Now, I could say how close to the Lord of the Rings this book is and outline the similarities, but I suspect I will simply be saying the same thing that pretty much every other intelligent Booklikes user has been saying. I will try to talk about some other things with regards to this book, such as the fact that when I was a teenager, at a time when I pretty much wanted to read as much fantasy as possible, I got my hands on this book, and the next two in the series, and put them on my shelf. Pretty much that was where they stayed until they mysteriously disappeared. However, recently, when one of the fantasy groups on Goodreads picked this as the book of the month, and wanting to read something a little lighter, I decided to borrow the book from the library and give it a go.
The first thing I discovered was that I appeared to have read it before. This was not like other books that I have previously read, such as Magician, which I can still remember reading, because I was convinced, until memories began to be triggered in my mind, that I had not read it. However, having now finished the book I realise that it wasn't that I hadn't read it, but rather that I hadn't finished it, and I still don't know why. I suspect it was because it simply did not hold my interest.
Making the gnomes the bad guys, particularly since throughout most of my fantasy past I have always seen gnomes as being good guys, was one thing that had put me off this book. I guess it is trying to appear as different from Lord of the Rings, but still pretty much copying it, is why Brooks probably did this. Mind you, if done well, traditionally good races can be turned into not so good races, but one needs to be clever in how one does it. For example, I picture elves as not being minions of some evil overlord but rather a xenophobic and arrogant race who consider themselves to be superior to all others.
It also seems that Brooks is trying to be political in this book, and it sort of jumped out to me when he made a comment about small government verses big government. This is something that Tolkien simply does not do. In this story it is clear that the Warlock Lord represents big government in that he seeks to conquer and control all aspects of peoples lives, and that those who become under the rule of big government become mindless automatons who have no free will. However, the Southlands represent this tranquil idea of the realm of small government, where the rulers simply do not exist and those who do have little authority. As such everybody lives happily in their own fantasy world.
Guess what, that generally does not happen. The beautiful small government America of the Tea Party is actually a realm where everybody is forced to accept their own rules and morality. Secondly, small government is powerless against those who seek to exert authority over our lives. As government retreats, other institutions, such as corporations, expand to fill the vacuum. While governments are restrained by a constitution, corporations are not, and the only thing that motivates them is greed. In the end the idea of small government creating a harmonious society is little more than a pipe dream because, simply put, nature abhors a vacuum.
There were a number of things though that didn't seem to gel too much with this book. For instance, we have Allanon pretty much giving what my friend calls an 'info dump' right at the beginning of the novel. Basically he is outlining the history of the land, and yes, while he is portrayed as a dry and dull historian and as such we expect a long monologue of the history of the land of Shanarra from such a person, reading it in a book does tend to put one off the story. I have suggested elsewhere that maybe it is better to space it out, or even have sections revealed to us as we go through the book. I have found books that keep us guessing, not just with how the book ends, but also with the background, to be much more intriguing and entertaining than simply one that dumps everything on us right at the beginning.
As with the background we discover that this magical world is in fact Earth two thousand years after a nuclear war. Granted, at the time of the writing of this book, with the cold war still sitting at the back of our minds, the possibility of such a holocaust was still quite real. However, the whole nuclear destruction thing had taken a back seat (as it has now, despite it still being a real possibility) and even then, it did not seem to add anything to the book. In fact, the section where they wonder through the remains of an ancient city seemed to be something that was thrown in and did not really add anything to the story itself.
Okay, the Rock Troll that Shae meets during his travels was quite an interesting character, and was one thing that did set the book apart from Lord of the Rings, as well the character Panamon. However, everytime I encountered a name in this book I would almost cringe. In a way it seemed to follow on from what I had said about the post-apocalyptic world in that it was something thrown to try to make this book 'not the Lord of the Rings' while still being 'the Lord of the Rings'. This also seemed to be the same when Shae encounters the Warlock Lord at the end. What made Lord of the Rings stand out so much was that we never met the antagonist. He was there in the background, and sure he was powerful, but we never encountered him. Further, his destruction came from the ring being destroyed as opposed to actually fighting him. The encounter with the Warlock Lord came about more as an anti-climax than anything else.
The final thing I wish to mention is the lack of female characters. This actually stands out quite clearly. Even Lord of the Rings had strong female characters in it, especially since one of them kills the leader of the Ring Wraiths. A woman does appear near the end of the book, but she really plays a minor part and simply retains her femininity. Tolkein has his female characters actually step out and make an impact upon the world that he has created. Further, it is not just the Lord of the Rings, as we read stories of tragic love in the Simarilion. I would not necessarily go as far as saying that Brooks is mysognist - that is not the case - however the lack of any strong female character, and the one female that simply appears as a token female, is actually quite glaring.