It's difficult to say whether "Chainfire" is the opening book in a trilogy or the ninth book in the now aging "Sword of Truth" series. In any event, to briefly summarize, Lord Richard Rahl is the sole survivor of a battle in which a troop of soldiers is brutally massacred by an unknown and, indeed, unseen enemy capable of enormous ferocity. When Richard recovers from his near fatal wounds with the help of sorceress Nicci's use of the all but forbidden subtractive magic, he discovers that he is the only living soul who remembers his beloved wife Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. All of Richard's friends and compatriots - Cara, his Mord-Sith bodyguard, Nicci the sorceress and former Mistress of Death, Verna and Ann, joint prelates of the Sisters of the Light, Nathan the prophet, the witch woman Shiota, even wizard Zedd, Richard's beloved grandfather - are convinced that Richard has lost his reason.
Worse yet, because Richard feels he must devote what remains of his life and energy to finding his beloved wife and rescuing her from whatever fate has trapped her beyond the world's ken, he has also reached the decision to not lead his weakened D'Haran troops in a final battle against the almost limitless hordes of the advancing Emperor Jagang. He has also traded his Sword of Truth to the witch woman Shiota for one critical scrap of knowledge ... the word "Chainfire", which he will discover in his travels is the name of a long deeply hidden spell capable of literally unraveling existence itself. Without Richard's leadership and the Sword of Truth, prophesy dictates that the free world is doomed to fall to Jagang and the Keeper of Death.
"Phantom", the rather bloated and sadly repetitive second instalment of this putative trilogy is based on Richard's relentless search for his beloved Kahlan, whose very existence has been erased from the history and memory of his world. Kahlan is now in the hands of Jagang, the evil emperor (who along with a very small handful of people throughout the breadth of Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" universe is still able to see her). Richard who has also lost his command of the magical gift has fallen into the hands of the D'Haran Commander Karg. Everyone in sight is trying to locate the powerful Boxes of Orden, the only known magical counterspell to the Chainfire spell which, it is now known, is flawed and is slowly destroying all magic in the world.
While the plot outline is a good one, many reviewers have commented that the book is repetitive and lengthy to the point of tedium. For me, I would agree with the label "repetitive" but found the extended discussions on the philosophical notion of existence and the attempts at logical debate regarding the meaning of existence interesting and thought-provoking as opposed to tedious. What I did find excessively lengthy and oddly cryptic was Goodkind's attempted explanations of the nature of magic. Frankly, they seemed to go on forever and added little to either the characters or the development of the plot.
A little more action would have been a nice touch and a welcome change from time to time but it certainly didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the series and I'll definitely be looking for "Confessor", the eleventh book in the complete "Sword of Truth" series and the final installment in this sub-trilogy. The action did crank up a notch for a brief period as Richard reached the decision to change the nature of his war with Emperor Jagang - a war that he realized he had no possibility of winning.
The ultimate stereotyped swords and sorcerers good vs evil fantasy is getting long in the tooth and it's certainly long in the reading, but somehow Goodkind has managed to hold my interest throughout the series. But I must admit that I'm glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Recommended for continuing diehard Goodkind fans only.