Terry Brooks made his name with the Shannara series, coming back to it again and again in various trilogies (and one four-parter). It got to the point where even some of his fans were saying, "Enough!" They all started sounding the same with small differences (the Jerle Shannara trilogy took place across the sea, for one thing). Then, Brooks came out with Jarka Ruus. While still very similar in content, Brooks appeared to be taking the series in a bit of a new direction. Now, we have the second book in the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, Tanequil. It's a step down from the first book, but not too bad. Average is probably the best word for it (though I'm sure Brooks wouldn't think so).
The High Druid (or "Ard Rhys") of the new Druid order has been supplanted and imprisoned in "The Forbidding," a netherworld where demons and other evil creatures have been imprisoned for millennia to keep them from tormenting the Four Lands. Grianne Ohmsford, who was the evil Ilse Witch until the love of her brother, Bek, forced her to mend her ways and she became the Ard Rhys. With her out of the way, her enemies are working to enhance the power of the Druid Council and further their own greedy ends. Only Grianne's nephew, Pen, can save her, as he journeys to find the Tannequil, a magical tree of immense power that will give him a piece of itself - the Darkwand. This will enable him to find and, perhaps, rescue his sister. The Darkwand, however, will come with a cost that Pen may be unwilling to pay, even if it will save his aunt. Meanwhile, the war between the Federation and the other races in the Four Lands (Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and Gnomes) takes a tragic turn as a new weapon is introduced. Finally, the corrupt Druid Council attempts to capture Pen's parents and force them to help the Council find Pen. The danger increases at a drastic rate as Pen runs from the Druids, Grianne must deal with a horrifying captor who has evil plans of his own, and Bek must figure out how to escape the castle of the Druids.
There's one major problem with Tanequil: it's kind of boring. It reads very much like all the other Shannara books (the main characters spend a lot of time brooding about their situation), but the action is much less. Thus, we spend a disproportionate amount of time in the characters' heads, and it isn't that interesting. Either the villain is musing over her plans for Grianne or ultimate power, the Prime Minister of the Federation is going over what he intends to do with a new weapon, or Pen is brooding over what the cost of his little expedition has been in lives and heartache. What's even worse is that he repeats himself a little bit. Why Shadea has to tell the reader multiple times that her current relationship is one of convenience that she's willing to throw away as soon as it's no longer useful is unclear. This has always been a problem with Brooks, but he's always made up for it with exciting action scenes. This time, he doesn't. Compared to the rest of the books, there's relatively little.
Even worse is that Brooks is either way too predictable or he thinks foreshadowing should be done with a hammer instead of a scalpel. He never states anything just for atmosphere's sake. Everything he says is going to be used or addressed at some point. When Pen visits the Troll city and he mentions (seemingly in an offhand manner) the layout of the city and how they are mobile creatures, ready to move at a moment's notice, you know that it's going to be a plot point eventually. Other writers might use this to paint a broader picture of Troll society, but Brooks doesn't bother. If it's there, it's going to be used.
The last problem is that the most interesting character in the series, Grianne, is barely in the book, relatively speaking. She doesn't appear for over one hundred pages, and then she's only in a few sections after that. She's imprisoned the entire time, though at least Brooks makes good use of that to further the plot and give her some more hardships to endure. As I said in my review of Jarka Ruus, Brooks hasn't really dealt with redemption, so her storyline has a lot of potential. In the little space that she inhabits in Tanequil, she is put through the wringer, and it's fascinating to see how she deals with it all. It's just not enough to carry the rest of the book.
On the plus side, Brooks does bring back Bek and his wife, Rue, Pen's parents. They were two of the most interesting characters in the earlier trilogy, and I was disappointed when they didn't appear in Jarka Ruus. They both get to demonstrate their devotion to each other as well as their quick wit and intelligence when they are set upon by the Druids. Sadly, none of the other characters shine, though I can't really point to any of them and say that they were done badly. Instead, they just sit there on the page, and I found myself occasionally wishing Brooks would go back to somebody else. This generally happened with Shadea, who suffers from being one of the least interesting villains I've read in quite a while.
Finally, I have to give kudos for the demons and the Forbidding. The atmosphere in the Forbidding is very tight, and when Brooks reveals the ultimate plan, it brings the book up to another level. There's another villain besides Shadea, and the book really accelerates when he's on the screen. Unfortunately, he's only there when Grianne is, which means he doesn't get a lot of time. Sure, he's sort of a cliché, but he's miles above Shadea. If Brooks continues the demon storyline to a satisfying conclusion, the last book should be a rocking read.
Tanequil isn't really bad enough to avoid if you're following the Shannara series. It just sort of sits there, taking up room until the next book. If you read the first book and enjoyed it, this won't turn you off of the series. It'll just make you wish the third book was already here. I hope Brooks doesn't let us down.