High Druid of Shannara

Jarka Ruus, by Terry Brooks

jarkaruusWhat is she like?
You’ve spent time with her.
Not very much.  not enough to know her well.  She doesn’t let you know her well.  She keeps you at a distance.
She does that even to me.  I can tell you that she lives with her past more than most.  She’s haunted by it, Penderrin.  She hates who she was and what she did as the Ilse Witch.  She would do anything to take it all back and start over.  I don’t think anyone understands that.  The Druids mostly think she hasn’t changed all that much, that once you have the kind of magic she does, you don’t regret anything.  They think she’s the same underneath, that she just masks it from them.
-Penderrin Ohmsford and Tagwen

You know, creating the Third Druid Council seemed like a good idea in concept….  But in the latest offering from Terry Brooks, Jarka Ruus, it seems that this noble goal has a few unpleasant realities attached, and they are about to come around and bite the High Druid.

Twenty years have passed since the return of the Jerle Shannara; twenty years where Grianne Ohmsford, once known as the malevolent Ilse Witch, has worked to fulfill the charge laid upon her by the Druid Walker Boh.  Grianne has done what he could not-she has formed a new Druid Council, an organization of learning of both magic and science (mostly magic).  Unfortunately, she’s also made a great deal of enemies in the process.  The Elves don’t like her:  she conveniently kept Walker’s fate from them when she returned, and once the Elven King found out, he wasn’t too well disposed towards her-and neither was his son.  The Federation remembers her well as the Ilse Witch.  The greatest potential danger, however, comes from within the Druid Council itself.  Too many people want her to step down as High Druid-willingly or not, and some are not choosy as to how healthy she is when she is removed.

The plans of one Druid are about to come to fruition:  one night, Grianne disappears-and the Druid Council suddenly undergoes a semi-hostile takeover.  Grianne’s most trusted aide, the Dwarf Tagwen, flees the Druid stronghold of Paranor to find the only man who might be able to find her-Grianne’s brother, Bek.  Who he ends up finding, however, is Bek’s son, Penderrin.  An encounter with pursuers who want to close off loose ends, as well as the intervention of a very familiar character to Shannara readers, sends the two on a journey to find a way to rescue Grianne from a fate that none have suffered since ages past.

Those who have followed the saga of the Ohmsfords will find much familiar to them; this is hardly the first time that a young Ohmsford has had to go on a quest that fairly drips with magic.  This time around, the quest is more personal than epic-instead of saving a race or a nation, Penderrin’s out to save his aunt.  Unlike the previous books, though, the primary antagonists are Druids.  Each of the Druids involved have various motives for wanting Grianne out of the way:  one of them remembers when she was the Ilse Witch, and joined the Druids to keep an eye on her, and he believes that the Four Lands still holds her past against her-and that’s hanging around the collective necks of the Druids.  One hates her for the humiliation that, really, she brought upon herself.  And one hates her because she wants the High Druid’s power and position.  But to keep things even more interesting, it appears that someone is moving behind the scenes, manipulating the players in the drama for very different ends….

There’s a number of additional characters who show up in this book as well.  For example, Ahren Elessedil is alive and well, and living in the Westland; his niece, Khyber, is very interested in the Druidic arts, which puts her most definitely in conflict with her parents’ plans for her.  The Rovers are also represented in this book with the father/daughter airship team of Gar Hatch and Cinnaminson (which is a bit of a mouthful); lest you be deceived by happy memories of the last book’s group of Rovers, keep in mind that not all Rovers are nice; think of the Rovers in Elfstones of Shannara, and you may get a better idea.

But the best parts of the book are the parts I can’t really go into without really spoiling some of the good stuff, but all are related to Grianne and her fate.  There are a pair of really great moments that had me thinking “Oh, this is so not-good”!  Suffice it to say that she has never been in this bad a position, not as a Druid, and not as the Ilse Witch-or even before that.  I was also really happy about some of the little things that tie this book to past books, between the return of the deadliest hand weapon in the Four Lands (and it isn’t the Sword of Leah), and the continuing presence of the most famous Elven magic in the series-especially when it isn’t used as a weapon but in its other aspect.

And just what is Jarka Ruus?  Well, I’ll give one hint:  it’s not a person.  But as a book, I have to say I liked Jarka Ruus.  It doesn’t have the same feeling of dread and danger that the Voyage of the Jerle Shanarra (well, not yet), but it does have a similar feel to the earlier Heritage of Shannara; and as it has a somewhat smaller cast than past books, it feels a little more focused as well.  I hope this continues on through the next book in this series.

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