Dark Wraith of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Published by Orbit
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
OK: here’s a scenario. You like Fantasy, but are just dipping your toe in the water, so to speak. You’ve read a bit, and liked what you’ve read, but feel intimidated by those many mighty tomes of paper bending the bookshelves at your local store. You’re really not sure where to go next.
This might be the solution. For this is the first of Terry’s bestselling Shannara series in a graphic novel form. And it worked for me surprisingly well.
The story is nothing particularly revelatory. It is a story after Wishsong of Shannara, that tells of Jair Ohmsford and his sister Brin. As a Shannara story, there’s a lot here for those new to Fantasy to like: objects of good and evil, character-building quests (on which their success the world depends), druids, warriors, elves.
The good news for many readers, new and old, will be that that this is an original story written for this graphic novel, after the events of Wishsong and the short story Indomitable (published in Robert Silverberg’s Legends II), showing the further maturity of Jair Ohmsford. It’s a pretty good tale, covering all the usual Brooks’ trademarks. Jair, having survived the events of Wishsong, further tests his new magical powers when given a task by the shade of the Druid Allanon. To complete this, Jair not only has to face new challenges but also has to learn to live with a magic that not only defines him but comes to him at a cost.
Many of these themes fans of Terry’s work will recognise. For some that might be an issue. I suspect it will do little to change the opinion of Terry’s critics, but I think fans and new readers will like it. It can be read as a standalone (deliberately, according to Terry’s introduction), though for fans part of the fun will be to recognise many characters from the series (albeit briefly at times): Slanter, the King of the Silver River, Allanon, Garet Jax, Cogline, Kimber Boh and so on.
What some fans may find difficult is the problem that often happens when you take a text and turn it into a film or graphic novel – the fact that characters in their head created whilst reading the novels may not necessarily match the drawings shown here, though these are drawn with the use of notes and consultations with Terry. I didn’t have a problem with that particularly myself, though Kimber Boh disconcertingly looks like she’s wandered off the film-set of One Million Years B.C. (I thought Raquel Welch myself; those younger may think Camilla Belle from 10 000 Years B.C.). However, if the market is young teenage boys, then this might be all the recommendation they need: see page 85!
For those who don’t know the Wishsong tale or Terry’s novels, it’s a good introduction: easy to grasp and compellingly told. The drawings, though for some perhaps disappointingly in black and white, are fluid and generally well drawn. Kudos to Edwin David for that, who follows Brooks’s directions most clearly. The text, adapted from Terry’s tale by Robert Place Napton, was appropriate and easy to follow, so much so that I read it in one sitting.
Of course, for those who know the Shannara story, this is another eagerly awaited tale that should satisfy the Brooks faithful, of whom there are many. I found it an interestingly unusual way of reading a Shannara tale and would welcome another. (Terry has said that if this is successful, he will consider another.) It made me think about how the series might work as a film, though the majority of this particular tale only focuses on one or two aspects. You know, it might just work….
The last 40 pages of the book go into the process of producing the book for those who are interested. There’s an artist’s sketchbook, showing concept drawings and changes following Terry’s instructions. This should satisfy any budding young artist wanting to follow suit. And there’s an extract from Wishsong for those who might be tempted to go and read the novel after this graphic novel (which I assume is the idea.)
All in all, it’s a nice package that would be a great way of attracting newcomers to Fantasy (and Terry’s work), of persuading some readers to look at a graphic novel for the first time and also keeping the Brooks’ faithful happy. Sounds difficult, but I think it manages it.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, March 2008