This review addresses Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, which begins with Wizard's First Rule.
First off, know that these books are long. Six hundred pages is a short, conservative length for Goodkind. Don't be fooled by its placement in the fantasy genre, either; these are stories of serious, adult nature which are unafraid to show just how ugly things like war, evil and oppression really are. If you're squeamish and want your tales to be cute, light and happy, or if you're just looking for a quick, action-paced story to jolt your imagination and zeal for life, you will be sent home in defeat or otherwise left wanting.
Wizard's First Rule starts the series, in many ways, like a classic fantasy adventure. The tale begins with a protagonist who lead a simple life but finds himself involved in a conflict with stakes far greater than himself. A handful of characters gradually emerge; the protagonist and company embark upon a journey through a fantasy world and face numerous trials and tribulations along the way, eventually culminating in a fated confrontation and then coming full circle. The heroes, though capable in their own ways, are small fish in a wide and dangerous world, and must survive against highly improbable odds through a combination of luck, cunning and determination.
If you like fantasy reading, you will probably like Wizard's First Rule.
Then you hit the second book, Stone of Tears, and from here on out you can either love the series more than ever or stop liking it altogether.
Here's the thing that a lot of people have a problem with: Goodkind uses nine hundred pages to tell a story that could be told in one hundred. No, the books aren't filled with multi-page long descriptions of peoples' smiles or clothing, or an entire chapter devoted to a turtle crossing the street or such. The rest of those eight hundred pages are often spent exploring the characters themselves. Two major characters will be walking through the forest or what-not and talk about something they witnessed and discuss its moral implications, or their perceptions of the world or each other. I like this. I've always felt that a good story is less about the plot itself and more about the moments that happen within. You really get a feel for any character with a stake in the grand conflict, to the point that a character's triumph incites cheer, and another character's tragedy wrenches the heart. Consequently, the plots can take bloody forever to go anywhere.
More and more characters continue to be introduced as you progress through the series, and since they're all taking part, knowingly or otherwise, in a conflict as large as all of them, the story jumps around. A lot. It can be a little wild to keep track of, but if you're here and reading this review, you're probably used to the sort of thing.
Readers who enjoy Goodkind's works will get different things out of them, no doubt. If you read for depth, there's much to be said about the Sword of Truth. These books ask philosophical questions which are poignantly relevant today: questions like whether to judge someone based on their intentions or only their actions, or whether a society should be tolerated that owns oppressive cultural practices deeply rooted in its history and tradition. Hell, the geography and plot of Goodkind's world itself has been taken as allegorical to real world countries and politics. If you've got an eye and a taste for it, shit runs deep in the Sword of Truth.
There's a whole lot in this series for those who like violence and badassery. Actual fights are few and far between, but when they happen, they're distinct and memorable. They also become increasingly over-the-top. There are scenes where one character seriously levels an entire fucking army. I know people who roll their eyes at this sort of thing. I know people who clench their fists and shout "YEAH! GET SOME!" You would know which category you fall under.
Did I mention that Goodkind doesn't sugar coat anything? People get raped. People get ripped into pieces. There is sex and there is violence. I wouldn't call the books pornographic by any means, but they're clearly not for the faint of heart. One scene in particular stands out in which protagonists walk through a city in the aftermath of an invasion, noting the endless dead and remarking upon the atrocities the invaders rendered upon the civilian population before slaughtering it. It's cast in such a way that you are meant to feel moral revulsion, and the same can be said for any scene in which truly disturbing events happen. Personally, this causes me to respect Goodkind more as a writer and a storyteller. It makes evil truly appear evil, and exposes war for the ugly thing that it is even when there's a reason for fighting. And it makes what's at stake - lives, societies, values - seem all the more real and vulnerable. Magic spells and omgwtfbbq displays of badassitude not withstanding, Goodkind's novels feel like the most realistic fantasy stories I've read.
Ultimately, The Sword of Truth is a series you can either love or hate. Give it a try. Because of its distinct qualities, it's possible you'll enjoy it even if you don't normally read fantasy. If long windedness is a problem for you, you'll probably still enjoy the first book because it's a bit more conventional.
Read well and prosper,
P.S: The TV Series Legend of the Seeker is based off of this set of novels, but it follows the book(s) about as well as most films / shows taking after books: that is, next to Jack All (not very well).
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About the reviewer
Kriss Morton (PerditiousSooth)
Ardent tabletop role player, disciple of Metal, connoisseur of video games and student of life. I occasionally make my presence in this section of cyberspace meaningful by posting reviews of books, etc. … more
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