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The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Ilse Witch    by Terry Brooks order for
Voyage of the Jerle Shannara
by Terry Brooks
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2000 (2000)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ilse Witch is the first of a new series in Brooks' Shannara work, an epic that spans the ages (in both real and fantasy worlds it seems). It began with The First King of Shannara in 1977. This new tale takes place a generation after The Talisman of Shannara and is the first book of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy.

The story starts with the Elven Hunter Predd patrolling the waters of the Blue Divide on his Roc, Obsidian. He spots a body draped over a spar of wood. It turns out to be an Elf, barely alive, blinded and with his tongue removed. Predd takes him to a Healer and then brings the bracelet and map that he found on the castaway to the Elf King Allardon Elessedil. Allardon identifies the bracelet as belonging to his elder brother Kael long lost in an expedition in search of legendary magic.

The King reluctantly sends Predd to ask for help from Walker Boh, the last of the Druids. In the meantime, spies have informed the powerful Ilse Witch of these events. She sees an opportunity both to gain power and also to avenge herself on Walker, whom she believes responsible for the death of her family. Ilse is an ambivalent figure, associated with true evil and directing it herself, but still capable of a compassionate act.

Walker Bok meets with the Elf King in the Gardens of Life at Arborlon and bargains with him for Elf support of an independent Druid Council in exchange for Walker's help with a voyage to determine the fate of the previous expedition and to win the treasure. They reach an agreement and Walker begins to assemble his crew. This takes more than half of the book and does drag on a bit as do Walker's qualms about his own druidic manipulations of others.

Voyagers include elves, a seer and the usual young man with a murky past. Of course he starts to find that he has special powers and a dangerous destiny. His name is Bek and his sidekick is Quentin Leah, who wields the famed sword of Leah. For added flavour, Brooks has tossed in a quota of Rovers. In this era they are skilled builders and crew of airships. We first meet Redden Alt Mer and his sister Red acting as mercenaries in air battles for the Federation. But they are soon at odds and the Rovers become free to pilot the Jerle Shannara.

Once it gets underway the action speeds up on three different islands where they must win the keys needed at their destination. They prevail against unusual perils to do so and reach the Ice Henge but so does the dark Ilse Witch on an airship full of the nasty lizard-like Mwellret, whom she was forced to accept against her wishes by her ally, the evil Morgawr.

Brooks has done his usual accomplished job with a known world into which he has thrown interesting new characters and technology, a quest, and a mystery or two to generate reader interest. While the story plods in the middle, it does lay the trilogy's groundwork and the author makes up for it in the second half. He finishes with a crescendo of action and a cliffhanger ending that leaves the reader anxious for the sequel.

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