Reviews: Sword Of Truth

From Bad to Worse: Review of the first four books.

Spoiler warning. It's the staple of many fantasy novels to have little if any ambiguity in their heroes and villains. Terry Goodkind takes this further than most.

It's to his credit that he has the villains not actually dress in black and call themselves things like "Dark Lord", etc., but on the other hand the main villain is named "Darken" Rahl, an evil ruler who bans fire and sacrifices children in dark rituals. His lieutenant is somewhat more subtle in demeanor, but also a serial child murderer/rapist.

At the same time, the pseudo-socialist rhetoric the villains have seems completely out of place in the standard medieval European fantasy setting. If an author is going to write in this kind of world, it seems like the character's views should better reflect that.

There are long torture sequences that also seem quite gratuitous, along with a group of women torturers who all appear to be thinly based on dominatrices, which again seems very out of place and likely offensive to people who actually practice S&M. The main female protagonist is nearly raped in what shall become an unfortunate trend.

The first book ends with something of a cliche reveal that Darken Rahl is the father of the hero, Richard Cypher. Our hero then has his step-brother, who helped Darken Rahl, put to death for this on his say-so alone without trial, setting another trend-that of harsh and to my mind very unheroic behavior.

Stone of Tears, Blood of the Fold and Temple of the Winds were more forgettable to me. Stone reveals that Darken Rahl is in league with the series' Satan equivalent, making him even less subtle of a villain-this is quite an achievement.

We are introduced to other Satanist analogues who like him are also totally, unambiguously evil. I question the intelligence of people who will believe that the Satan analogue, who wants to destroy all life, would spare them if they helped him break free.

Blood of the Fold has an order that tortures and kills any magic user they can find. The only magic user they are seen to catch escapes with ease, and made me wonder how they ever expected any success in their crusade.

Temple shows us that for some evil is in the blood, with Richard's half-brother. How nice. It ends on a bile-inducing torture sequence, and I'd had enough.

Wizard's First Rule: Good Ideas, Meh Writing, Crap Pacing

I don't regret reading this book as a young man, but there is much wrong with it.

First and foremost, the book has some good ideas that put little twists on the usual fantasy storytelling. I particularly liked how Richard finally beat the main villain, playing on his ego and using his brain. Speaking of, while the villains are hilariously evil and devoid of rounding qualities, they still have enough charisma that their two-faced nature comes across as believable. I get why they've got good publicity. And the magic is refreshingly un-Vancian and free-form.

The story and characters are, generally, competent, but unremarkable and not used well. Brophey in particular is an interesting character with a good introduction, who literally doesn't show up again for hundreds of pages, then dies uselessly. The writing is generally not bad, but unremarkable, as is the plotting, though the characters are very wordy and tend to complement each other too much.

That said, if I had one major bone to pick with this book, it's with the pacing. Hey, fellow readers? Remember that awkward sub-plot that eats up almost a quarter of the book, where Richard gets subjected to torture-sex for literal weeks and hundreds of lovingly, worryingly detailed pages while his friends derp around and nothing of much interest happens? Remember that time the main villain suddenly sent his major hench after the party like he theoretically could have done at any time in the past, simply because the author realized he needed them at his fortress for the climax but couldn't think of a good way to do it? The problems of the novel really hit hard in the build-up to the climax, and the sneaking suspicion that the author is writing a huge part of it with his erection doesn't help. Especially when the hero intends to carry the day with The Power of Love after he's spent more time with his sex-torture partner than the actual love interest.

Is this a bad book? No, but it's not a good one either. An unremarkable potboiler of a fantasy novel, with high ambitions undermined by mediocre writing and shoddy execution. Still, if you want to scratch a fantasy itch and are old enough to subject yourself to all the torture-boobs, there're definitely worse backscratchers out there.

Starts off good, goes downhill

First Installment Wins, and how.

Wizard's First Rule is, and remains, one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. It is an excellent story with genuinely good themes, characters, suspense, plotting, and an excellent ending. The writing is a little sub-par, due to Goodkind's rather mediocre skill, but if you can tolerate the typos, awkward paragraphs, and run-on sentences and appreciate the story for what it is, you'll likely enjoy it. Since it can stand on its own, I recommend reading just Wizard's First Rule, and then closing it and deciding, "And then Richard and Kahlan lived happily ever after," and never touch any of the others.

The other ten books are vastly inferior to Wizard's First Rule in every way, shape, and form. The morals and themes go from genuinely good ones to one long Objectivist Author Tract that endlessly repeats itself as the heroes become increasingly less like heroes and more like sociopaths intent on winning no matter who they have to kill to do it, much like the villain of the first book.

Goodkind can be a good storyteller at times, but he's only a mediocre writer, and an unlikeable and somewhat fanatical person to boot. As the books go on, the plot takes the back seat to his preaching, particularly in Naked Empire, which fails to advance the story by more than a few inches and simultaneously feels like 650 pages of fluff.

The later books have a couple of saving graces, such as the gradually larger role of Nicci, one of the most interesting characters in the whole series, who's effectively one of the main cast by the Chainfire trilogy. However, they have a feel of massive wasted potential to me, especially when I think of how good the series could have been if it had lived up to the mark set by Wizard's First Rule.

To sum it up, first book is great, second book is almost as good, everything goes downhill from there and the overall potential of the series is wasted. The first book makes a good stand-alone, but continue the series through to the end and you'll likely be disappointed, especially considering the time that it will take you to get through the whole thing.

Good story, bad themes

I read and enjoyed this series up through the end, but this is not good literature by any means. The story itself is decent and many of the characters are interesting, particularly Nicci, but serious problems lie in the genre and ideas behind the story, the abstract elements, if you will. Goodkind can come up with some pretty good fantasy world and character ideas when he has to construct a plot, but this man should never allowed to stick one iota of his idiotic philosophy into any piece of writing that would be seen by the eyes of another human being. Anything he actually has to say about life is absolutely vile.

Among fans of the series, the sixth book tends to be the favorite, as that is where the philosophy really takes over. Among those who don't buy into the philosphy, the first book seems to be the favorite, and I have to agree with the latter analyzation. Goodkind was at his best when he wrote fun, archetypical fantasy stories, and Wizard's First Rule is the most strongly pure fantasy. It isn't original, but not a bad story, either.

There are good points to these stories and they can be enjoyable if the reader opts to simply ignore the dumbass philosophy and concentrate on the story itself, but there are still some serious problems even then, and I can definitely sympathize with those who put the series down unfinished. As you go farther into the series, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the philsophy, as Goodkind's focus on it is not only jarring, but he begins to sacrifice essential parts of characterization and storytelling for the sake of getting his message across, resulting in Moral Dissonance, Author Filibuster, and Deus Ex Machina galore, and all through endlessly recycled premises.

If he had kept his ideas out of his stories and spent the wasted time fleshing out the world and creating new and interesting plots, the whole series would probably be regarded as well as Wizard's First Rule: A series of fun, enjoyable but rather formulaic fantasy novels. I advise to only read this series if you're prepared to ignore a lot of preaching, or else just read the first one and don't advance beyond there. Trust me, the rest of the series is a disappointment.

You will give it away just to keep from burning it.

The first book? Pretty cool. It's interesting, it holds your attention without a massive overtone of Aynal Randian suck. Then it quickly becomes not only a repetitive onslaught of the same tired uberman coming to save the day all the while spouting a message that makes absolutely no sense in context or out of context, further coupled with a world that could only be imagined by a man who has never touched social science and you have a steaming pile. One might say I am too harsh but you need only read the books. They captivate for a moment until you think back and say "Wait, not only is he repeating the same thing over and over again(gee capitalism gets you laid, communism is somehow massively ineffective yet can still rape and pillage an entire continent with ease)and effectively repeating the same plot elements and trying to say SOMETHING about prophecy but considering the context of his tales you never quite know what, you will regret paying for these books. I am no literary mastermind by any means but I have never felt so used for buying books in my life, would that I believed in burning books but there would be no benefit from the censorship. If you read them take note of how not to do things.

Laconic: An author goes on the longest multibook author tract this side of Left Behind