First King of Shannara is a prequel to Terry Brooks' bestselling Shannara series. It deals with the Second War of the Races, telling the story of the rebel Druid Brona's second attempt at conquering the Four Lands, and how he was opposed by Bremen, and Jerle Shannara. A single volume, it provides much of the Back Story for The Sword of Shannara and its sequels, while introducing us to Bremen, Jerle, and many other posthumous characters previously known only from Allanon's narrations.
When the book begins, the outcast Druid, Bremen, returns to the Druid's Keep at Paranor, attempting to warn them that Brona is back, has transformed into the Warlock Lord, and is bent on conquering the world. He is accused of plotting to take control of the Druids, and laughed out of the Keep. Taking his allies Risca, and Tay Treffynwyd with him, and later joined by apprentice Druid Mareth, Bremen leaves, intent on stopping the Warlock Lord through some other means. Shortly afterwards, Brona raids Paranor and has it wiped out to the last Druid.
Bremen and his allies split up. Tay Treffynwyd journeys to the Westland, with instructions to warn the Elven King, and find the Black Elfstone before Brona can. Finding the entire Elven royal family slaughtered, he teams with the last survivor, his old friend Jerle, and sets off to find the stone. Risca, sets out on his own to warn the Dwarves, and provide them with what help he can.
Bremen, of course, has the most difficult and iconic task of all. With the help of a master blacksmith he must forge a weapon capable of defeating Brona for good. This weapon will be wielded by the Elven King, Jerle, and will give hope and strength to all of the Races. It will be, of course, The Sword of Shannara...
Tropes found in this book include:
- And I Must Scream: The fate of the Druids whom Brona and the Skull Bearers seal up in the walls of Paranor's basements.
- Artifact of Doom: Remember the Black Elfstone from The Heritage of Shannara? The one that can negate magic and absorb it into its user? Well, Brona wants it.
- Badass Beard: Risca, Bremen.
- Badass Normal: Kinson.
- Becoming the Mask: Tay and Bremen both have to be careful of this when impersonating the villains. The disguise requires them to submerge themselves in their own worst desires and emotions, leading to an effective, but traumatic and possibly dangerous transformation.
- The Big Bad: The Warlock Lord, naturally.
- The Blacksmith: Uprox Screl, who forges Old World steel and Druid magic in the freakin' Sword of Shannara, all without having any magical powers of his own. That's kind of badass actually. He later changes his last name to Creel.
- Cassandra Truth: Bremen flat out tells the Druid Council that Brona is coming. He's belittled, ignored, and laughed at. Guess how well that turned out for them.
- Character Death: the Elven Royal family, the High Druid, the librarian, all of Paranor, Tay, Risca, Bremen (on the last page admittedly).
- Creepy Child: He's not so much creepy as he is unnerving, but let's just say there's something very off about the young Allanon.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Tay
- Doomed by Canon/ You Can't Thwart Stage One: We know Jerle will fail to destroy Brona. Why? Because this is a prequel and he's the Big Bad in Sword. We also know that despite Bremen's warnings, all the Druids at Paranor will die (as will the Druids' personal guard) because Allanon is the last Druid in Sword, and Bremen was in Backstory.
- Driven to Suicide: Tay after using the Black Elfstone to kill a group of Skull Bearers and absorb all their insidious magic.
- Garden of Evil: The forest in the Chew Magna is alive, angry, and obsessed with protecting the Black Elfstone.
- Genius Loci: The fortress of the Chew Magna, where the Black Elfstone is kept.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Tay kills himself after using the Black Elfstone, thus preventing the magic from subverting him.
- Ignored Expert: Bremen.
- Last of His Kind: Jerle, thanks to the Warlock Lord's attack on the royal family.
- Love Triangle: A fairly straightforward one: Tay loves Preia who loves Jerle.
- Luke, You Are My Father —> Luke, I Am Your Father: Mareth believes that Bremen is her father at first. Later a Skull Bearer claims to be her father in an attempt at subverting her. Probably truthfully.
- Magic Knight: This book introduces Risca, and the idea of a Warrior Druid. Proficient in physical combat, they channel their magic through their weapons. Risca is the last one left, as the practise is considered gauche.
- The Mentor: Bremen is this to Risca, Tay, Jerle, and Allanon in turn. What makes it interesting is that he's the main character.
- Origin Story: While the book lays out Bremen's conflict with Brona, how he comes to find and raise Allanon, and even how the Black Elfstone was claimed by the Druids, the real origin story here is for the Sword of Shannara itself. It turns out to be threefold: steel forged by The Blacksmith Uprox Screl (who turns out to be the ancestor of Panamon and Padishar Creel), Bremen's Druid magic to give it its truth power, and the symbol of the raised hand with the flaming torch which was actually the Eilt Druin, symbol and medallion of office for the Ard Rhys (the head of the Druid Order).
- Parental Abandonment: Mareth, Allanon.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The three Druids who let the Skull Bearers into Paranor are promptly transformed into hideous monsters.
- Shapeshifter: Mareth's father. He's actually a Skull Bearer in disguise.
- Sorcerous Overlord: Brona retains this position.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Druid Council.
- Turncoat: Three treacherous Druids allow Brona into Paranor, hoping to be rewarded with immortality and power.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Tay, Jerle, and Preia Starle. Jerle got the girl, Tay did not.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Tay, Mareth's father, Bremen in the Back Story.
- Was It Really Worth It?: Jerle asks this about the quest for the Black Elfstone. Bremen says yes. Jerle's not so sure.
- Was Once a Man: Brona, the Skull Bearers, the traitor Druids, and the living forest of the Chew Magna were humans once upon a time. The Ildatch corrupted the first two, the traitors were changed by Brona himself, and the denizens of the Chew Magna mutated and took root through their obsession with the Black Elfstone.
- When Trees Attack: The garden of the Chew Magna.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The reason Brona survived the war. Jerle was a professional soldier, and had been given a magical talisman in the shape of a sword. As such, he saw the talisman as a weapon, and when the time came, he ended up using the talisman as a sword and slashed Brona with it. Because the Warlock Lord was only affected by the Sword's power while he was in direct contact with it, the magic weakened him enough to force him and his Skull Bearers to withdraw, but did not kill him. Five hundred years later, Jerle's descendant Shea, who was no warrior, took the Sword and held it against Brona until he could no longer resist the truth it revealed and died.