Nekouken's Reviews > Wizard's First Rule

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind
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's review
Apr 04, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy
Read in June, 2007

** spoiler alert ** WFR is a book I recommend. It was a very powerful story, with tremendously emotional, if occasionally overwrought, situations. Richard Cypher (an ironic name for the protagonist of a novel, but tremendously so in this particular case) is very relatable and sympathetic, his puppy-dog eyes for Kahlan, the mystery woman who swooped into his life and shattered his entire world is completely understandable, and as her motivations become clear, her inability to reciprocate his feelings for her actually makes her a stronger character.

Additionally, the book is filled with great characters, like Zedd, Richard's playfully wise grandfather figure, or Rachel, a little girl whose story both feels like and is as engaging as the beginning of the first Harry Potter book.

That's not to say the book is perfect. It starts very slowly; establishing Richard's backstory takes a long time right at the beginning of the book. The villains of the piece are cartoonishly evil -- Darken Rahl is a ridiculously sinister fellow and his second-in-command is a child-molesting butcher; a queen who figures prominently into the plot makes the Queen of Hearts seem like a perfectly reasonable and benevolent matriarch, and the princess is a bully ripped straight from the most simplistic and moralistic of children's literature. Towards the end of the book, there's a long, long segment of Richard trapped in a BDSM nightmare that, while as emotionally compelling as the rest of the book, is graphic in its description to an almost ludicrous degree, though to be fair, this experience perhaps more than any other in the story is important throughout the entire series.

Having read the entire series, I've become aware of a number of flaws Terry Goodkind suffers as an author; three major flaws, to be specific.

1) He has a tendency to reiterate what he just said, typically at the paragraph level.

2) Whenever one of the characters thought of or remembered something, Goodkind would recap every relevant event to occur in the series.

3) Terry Goodkind is an objectivist, and at some point in the series decided that it wouldn't detract from the story at all if Richard ground it to a halt several times a book so he could lecture various characters on some relevant area of objectivist thought.

The second and third flaw were not present in the first book -- the second might have been, but because there are no books preceding the story, the story had to start before he could recap anything that we had already read, so if he was recapping everything, it was still new material, and thus inoffensive and an aid to the flow of the story, rather than a hindrance. The first may very well have been, but after the slow beginning, this story picked up a pace that wouldn't be easily slowed by the occasional bout of clumsy writing.

As a singular book, the flaws are vastly outweighed by the benefits and don't adversely affect the flow of the story. There are some lulls, but even when everyone's just sitting around a campfire talking, the urgency of what's happening carries the story from scene to scene. Richard shows himself to be smart and resourceful, but not unreasonably so, and is even humbled by other characters who show greater wisdom than his own. By the end of the book, Richard has solved all his important problems by reasoning them out and working together with others who have something important to lose. The climax of the book appears to be a deus ex machina ending, but Richard went into it knowing how to solve all of his major problems; he just did it without letting the reader in on it, but it was too clever a solution to give away, so that's understandable.

As the start of a major series, on the other hand, it's disappointing in the long run. Richard encounters characters and concepts that wind up never being mentioned again until towards the end of the series.

The big thing for me, though, is how Zedd spends a lot of time talking about magic and how it works in this novel, and he champions it as a very subtle tool, like Obi-Wan Kenobi's use of the Force in Star Wars: A New Hope, clouding men's minds and reading the future in clouds, and at one point growing a long beard with a few casual strokes of his chin. Even the Boxes of Orden, the device through which the villain would enslave the world, promised only to give him power over life and death -- powerful, but still subtle. Even Kahlan's Confessor power, signaled by "thunder without sound," did nothing more spectacular than overwhelming her victim with love and devotion to her. I liked the idea that magic was something best-suited to gently nudging reality, but it was quickly abandoned a few books down the line, where magic fireballs are rained down on enemy soldiers, individual wizards fire twisting ropes of lightning and entropic chaos to tear through people and buildings, and Richard ultimately uses the Boxes of Orden to create two worlds and banish the Communist/collectivist theocratic army that's threatened the new world for most of the series to the one without any magic.

Also, many, many chapters in the series are spent on technical discussions of magical theory, about how it works and what it can and can't do (Richard, increasingly a Mary-Sue as the story progresses, is never wrong about magic and how it might work, despite his admitted complete ignorance of it). I have two opinions of this, and neither of them are very flattering to Terry Goodkind.

The first is based on a Heinlein novel I read -- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I think, or maybe The Cat Who Walks Through Walls -- in which a character starts explaining the science behind the nonexistent technology in the book. This was marked by a chapter break, and the chapter about the technical aspects were preceded with something along the lines of "you might want to skip this if you don't care about the science involved here." This is essentially what Goodkind spent a lot of his time doing, but he kept interspersing it with story-stuff. These are things that need to be separated from one another if you're going to have as wide an audience as you can muster, though I'm sure Goodkind, with his record-setting first book, doesn't think he needs the advice of some asshole with a LiveJournal.

The second opinion is that regardless of following my advice, Goodkind is an asshole for writing those chapters and then saying in an interview "The books I write are first of all novels, not fantasy, and that is deliberate; I'm really writing books about human beings. I believe that it's invalid and unethical to write fantasy for fantasy's sake, because fantasy for fantasy's sake is non-objective. If you have no human themes or values, then you have no life as a base value. Fantasy for fantasy's sake is therefore pointless." No, dumbass; when magic and dragons and Swords of Truth are major plot points without which the story could not progress, you're writing fantasy. I don't really know what he's talking about with the "fantasy for fantasy's sake," as the only books I know that could be interpreted that way are role-playing source books. Most fantasy novels (note that "novel" is not a comparable term to "fantasy," as they are descriptive of different categories and neither is mutually exclusive) are about humans, or at least people of some fictional race who serve as an analog for people. Even The Lord of the Rings had human drama in it.

So anyway, magic clearly plays a significant part in the Sword of Truth series, making it a work of fantasy. Now, as I said, I liked the initial presentation of magic as a subtle, manipulative tool rather than elaborate rituals and flashy light shows, but this perception doesn't last. I suppose it starts towards the middle of the book, when Zedd explains the difference between "additive" and "subtractive" magic. When Zedd explained it, it didn't sound so bad, but as the story progresses and people talk about subtractive magic a whole hell of a lot, more than anything it feels like Terry forgot to change the terms to what people in that world would actually call them from their Player's Guide technical terms. Either that, or he thinks that a real wizard in Greyhawk would actually shout "Magic Missile!" Maybe he does, actually.

My point is, though, that the introduction of this concept that there are two sides to magic makes it excessively rigid. Not quite to the Harry Potter presentation of magic, but still, pretty silly if we're to believe that magic is a nebulous natural phenomenon, an energy field flowing through every living thing. As we're exposed to more magic in the series, it only becomes more and more of a rigid set of rules, and Zedd appears not only to be a wizard of exceptional magical skill but unprecedented resourcefulness (which is odd, since all of the Wizard's Rules are about manipulating people and understanding reality, with nary a mention of anything even remotely supernatural). Somewhere in the story, I think Terry forgot what kind of story he was writing. The Wizard's Rules and Zedd's application of magic are consistent with "a story about human beings." Richard being at the center of nearly every prophecy ever written and sorceresses blasting each other with lightning and magical napalm... not so much.

So, as I said, I recommend the book, but be prepared to divest yourself from the series prematurely. You need to be able to start the story, read as long as it's fun, and then put it down as soon as it's not, and let the final fate of the villains of the piece not matter to you. If you can put the series down in the middle of book 4 or 5, that's probably best. Anything after that will annoy the ever-loving crap out of you.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Noteethleroy It's funny you mention the slow beginning, the first 250 pages were the best part for me. It got less and less interesting to me from there on out and almost lost me completely with the mord-sith subplot.

Alternative-libro I read this book 10 years ago when it came out (was it more than that?), and again last fall. I enjoyed the book a great deal both times. I did try to continue the series as it developed, but (struggle as I may) could not get more than halfway through book 4. I cannot make myself reread any other than the first book. Read as a stand-alone, it's a nice break from the mundanity of work.

I appreciated your posting Goodkind's comments about his "novel" vs. "fantasy" theory. Maybe he's not as he sounds: egotistical and ignorant. Duh - of course it's fantasy! and double-duh - it's a novel. Maybe he felt fantasy wasn't grown-up or sophisticated enough? Most (not all!) fantasy I've read reflects an author's philosophical beliefs OR at least an expoloration of some philosophy or another, be it political, spiritual, etc. Some of it is overwrought and unreadable, and some of it is laughable - doesn't that exist in every genre, though?

Jessaca Willis I appreciate your balanced and thoughtful views of this series, but I would like to contradict that so far the end of the series has been my favorite! The twists and turns and interconnections all finally come together in an exhilarating beginning to the end! I'm only about half way through Phantom, and although Chainfire was frustrating to see the struggles Richard faced, I do believe that it was an excellent and original book. So I would advise people to try and push through the middle of the series, as I personally thought some of those books were drab, so that you can experience everything coming together in the end!

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