Ilse Witch, by Terry Brooks

Therefore, as King of the Land Elves and Sovereign Lord of the Westland, I wish this brave company success and good sailing, and I give to their ship the cherished name of one of our own, revered and loved over the years.  I give to this ship the name Jerle Shannara!
-King Elessedil

I hadn’t expected a new Shannara novel from Terry Brooks; his last set of Shannara books seemed to wrap things up pretty well…except, naturally, for one character’s new responsibilities that would take more than a single mortal lifetime.  And the last Shannara book was a prequel of sorts.  But I was pleased by the news that there would be another series set after the Heritage of Shannara quartet; Brooks rarely disappoints.

He maintains that streak with The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara:  Ilse Witch.  Set over 100 years after the Talismans of Shannara, a near dead Elf washes up near the Westland, and is discovered by one of the Elven Wing Riders.  The Wing Rider, Hunter Predd, discovers a map and a bracelet that lead him to the Elven city of Arborlon.  This begins a series of events that draw in two powerful forces of magic:  the Ilse Witch, and the Druid, Walker Boh.

Walker (who no longer uses the Boh name) “inherited” the mantle and cause of the Druids of previous books.  He’s become a little bitter in the last twenty years, as his goal of re-creating a Druid Council that would rediscover the lost sciences to share among all the races seems as far away as when he began.  When Hunter Predd asks for the Druid’s help in translating the map on the behalf of the Elven King, Walker sees a chance to make his dream a reality-or at least take it a large step forward.  The map reveals that there is a powerful magic to be discovered-more incentive.  The bad news is, this is more than enough motivation for the Ilse Witch to become involved.

A great deal of the book centers on gathering the crew of the airship Jerle Shannara, named for the Elven King who fought against the Warlock Lord during the Second War of the Races.  The crew consists of (among others) a bunch of Rovers (the equivalent of gypsies); the builder of the Jerle Shannara (considered good insurance that he didn’t sell Walker a lemon); a seer who has a curious attachment to Walker; Quentin Leah, the latest in a long line of men wielding the magical Sword of Leah; Bek Rowe, who will learn more about himself than anyone could have expected in this book; and a very interesting…person…by the name of Truls Rohk, who is at least as mysterious-if not more so-than Walker himself.

The Ilse Witch, on the other hand, doesn’t get too much time in comparison, but what is shown builds towards the conclusion at the end of the map.  The Witch is an ally of a warlock calling himself the Morgawr, and both appear to be the equal of Walker in magic.  She wants the magic, and a shot at revenge against Walker (which becomes clearer as the story progresses).

The journey itself is remarkably fast (at least in order of pages); at times, it seems almost rushed.  Some of the reasons may be explained by comments made by the crew near the end of the book.  The book spends a great deal of time on Bek Rowe and his struggle to understand not only his identity, but why Walker even bothered taking him along this journey.  There seem to be almost too many characters to keep track of, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that so much time is spent on Bek.

Still, there are some characters who I find more interesting than others.  It shouldn’t be surprising that I was very interested in Walker.  This character never wanted to become a Druid in the first place, because he despised their manipulative tactics and their habits of keeping dark secrets…and yet in this book, he finds himself becoming exactly what he hates most!  I also found the Ilse Witch interesting, because she didn’t strike me as being as “Eeeevil” as many of Brooks’s other antagonists…just deeply misguided.

One of the big attractions to the more recent Shannara books is that Brooks is willing to expand beyond the limited borders of the map we first got to see in the Sword of Shannara; with the locales visited in Druid of Shannara and Elf Queen of Shannara, and now Ilse Witch, Brooks gives himself plenty of room to explore.  On the other hand, the next book which continues this story may be a bit more limited in territory…but then, while it may seem that this story doesn’t have too much more room to go, Brooks has never failed to deliver a great story in the Shannara books.  I’m looking forward to reading the next one-which can’t come soon enough.

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