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Jarka Ruus by Terry Brooks

Twenty years have passed since the events in The Voyage Of The Jerle Shannara trilogy. Grianne Ohmsford, rescued from oblivion by her brother Bek, has renounced her former life as the evil Ilse Witch, and now serves as the head of a new Druid Council. Her purpose is to defend the Four Lands from anarchy and warfare. Such was the destiny foretold for her by the Druid, Walker Boh.

But there are those who cannot easily forgive her past actions, and are loathe to follow her leadership. When Grianne’s enemies cause her to disappear, only a few loyal friends can help her. The dwarf Tagwen; Grianne’s nephew, Pen Ohmsford; and the Elf Prince, Ahren Elessedil, begin a desperate journey to find Grianne and return her to the Druids’ keep at Paranor. Their quest is urgent, their way uncertain and perilous, for the darkest of magics have been used to spirit Grianne away.

Pen Ohmsford is descended from the line of Jerle Shannara, the first of the Elven Kings, but his own magic seems small and inadequate when measured against that of his aunt’s enemies, who will stop at nothing to thwart Pen’s efforts to rescue his aunt and restore the nascent Druid Council. And there is another danger. An ancient and deadly power has found its way out into the world. If things are not put to rights, the danger to the Four Kingdoms will be immeasurable …

I’ve been wanting to get back to the Shannara world after completing The Voyage of Jerle Shannara series a few years ago, but to be honest, I was disappointed in that trilogy and always found an excuse not to start Jarka Ruus. Which, as it turns out, was a huge mistake.

Brooks hasn’t given his Druids a large voice before – preferring to keep their thoughts and motives a secret. In previous books saw more of Walker than Alannon, who Brooks kept aloof from the reader. We peeked into Walker’s life – how he worked, his responsibilities as a Druid, and how his magic worked – but never enough, because the stories have always been about the Ohmsfords and Elessdils, with some guidance from the Druids. In Jarka Ruus we finally see the Four Kingdoms from a Druid’s perspective, and we get a glimpse into the ancient and mysterious order. We see the politics that rule them, the pressure that Grianne, as their leader, endures, and emerge better equipped to understand her predecessors. The difference in Grianne is marked – no longer the dreaded Ilse Witch, she has become more thoughtful, pragmatic, and selfless.

Another refreshing change is that while Pen Ohmsford conforms to the role of reluctant hero, he isn’t like his father Bek, or even Shea, the original Ohmsford hero. Pen never loses sight of his goal to rescue his aunt. He isn’t as incredulous or unbelieving as his ancestors were. I found his daring admirable and his romantic exploits cute. Another awesome addition to the cast is Arhen Elessdil, who was one of my favourite characters in The Voyage of Jerle Shannara series. His niece Khyber is also great – a brave, headstrong girl who quickly learns that there are many types of courage and actions mean much more than words. On the other hand, the fourth member of the team – Tagwen – is like none of the Dawrvish characters before him: although he is trustworthy and kindly, he lacks courage and foresight and his constant second-guessing set my teeth on edge.

All the familiar aspects of Terry Brook’s writing make an appearance – amazing world building, the presence of the Elf-stones, a chase half way across the world with shadowy figures at the party’s heels, and a force of darkness manipulating events to suit itself. It’s easy to see why Brook’s is considered a master of Fantasy writing, and I was glad to have enjoyed Jarka Ruus so much after being disappointed in the preceding trilogy.

Fans of the Shannara series shouldn’t miss this book, which kicks off an amazing new series by taking the story into uncharted territory. As Brooks pushes the magical, geographical and historical boundaries of the world he created so long ago, he displays a maturing of writing style and character arc development which is wonderful to see. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy soon!

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