Terry Brooks, Edwin David & Robert Place Napton – The Dark Wraith of Shannara

(It occurred to me after writing the review of ‘Feels Like Steven King’ last week that I’d promised to post my Vector reviews online a month or two after they appeared in the magazine itself. That deadline has long since passed for the first three reviews, so I’ll post one on Saturdays for the first three weeks of August.)

This all-new story set in Brooks’ world of Shannara is not only its first appearance in a graphic novel, but also my first experience of the setting. Fans may wish to take my opinions with a pinch of salt.

Set after the events of ‘The Wishsong of Shannara’, ‘The Dark Wraith of Shannara’ resumes the story of Jair Ohmsford, a young man capable of using a form of magic known as the wishsong. As the story begins Jair’s sister has him swear not to risk using the dangerous wishsong again, but Jair is troubled by portentous dreams. The following day he learns that several old friends have been kidnapped, and so Jair and those allies he can round up set out to rescue them. Along the way Jair learns more about the wishsong and about his own potential.

This story is generic, inoffensive quest fare, featuring appearances by various characters who I assume will be known to Shannara fans. The central plot works well enough; it is unoriginal but comprehensible to a newcomer. But it is as a graphic novel that ‘The Dark Wraith of Shannara’ is flawed. This rests on the way that the tale has been written and structured, seemingly as a short story with pictures rather than something that embraces the strengths of the graphic medium. This problem is obvious in every caption of narration, in every transitionally disconnected panel, and in every bit of expositional text. As the story does not always flow visually, the author and reader are forced to rely on this omniscient crutch. The old writer’s adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ is rarely this obviously and damagingly violated.

The artwork itself is competent but lacks the personality that can breathe life into a setting. Perhaps this is partially down to Shannara itself, which seems to be drawn from a very generic high fantasy tradition. This could be part of the charm of Shannara to its fans–there is an almost pastoral feel to the setting–but personally I found the lack of ambition and imagination uninspiring.

The flaws of ‘The Dark Wraith of Shannara’ are too significant to make this graphic novel worth anyone’s time. Whether it’s due to the poor adaptation to the comic book medium or the sense of having seen it all before, it’s likely you’ll come away disappointed.

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  1. […] 12th, 2009 § 0 Back at the outset of August I promised to post one of my book reviews for Vector every Saturday, and then repeatedly forgot to queue up […]