A re-read (maybe the fifth or sixth) of Ilse Witch, book one of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks
As a Wing Rider is doing his daily flights over the Blue Divide, he spots a castaway. Turns out, the castaway was an Elf prince who set out 30 years prior to discover a forgotten magic across the ocean. Blind and mute, the castaway carries a map. When the Druid Walker deciphers the map, he brings together a ragtag team of warriors, magic-users and a young boy with a mysterious past. Using the brand new technology of airships, the group undertakes a long and arduous journey to this long forgotten land. During the journey, the young Bek learns the truth about his ancestry and his undiscovered magic. Chasing them the entire journey is the Ilse Witch, who also has a mysterious past and deep hatred for the Druid. Upon reaching the land that time forgot, the group is attacked by the sentient dweller in the ancient city and become separated.
Though my first foray into fantasy was Tolkien, Terry Brooks was really the one to fully grab me. I read the original trilogy and the Heritage series in the late 90s, so when this book came out in 2000, I was aching for this series. And it didn’t disappoint (and still doesn’t). The biggest thing about Mr. Brooks is his attention to detail in crafting a story. While I loved individual books in the aforementioned stories, I really didn’t get invested in every single character arc (though after re-reads, I understood them better) until this story. I love every single character POV and care so much about them. This book, this quest, these characters are the exact reason I started forming/writing my own fantasy stories. There is just something so graceful and encouraging in this book/trilogy that I couldn’t help myself for wanting to emulate Mr. Brooks.
The one thing that sets this series apart for me is the expansion of the world. In the original trilogy there is only the most basic of hints this world is the future of Earth. A bit more is expanded in the Heritage series (I’m thinking of you Eldwist!), but this series really hits home that this is our future. I love the journey to Castledown – which is obvious it takes place in Asia (hence the name Parkasia). It really adds a layer of setting and place.
Every time I re-read this series, I find a new character to fall in love with, and that is what makes Mr. Brooks fantastic as a writer in these early series. When I first read it as a teenager, obviously Bek and Quentin were my favorites because they were of a same age to me. Then it became Walker. Now it is Rue and Redden, the Rovers. I always loved Rue because she was an awesome character, but now, I can really see the progression of Mr. Brooks as a writer. In the early stories, only Brin and Wren were main female characters, but they were magic users, family members. They were the ones the story happened to. Not Rue. Rue is not the main character, but her story arc is amazing. She relies on her instincts, her abilities, her charm, her wit. She is a perfect character.
I also love the fact that one of the main characters – with that familial connection – is a villain. It is a true flip of the script. The Ilse Witch is great.
While I really like stories with major plots and scheme, my favorite fantasy trope is the quest. I just love having characters go to someplace unknown and just grow from that. The Druid of Shannara is pretty much one of my favorite fantasy books because of Walker’s journey to the Eldwist. And this trilogy adds another level to an awesome journey story. I absolutely love the journey itself, but also the stuff that happens on said journey – like the growth of Bek, the mystery of the Ilse Witch, who is the spy, what will happen to the group. It is just an overall amazing first book in this trilogy.
What doesn’t work:
While I am a huuuuuuuuuge Terry Brooks fan (I will read the hell out of all his books!), this series starts the formula for all his other books that take place chronologically after this. What I mean is that the same types of characters start to reappear, especially the boy Ohmsford character and the Wishsong. Bek is amazing, but down the road, you see him over and over again, so it really isn’t a blight on this book, but it does set the stage.
The other thing I never noticed before I tried to become a writer myself was the repeating Mr. Brooks tends to do sometimes. For example, every time the characters meet to discuss their plans, every single character is named in that meeting. It happens a lot! And after a few times, it gets somewhat trite. This also happens with catching characters up to speed, many times the same history is repeated.
The biggest thing to me is probably the title. I enjoy how the script is flipped with the Ilse Witch, but really, in the scheme of the trilogy (spoiler), she really isn’t the major focus until book 2 and especially book 3. While book 2 is aptly named, I think book 3 should have been called Ilse Witch. The reason this bugs me is because the Ilse Witch isn’t a major POV character here, and most of the story revolves around the journey from Walker/Bek’s POV. I know it is silly, but I think the title doesn’t fit the story, but if you couldn’t tell, I really love this books so I am somewhat nit-picking here.
5 our of 5
Terry Brooks will always be one of my favorite authors and I re-read them quite often to immerse myself in a wonderful story. It is hard for me to rate each book individually because this trilogy is so strong as a whole, there are no let-down books that tend to happen with series. I don’t know how anyone who enjoys fantasy could not love this book (trilogy).