The Good Kind?

17 Aug

Let me make one thing clear at the outset: the only book in the Sword of Truth series that I have read is the first one, Wizard’s First Rule. This review of the ‘series’ is therefore based entirely on my own limited experience of the author Terry Goodkind’s work. I say this because it may well be the case that the other books that make up the Sword of Truth are entirely different from Wizard’s First Rule – it may be but somehow I doubt it very much. You see, Wizard’s First Rule is not just a book that I don’t like, it is one that I positively detest. I’ve been reading fantasy of one kind or another all my life and Goodkind’s debut novel is almost certainly the worst book that I have ever read in its entirety. In fact, the only reason that I finished it at all was because of all the positive reviews I had read beforehand, all of the word of mouth that insisted that Goodkind was better than Tolkien, Jordan, Martin, Hobb and any other fantasy author you might care to mention. I was sure that, no matter how bad it got, the book must have some redeeming feature. Unfortunately, I was wrong. For years I kept my thoughts on Goodkind’s work to myself but slowly I began to realise that I was by no means alone – take a look at an Amazon review of any of his books to see how he polarises fantasy readers. There is undoubtedly a large contingent who are devoted fans of the Sword of Truth, but equally there are rather a lot of people out there who feel as I do. The logical question you might be asking at this point, then, is what exactly is my problem?

The Sword of Truth is a series of thirteen epic fantasy novels which follow the protagonists Richard Rahl, Kahlan Amnell and Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander on their quest to vanquish various wicked foes. While each novel was written to stand alone (except for the final three), they follow a common timeline and are linked by ongoing events that occur throughout the series. The series began in 1994 and, as of this year, over 25 million copies of the series’ books have been sold worldwide. The Sword of Truth also inspired a short-lived but popular television series, entitled Legend of the Seeker. Despite its unarguable success, Goodkind’s series has also been dogged by negativity almost from the outset. The series has been described by some critics as having an inconsistent background that was reinvented and expanded in each new book, while his heroes have been criticised as lacking depth, with a confusing morality that has them at times performing acts every bit as heinous as those of the villains, sometimes with no apparent justification. Even more objectionable, to many, are the series’ perverse sexual undertones, with numerous sadomasochistic scenes described in often excruciating detail. Some of Goodkind’s political views have also provoked controversy but I’m not going anywhere near that in this article!

Limiting my critique purely to Goodkind’s abilities as a writer and world-builder, there is an awful lot about the Sword of Truth that I just don’t like at all. In the first novel in the series Goodkind commits just about every cardinal sin that it is possible for a fantasy writer to make, and unwittingly demonstrates just exactly why the genre as a whole has consistently failed to command mainstream respect. Wizard’s First Rule has it all: cardboard cut-out characters; a highly-derivative, cliche-ridden story; a ridiculously-maniacal-plot-to-take-over-the-world; and a baddy complete with a silly name, dubious motivations and mommy issues (I made up the last part). The funny thing is, I wouldn’t necessarily highlight these facts as a negative, since they are after all staples of most the genre. It’s the mish-mash of all these aspects of the fantasy genre without form or focus, the lazy writing and poor plotting, ultimately just the downright banality of it all, that made reading Wizard’s First Rule a deeply regrettable, almost soul-destroying experience for me. Add to that the fact that the novel suffers from my pet gripe in fantasy, poor editing (750 pages stretched out with a sorry excuse for a ‘plot’ that would have struggled to fill a third of that) and you can begin to see what my issue with Goodkind is. Perhaps the most unfortunate part of all is that, with its workmanlike prose, endless cliches, inane philosophy, and inconsistent world-building, Wizard’s First Rule might just about have made a passable attempt at a children’s novel or role-playing game adaptation. To aim it at ‘adults’, however, stretches the term way past breaking point.

So, is there anything good that can be said about Wizard’s First Rule? Goodkind does have a couple of good ideas, most notably the Confessors, who can inspire permanent devotion with a touch, but many of his other creations are too overly derivative to make much of an impression. As several people have noted before, it amazes me that Goodkind hasn’t yet been sued for breach of copyright by at least a dozen fantasy authors out there. There are clueless heroes, mysterious ladies, generic medieval villages, eccentric wizards, enchanted swords, Gollum clones, evil dark lords, and even, in the ultimate example of a rip-off, a Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker ‘who’s the daddy?’ moment. Of course, numerous successful fantasy authors have risen above the shackles of the genre, compensating for the lack of originality in well-mined concepts with the quality of their writing and the conviction of their plotting. However, Goodkind’s laughably bad writing can’t even compensate for the simplistic plotting. Despite his best efforts, he’s no good at description and the inanity of his dialogue is only matched by the one-dimensional nature of his characterisations. All of this might almost have been forgivable if Goodkind had been writing a Pratchett-like spoof or satire (albeit with less than a tenth of Sir Terry’s talent). The trouble is that Goodkind is in deadly earnest. Needless to say I cannot in all good conscience suggest that any fantasy readers out there spend any of their well-earned cash on the Sword of Truth but I would be interested to hear from anyone who is a fan of the series. After all, the man has sold over 25 million copies of his books so he must be doing something right!

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14 Responses to “The Good Kind?”

  1. Thoyd Loki August 17, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Hello, I am a fan of his series up to book 7 or so. I finished the whole thing but the last three books were real groaners. The Omen Machine (the Revamp!) was terrible.

    He is not a skilled prose writer by any stretch of the imagination. Apparently in his world the main form of expression is arching an eyebrow. It is hilarious, he’ll mention it four times a conversation. His newest incarnation is The First Confessor (same world but way before). I am having a hard time reading it. Peeking ahead, the giant book follows a single person (The First Confessor) for the entire book with no sub plots.

    Also most of his main characters have no arc. Richard, for all 13 books, is the incorruptible, unflappable hero. Over and over again. It would be like writing in a hundred more temptation scenes for Jesus. By the time you get to the last 6 books, all the characters are on one side of the equation or the other and there is no switching sides. That gets tedious.

    But I still read the whole series in under a month.

    I think part of what may explain his appeal is readers who are not terribly well read in the fantasy genre. I mainly read science fiction and classics. Before Goodkind my only other fantasy series was Harry Potter. I couldn’t see the cliches as such.

    I’m not going to waste my time defending the guy. I treat him as a guilty pleasure, the lazy read. Don’t ask me to think while reading him!

    • ashsilverlock August 17, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Good to hear from you! Thanks so much for commenting and for bearing with me as a non-fan of the series 🙂

  2. Jessica Paul August 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I never got around to reading any of Goodkind’s novels. Compared to Pratchett, L.E. Modesitt Jr and other fantasy authors, his stuff never sounded as good to me. Now I kinda want to read it to see how awful it is. 🙂

  3. Grace August 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    I tried “Wizard’s First Rule,” but it read like bad fanfiction. I did enjoy the “Legend of the Seeker” series though; my friends and I watched it religiously in college. Zed is the man.

    • ashsilverlock August 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      No complaints about the series – I loved it too!

  4. D. D. Syrdal August 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    I had heard some criticism of the books (i.e., lots of gratuitous rape and violent sex) and that was enough to stop me from reading any of it. I think after reading this, I made the right decision in skipping these books.

  5. deshipley August 17, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    What he did right was Richard. …Or maybe Richard showed up fully formed in a dream one night, and everything else has been Goodkind’s attempt to milk a gazillion words out of the awesomeness. I actually consider that latter option more likely.

    I gave up after “Pillars of Creation” (book six or seven, I don’t know, it all started to run together). It just got to be too much. Too much nightmarish violence, waaay overly detailed sex, heinous acts of violence, bit characters who have nothing to do with anything and yet get these massive chunks of text, inconceivable-and-yet-somehow-he-conceived it violence… Richard, I love. Zed and Nathan, I like. That one guy he totally killed off, I liked. It was the hope of seeing more of them that dragged me as far into the series as I went, but the ratio of “characters I love” to “blah, blah, blah” was grossly unbalanced. And by the end of my run, the author seemed to have totally given up on explaining half of the concepts on which the books were hinged.

    I’m thinking life’s too short to invest any more of my time in the rest of the series.
    (And that Gollum-esque character really was face-palming blatant.)

  6. Grotski August 20, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    I managed to read up to about book 5 before i stopped. The reason I stopped was that each book has exactly the same underlying motivations for the main characters. Notably that they feel betrayed by each other for some slight and decide to storm off moodily instead of talking about it (leading to generic fantasy shenanigans) seriously, this happens in every book. Its hard to take characters that dont learn from their mistakes seriously or even to enjoy reading about them once you realise theyre basically mopy emo teenagers in adult bodies.
    Also, though i fail to remember the exact similarites, there are SO many ways that the series mirrors wheel of time (the Gollum-esque character is basically Padan Fain if i recall rightly, no male wizards)
    That being said, his bestiary is excellent. I really liked his monsters. Especially the blood-scenting flying things that are surrounded by swarms of blood flies and the near indestructible things in the second book.

  7. Raewyn Hewitt August 21, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    Ah, but I loved the early books. Sure they weren’t perfect, but there were many appealing aspects to them. I have great memories of discovering the first book at Uni, where it was passed around our friends until it fell apart. But more than any other series I’ve read (except maybe Twilight) it seems people either love it or hate it. I guess we can’t all like everything.

  8. simon7banks August 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Just one question from a relative outsider. A baddy with dubious motivations? Surely baddies fall into two classes – those with clearcut, unquestionably bad motivations and those with more complex or intriguingly murky, thus dubious, motivations?

  9. ilverai January 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Goodkind and this book specifically ARE the primary reason I really HATE when anyone brings up another author in the recommendation, like on the cover. Now-a-days when I see “inspired by Tolkien” or “continuing in Tolkien’s world” or similar such blather I want to run for the hills…

    I usually vet my new books and authors much more thoroughly now…which I guess is the one good thing to come out of reading this book.

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