A couple of spoilers in this review (4th paragraph)- You have been warned!
First, I have to say that overall I am a Brooks fan. Next to the H..Show More »obbit, Brooks was my introduction into the Fantasy genre at a pretty early age with the Sword of Shannara, and I've read everything he's put out since. So the medicare star rating should be a heads up.
Most of the Shanarra series has been somewhat, "formulaic", in the overall plot line, and I do want to give props to the author for exploring new ground (though in this book it's not really a good departure in my opinion).
This story centers once again around the Ohmsford family (though now it's the Leah name as the bloodlines merged at the end of the last trilogy, Witch Wraith). Its pretty obvious that this book is much more about setting the pieces in place politically and contextually for a much larger grand story down the road.
What we get in this book is relatively mundane in terms of the plot. There is no grand "end of the world" threat taking place (at least overtly) in this story- instead a bar fight escalates into a kidnapping and a rescue that sets some things in motion, that on the surface are, (for the Shannara world), rather "dull", especially given the bloodbath the previous trilogy was.
Contrasting that dynamic, the other main criticism is that the story gets quite dark in places. One of the main characters is a 15 year old girl (her age mentioned several times in the text), the offspring of the Railing Ohmsford and Mariah Leah line. At one point she is kidnapped and brutally tortured- I hate to give that away, but at the same timeI feel one should be aware of this going in.
I don't think the description of the torture is specific enough to technically be considered graphic, though it does get the idea of what is being done across well enough through implication. Most of the Shannara characters historically are quite young and always threatened with awful deaths- this brings a grittier detail to the character's trial that may be off-putting to some, given the age of the person being tortured. While there is a sexual tension to the torture (that component is threatened a few times), it doesn't cross the line into that thankfully. For added tension though, her capture always seems to wind up with her clothing removed at the end. It's effective, if a bit disturbing.
Where in pervious stories, the tension comes from the nature of the evil protagonist of the story attempting to destroy or conquer the world (and subsequently kill the hero of the story who is trying to prevent this), this is a much more direct assault against the main characters for personal gain by the protagonist (though agendas are hinted at).
Brooks is obviously trying to go a bit deeper here in the perceived threat to the heroes and raising the tension in a different way than he has done in the past. I can't say it isn't successful, even if it does leave you feeling a little dirty at the end (though I have read much worse by other authors- it's just somewhat unexpected here).
Another flaw is that the main protagonist, while diabolical in his casual brutality, doesn't seem to have any solid direct plans to gain power, but seems to let things develop at times and be along for the ride. He comes across less as an "arch villain" and more as a sadistic opportunist.
Despite all this, I'll keep with the story and see where it goes. Brooks has said in interviews that the Shannara series is headed to a major (world changing) confrontation between the Magic and Science spheres of the world, and there are some obvious hints being set up in this story for that to play out in the future. But ultimately this 1st book of this trilogy doesn't really communicate any cliff hanging, nail biting drama that makes you want to dive right into the next book. But I remain hopeful.