BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Terry Brooks's The Measure of the Magic.
Horrified by the misuse of magic they had witnessed during the First War of the Races, the Druids at Paranor devoted themselves to the study of the old sciences, from the period before the collapse of civilization a thousand years before. Only the Bremen and a few trusted associates still studied the arcane arts. And for his persistence, Bremen found himself outcast, avoided by all but the few free-thinkers among the Druids.
But his removal from Paranor was not altogether a terrible thing, for Bremen learned that dark forces were on the move from the Northlands. That seemingly invincible armies of trolls were fast conquering all that lay to their south. That the scouts for the army--and its principal assassins--were Skull Bearers, disfigured and transformed Druids who had fallen prey to the seductions of the magic arts. And that at the heart of the evil tide was an archmage and former Druid named Brona!
Using the special skills he had acquired through his own study of Magic, Bremen was able to penetrate the huge camp of the Troll army and learn many of its secrets. And he immediately understood that if the peoples of the Four Lands were to escape eternal subjugation they would need to unite. But, even united, they would need a weapon, something so powerful that the evil magic of Brona, the Warlock Lord, would fail before its might...
You can't find the Four Lands on any map of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth; but, given all the elves, dwarves, warlocks, trolls and gnomes that run rampant in the setting of Brooks's many Shannara novels (The Talismans of Shannara, etc.), readers can be forgiven for trying. Tolkien's influence is so strong in this prequel to The Sword of Shannara (1977), which launched the series, that many of the events here seem predictable or repetitive. Set 500 years before the events of Sword, the novel chronicles the destruction of ivory-towered Paranor and its Druid scholars, tracing the subsequent adventures of the outcast Druid-magician Bremen. With a handful of companions, he must find and hide the Black Elfstone from the Warlock Lord and forge a magic sword for Elven King Jerle Shannara to wield against the warlock. Brooks's prose generates a breakneck pace, but it lacks depth of characterization and also the wealth of linguistic invention that the most satisfying high fantasy offers. As an allegory of the eternal struggle between good and evil, the vital basis of fantasy, Brooks's mythical universe also suffers from a crucial dearth of those magical moments of heart-stopping revelation when, against all hope, against all reason, against all the forces of evil, salvation comes at last. Author tour.
After reading these books in order, it was really great when young Allonon was found "with those eyes". This book is worthy of your time and dime. Great job, Brooks.
Terry Brooks is turning into one of my favorite writers! This book is a great starter in emerging yourself into the wonderful world he has created.
Predictable, but fun
All those events you hear Allanon talking about - well here's the first hand look into the life of Bremen, the fall of the Druids and the first battle with Brona. Seeing the events unfold all together as a single story was a lot of fun. You pick up on the various parts of the legends and the histories that you hear in bits and pieces throughout the series. As such, it can easily be read as a stand alone and you will still get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
In fact, you may get more enjoyment out of it. I found I had learned a little too much about the events and characters, and when they didn't live up to my expectations, especially Jerle Shannara, who I found to be very un-heroic and a little whiny at times.
The druid Bremen, on the other hand, was great. I loved his tenacity and his sorrow that he wasn't able to make people (like the Druids) change their mind about how they would react to events. Overall the adventure was a little predictable (but I already knew what was going to happen), and the hero was a little too underwhelming, but it was still fun.