Pocket Books
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
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War threatens the Four Lands, and Shannara's only hope lies in Penderrin Ohmsford, but it's a dreadfully slim hope. To save his world, Pen must restore his aunt, the former Ilse Witch, to her rightful position as High Druid of Shannara.
But first Pen must free his aunt Grianne from the Forbidding: the world of the demons. To have the slightest chance of freeing her, he must find the mystical tree called the Tanequil, and somehow craft a talisman from its wood. But Shadea a'Ru, the treacherous usurper of his aunt's position, will do anything to stop Pen--and she has already captured Pen's parents and forced them to reveal their son's whereabouts. Sen Dunsidan, the monstrous Prime Minister of the Federation, has armed his greatest airship with a horrible new weapon.
And Pen is just a boy, accompanied on his dangerous quest by only a Dwarf, a young Elf, and a blind Rover girl.
The second book of the High Druid of Shannara series is arguably better than the first – Brooks manages to bring up the quality of the book by cutting down references to the previous series, The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and giving some air time to the Elves – and ends in a cliff hanger that had me reaching for book three immediately.
The highlight of Tanequil is the character growth. Brooks has developed a trademark style of writing about teens who have no clue about their place in the world, and takes them on perilous journeys so they can figure it out, but with Pen, Brooks follows someone who knows his power and is comfortable with it, who is well versed in his ancestry, and who is politically and socially aware. Penderrin’s challenge has been one of leadership and self confidence, and this book focusses on it by dropping Cinnaminson into his care and placing the lives of the small company in his hands. Pen adapts and learns refreshingly quickly, and doesn’t wallow in his misfortunes like some of the other Shannara protagonists were prone to.
Khyber Elessdil, determined to take over the role her uncle left behind, also undergoes some major developments, and she quickly becomes the voice of reason and caution for the group. It’s a bit clichéd, given that she’s an Elf, but given the sage-like qualities of her Arhen, with whom she was very close, I think it can be forgiven. Brooks finally allows us a look into the Elven kingdom in this book, and it’s clear that the Elves are in trouble given their current monarch. I liked that the Elves aren;t impeachable in this scenario – perhaps after centuries of sustained contact with humans, they have become susceptible to human foibles. In any case, I’m a big fan of this incarnation of the Captain of the Home Guard, and interested in the tantalising details Brooks has dropped about his relationship with the Queen. I look forward to this angle being explored in the last book of the series.
There are still far too much recounting of Shannara history for my liking – I know the rationale is that new readers and those who read the previous books a long time ago will benefit from the recaps, but I find them tiresome. The issue is that High Druid is set only 20 years from the events in Voyage – this is a comparatively tiny gap between Shannara series – and I feel like I’m reading one series spanning six books, rather than two that contain three books each. Brooks focusses a lot on what happened in the Voyage series: Bek and his wife reminisce about it, the Elves still haven’t gotten over the betrayal they chose to see, and the world’s politics has stagnated.
Tanequil is a great sequel to Jarka Ruus and surpasses its predecessor for entertainment value. It doesn’t suffer second-book-syndrome (when the second book feels like filler material until the finale), but does focus too much on retelling the past. The previous series left me doubting whether Terry Brooks could pull off any more Shannara books, but this novel contains the spark that I felt Voyage lacked. A must read for fans of the series, but interested newcomers would benefit immensely beginning the adventure with The Sword of Shannara and continuing the behemoth of a series in publication order (a personal preference, but you can also see Terry Brook’s recommended reading orders for newcomers and revisiting readers, or read the books in the canonical chronological order).