For those of you who read my last book review it should come as no surprise that I was totally and utterly let down by the popular-at-the-moment fantasy series – A Song of Ice and Fire (more commonly referred to by the name of the first book, A Game of Thrones). George R. R. Martin’s miserably written and poorly paced A Song of Ice and Fire series left me wanting much, much more out of everything that this genre has to offer… but I wanted absolutely nothing more from Martin. The first book and a half that I read was boring, excruciatingly drawn out, bland, and (because I inadvertently read some spoilers for future plot points in future books) ultimately totally useless to the reader or the storyline. The first book and a half in the A Song of Ice and Fire series left me annoyed, unhappy, and wanting a real fantasy and/or science fiction series to indulge in.
The A Song of Ice and Fire series failed in every way possible from basic storytelling to failure to generate a compelling plot to an inability to provide a riveting action/adventure storyline. The series failed in making characters that the reader could emotionally invest in and actually care about (which, again, doesn’t really matter since I know now that everything in the hundreds and hundreds of pages in the first few books is useless). The A Song of Ice and Fire series failed to make this avid reader want to read more from the series or this writer.
And yet, those are all of the areas where Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule excelled.
Wizard’s First Rule is the first book in Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series – and it’s awesome! I’ve always heard of Goodkind as a popular fantasy author, but I never really gave him the time of day. As a J. R. R. Tolkien fanatic, I tend to group every fantasy writer from the last fifty or sixty years into a “wannabe” group. Admittedly, that’s a bad point of view to have regarding contemporary fantasy writers, but that’s what makes me a fanatic for Tolkien. So when I first read positive reviews of Goodkind’s work a few years ago I immediately wrote him off as another Tolkien wannabe.
Now, after having read Wizard’s First Rule, I know that it was a bad decision on my part to assume that Goodkind’s work wasn’t worth the time. This book was great!
In a weird way, I’m actually glad that my disgust for Martin led me to Goodkind. Since I wanted to see what Goodkind had to offer, I decided to download Wizard’s First Rule, which happens to be the first book that he ever wrote. After some research I learned that this book is the first book in a ten book series (the aforementioned The Sword of Truth series) that follows the adventures of the main character – Richard Cypher – and his companions Kahlan Amnell and Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander. In Wizard’s First Rule, Richard fights against a powerful wizard named Darken Rahl. The story follows Richard from his beginnings as a woods guide (someone who helps you traverse a landscape by showing you how to navigate through the forest) through his progression to what is known as the “Seeker.”
As the Seeker, Richard is tasked with finding and defending the truth. It’s a task that is somewhat shared by Kahlan, who holds the position of Mother Confessor. The Mother Confessor is the most powerful of the confessors – people who can use their power (magic) to make people tell them the truth. There’s a lot more to the whole confessor thing than just that, but you can read all of the details in the book.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this book, but one thing that stands out to me after having finished the book a few weeks ago is that I can remember a whole heck of a lot of the story. I remember Richard and Kahlan interacting with the Mud People, I remember the stories of Chase and Adie (among other characters) and the descriptions provided for the different locations around the landscape. Goodkind’s writing does that – it grips your interest and creates a really powerful image for you to latch on to and, essentially, feel the story.
However, I do have a bit of criticism for Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Goodkind’s writing style. However, it appeared that some of the emotion-based writing was hyperbolic to the extreme. In other words, it seemed like every time Richard encountered a new emotional experience it was the most extreme feeling of that experience that he had ever felt or would ever feel again. For example, his interactions with Denna the Mord Sith (a woman whose job was to bring days, weeks, months of endless pain to her captives) brought him the most physical pain ever while the thought of losing Kahlan makes him feel the greatest feeling of despair that he could ever feel. Hopefully, that style of exaggeration diminishes in the future novels in The Sword of Truth series because if it doesn’t, then that would be the worst thing ever!
If you don’t understand what hyperbole means in literature, then the really lame literary joke that I made in the last sentence probably didn’t make any sense. No worries. Moving along now!
Granted, even though I’m a Tolkien maniac I did notice the influence that certain elements of the Lord of the Rings had on Wizard’s First Rule. For example, in the Lord of the Rings series you have the deformed former hobbit Gollum who is twisted and deranged by the power of Sauron’s one ring. Well, in Wizard’s First Rule you have Samuel – a former man who was the Seeker and wielded the fabled Sword of Truth that Richard now holds. His lust for the Sword of Truth deforms him into a very Gollum-like creature who is constantly saying that sword belongs to him. Gollum and Samuel are very, very similar and I hope that Samuel being modeled off of Gollum is more or less a tribute to Tolkien and not something that the author would argue was organically created in this story.
Before I wrap this up I thought I’d provide another comparison. A Game of Thrones was 733 NOOK book pages while Wizard’s First Rule was 681 NOOK book pages. The difference between the two isn’t just the 52 additional NOOK book pages. The difference is that those 681 pages of Wizard’s First Rule are packed with storytelling, drama, intrigue, mystery, exciting people and lands, treachery, despair, triumph, etc. Meanwhile, those 733 pages in A Game of Thrones is packed with – well, ultimately useless words – lots of words that evoke little-to-no emotion and tell little-to-no lasting, meaningful story. It’s 733 pages of wasted time.
Reading Wizard’s First Rule sold me on two things:
First and probably most importantly, I’ve become a fan of Terry Goodkind. The man can write a fantasy novel! Here’s hoping that the intelligent fun and excitement of Wizard’s First Rule carries through to the rest of the series. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve already completed the second book in the Sword of Truth series though I plan to delay diving too far into the third book as I finish up some Bible readings that I started a few months ago.
Second, as a reader who is reluctant to change I’m beginning to understand that there is a vast fantasy and science fiction world out there besides the master of the genre, J. R. R. Tolkien. And that may not be as immediately important of a learning point as becoming a fan of Goodkind, but if I can manage to put my Tolkien mania aside again (after finishing the Sword of Truth series, that is), then the sky really is the limit in how many books in this genre that I might find interesting.
In short, if you’re looking for a good fantasy book to read, then I suggest picking up (or downloading onto your NOOK) a copy of Wizard’s First Rule. This is what a fantasy book should be!