Sword of Truth – Book List

In the summer of 2008, my coworker at the gallery, Stephanie, lent me each book in this series in turn. I was sceptical, for I had heard . . . things . . . about Goodkind and his Sword of Truth series. Nevertheless, I decided to read the entire series—if only to have fodder for snarky reviews.

It's pretty bad.

I could go on at length about it here, but my reviews speak for themselves on these points. I'd also recommend the TVTropes page for the series, and these Goodkind parodies, which includes a list of why the Sword of Truth series is so bad it's horrible.

Reviews

1. Wizard's First Rule

by Terry Goodkind

Wizard's First Rule cover image
ISBN:
9780812548051
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 836 pages
Published:
Tor, 1995

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

My first fantasy experience, and what sparked my love of fantasy, was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Since I've matured (that was in grade seven), I've come to realize that much of epic fantasy is, in fact, fairly formula-dry stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Most of Wizard's First Rule is predictable if you are familiar with the genre. In the first part of the book, combined with a terrible amount of dialogue exposition, this is almost unbearable. It gets better toward the end though. By that time, the exposition decreases, replaced by rather clumsy foreshadowing.

Much of the story is fairly enjoyable, if you do recognize that it is ploddingly predictable and instead focus on having fun. The main character, Richard Cypher, is an idiot. I love it when the main character is a victim of Plot Induced Stupidity; this seems to happen to Richard every second chapter in one form or another. I love this, almost as much as I love a main character who is competent. His powers as a the Seeker, this series' "Chosen One" champion, are inimical to his own psyche and even limit themselves based on his convictions. This seems to be part of Goodkind's message throughout the novel, which is that tools (i.e., magic) are neither inherently good nor bad. People use them for good or bad ends.

Once again, the gods who created this poor, forsaken universe had the sheer malevolence to create an artifact (in this case, the three boxes of Orden) that could do one of three things to the person who opened them: a) Give them power over everything in the universe b) Kill them or c) Destroy the entire universe. When will gods learn that leaving these sorts of things around is incredibly stupid?

I read up on Goodkind before I started reading this book--my coworker has been rereading them over the summer, and she convinced me to try them, even though I'm sure I had passed them up for some reason or another. The later books, apparently, are merely thinly-veiled treatises on Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Inklings of such viewpoints are present in this book. They don't interfere too much with the plot--they certainly guide Richard's actions, but overall his actions are pretty much consistent with the "save the world" mentality that seems to come over those determined to save the world. The worst manifestation of philosophical dogma comes with much of the dialogue, especially in the first part of the novel.

Goodkind claims not to be a fantasy author, that he just uses fantasy to tell tales of humanity. Well guess what? That makes you a frelling fantasy author! And most fantasy authors manage to cloak their philosophical viewpoints better--they show, not tell through lots of dialogue.

I may seem harsh toward the end of this review. Honestly, Wizard's First Rule is a good book. If you like fantasy, you would probably enjoy it. If you like fantasy that acts as a vehicle for more profound themes, then you'd probably read into this book as much as Goodkinds wants--whether you disagree with his viewpoint or not is totally up to you. It won't change the fact that this is not an excellent book--excellent books are good regardless of whether or not you agree with their philosophy.

2. Stone of Tears

by Terry Goodkind

Stone of Tears cover image
ISBN:
9780812548099
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 979 pages
Published:
Tor, 1996

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

This book was bad. I found parts of it way better than the first book, Wizard's First Rule, and parts of it abysmal. The only saving grace was the fact that I'm a sucker for crowning moments of awesome, and this book has quite a few.

Richard seems to be turning into a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu, if you have it that way). Don't get me wrong—I love to torture a character, rip away his world, and do bad things to him in general. But you need to make them stick. When you send someone through this pain and they emerge completely whole and happy, what's the point? So far Richard seems to be a rather static character. Yes, he's learning more magic, but he's still a headstrong idiot.

And what's with Kahlan being raped nearly every second chapter? Seriously, I could do without that. Rape is a very potent device, which is why it shouldn't be used too often, especially not on the main character.

Weighing in at 979 pages, this book is a doorstopper that could have been edited down to a respectable 500-600. Parts of it were unnecessary, adversely affecting the pacing of the entire story. By the end, I just--well, I wanted it to end.

The story has merit. The characters are likable (not loveable). With some effort, I find the books enjoyable. But they could be better.

3. Blood of the Fold

by Terry Goodkind

Blood of the Fold cover image
ISBN:
9780812551471
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 640 pages
Published:
Tor, 1997

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

This was better than the previous book, The Stone of Tears, but not necessarily great. My major problem with The Stone of Tears was that the majority of the book was a slowly-paced journey across the land from the Mud People to the Palace of the Prophets. It only picked up toward the end. In this book, because time and space are relative, the journey from Aydindril to the Palace of Prophets occurs over the space of a couple of chapters, and we don't actually experience it. Yay!

The action in this book is faster-paced. One of the primary antagonists, Tobias Brogan, is truly insane and you'll enjoy seeing the "logical" conclusions he reaches during his literal witch-hunt. Richard, on the other hand, continues displaying monumental feats of idiotic passion (which turns out to be the Wizard's Third Rule). I know we're supposed to love characters who put passion before reason and turn into unstoppable dreadnoughts when the person they love is threatened. But you can only do that so many times before you need to learn that your enemies are smarter than you. By that I mean, Richard is not initiated into the history of the Midlands. Jagang has the advantage of a knowledge of history on his side. Richard recognizes this, which is why he's an idiot and retrieves a journal from the Keep in the first place—he knows he has to learn and seek knowledge (he is the Seeker after all).

But I digress. Richard's choices aside, this book may be the first one whose themes I rather like. Brogan's failed witch-hunt reveals that any operation to route a conspiracy is vulnerable to turning into a conspiracy. Richard learns about the Wizard's Third Rule—passion is a very powerful, unpredictable element, and it is perhaps what makes humanity so persistent in this world and in his. But it must be tempered with reason, because passion is irrational and prone to jumping to conclusions that may ultimately be harmful. The very beginning, in which Jagang captures the Sisters of the Dark who fled the Palace at the end of the last book, shows us that evil people really don't get a break.

The main purpose of this book is to hand off the story arc from "Richard vs. the Keeper" to "Richard vs. Jagang the Dream Walker." I'm not sure why Goodkind does this, other than the fact that he neutralized the Keeper's threat at the end of book two and wanted to write nine more books. He could have used the escaped Sisters of the Dark to cook up a new plan to free the Keeper. Instead he's segued into a fight over the balance and the evolution of man. I must admit I like this better; one of the issues unique to fantasy that I enjoy dealing with is the nature of magic in humanity's evolution. At what point does magic die out and science replace it?

4. The Temple of Winds

by Terry Goodkind

The Temple of Winds cover image
ISBN:
0812551486
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 992 pages
Published:
Tor, 1998

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

The only part of this book that truly aggravated me was the end. Once again (and I can say this without spoiling it, because I won't reveal any details), Richard manages to avoid the consequences of the tragedy introduced during the rising action. Maybe I'm just sick. Maybe it's wrong of me to want characters to suffer. But this guy's luck is incredible.

The redeeming aspect of the end is that there are sort of consequences (the chimes), but they won't make an appearance until the next book. I guess that's okay. But this reveals Goodkind's heavy-handed writing style that mars the previous books.

I must say that from a philosophical standpoint, the books are actually getting easier to stomach, not worse. Almost everything I read about them told me to expect the opposite. Instead, the amount of exposition is now tolerable. Maybe it's because Richard's character has evolved to the point that the philosophical arguments Goodkind is trying to espouse actually make sense from Richard's perspective. He has the whole "burdened hero" motif. Or perhaps I'm just too naive (or maybe too jaded) to actually pay attention enough to pick out the philosophy Goodkind is apparently attempting to impress upon his readers.

Compared to the last book, however, this book is rather slow. It reminds me of Stone of Tears, although I'll admit that this one has more action in it.

Goodkind struggles with portraying all of his characters and putting them in interesting situations. Some authors pull this off well (i.e., George R.R. Martin). Others, like Goodkind, are very good at creating a lot of characters and giving them important roles in certain parts of the story, but then later they fade into the background. This is also noticeable in the next book when it comes to Verna and Warren. This is a shame, because many of those characters are interesting. Some of them get less page time than the villains. The books are already rather long, but maybe a different editing approach would have allowed our favourite recurring characters some more time to shine.

5. Soul of the Fire

by Terry Goodkind

Soul of the Fire cover image
ISBN:
9780812551495
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 800 pages
Published:
Tor, 2000

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

In the fifth book of the Sword of Truth series, Goodkind introduces another magical threat from the underworld ready to tear the veil and end life as we know it: the chimes. Of course, only Richard has the brains and the guts to stop them. The catch: he doesn't have the Sword of Truth, nor does he have the time to retrieve it from Aydindril. With half his magic virtually useless, without the sword, he travels to the country of Anderith in hopes of finding answers.

The subplot involving Fitch, one of the oppressed majority Hakens in Anderith, is actually rather neat. I felt very sorry for him as Dalton led Fitch astray and used Fitch for his own purposes. Dalton's actions at the end, however, show that he realizes how blind he was all along.

This may be my favourite book of the series so far. My only complaint is that Richard is largely useless. He spends the first third of the book debating whether or not he should go to Aydindril or Anderith. In the second third, he tries to find a way to stop the chimes in Anderith. In the last portion of the book, he concocts a "creative" magical solution. Without his potent Sword of Truth, Richard does not get to do much killing in this book, or much of anything. The most interesting parts are the scenes with Dalton and Fitch. Ann's experience in the camp of the Imperial Order comes in second. While I do not like how she and Zedd, in a moment of plot-induced stupidity, kept the truth from Richard, I sympathize with the predicament she encounters when trying to free her fellow Sisters of the Light.

Unlike the last book, where some of the antagonists were just annoying, the Ander antagonists in this novel were fun. I loved Bertrand Chanboor and his wife. Dalton is a sympathetic antagonist who realizes how much of a mistake he has made. Jajang and the Imperial Order are still present, they are a major concern, but the plot is not necessarily about them. This is a sensible move on Goodkind's part, since it avoids forcing an inevitable (and thus final) confrontation between Richard and Jajang.

Aside from Richard's ambivalent travel plans, Soul of Fire proceeds at a quicker pace than the other books, skipping time quite readily in order to advance the plot. I approve.

6. Faith of the Fallen

by Terry Goodkind

Faith of the Fallen cover image
ISBN:
9781857987928
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 704 pages
Published:
Gollancz, 2001

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

Perhaps the best book in the series so far. Once again, Goodkind deprives Richard of the Sword of Truth so that he can take him on a philosophical journey that avoids bloodshed and uber-powerful moments of rage. In fact, Richard is rather laid back in this entire book. This is justified by what he experienced in the last book and his disillusionment with his own methods of trying to beat the Imperial Order.

Faith of the Fallen takes a sharp left turn (no pun intended) at communism and doesn't look back. While the Order has obviously been a symbol for communism from the beginning, Goodkind intends to browbeat you with it if you hadn't already realized or if you had, until this point, thought he was just joking. He throws Richard into the heart of the Imperial Order in order to show us how incredibly absurd the Order's society is. For instance, Richard gets in trouble because he was working too hard, thus taking work from other people. Very selfish of him. I must say that after reading this book, I almost, almost wanted to become a capitalist. The only thing that saved me is remembering that I already knew communism is flawed when put into practice.

As a villain, Nicci is delicious, for she is truly insane. She has spent her entire life growing into a warped, twisted person whose moral compass is so far off the beaten path that you need GPS to locate it. I can't say that I agree with everything that she does, but I certainly empathize with what she is trying to do. Her fate at the end of the book is justified, especially by her reaction to what Richard does.

The elapsed time in Faith of the Fallen is greater than many of the other books. If you are not a fan of politics or military tactics, you may find it slow, because Goodkind devotes most of it to demonstrating the absurdity of the Order and spends the rest of the book showing Kahlan's military prowess (which is fine). I found the ending rather rushed. Once again, travel to the Old World seems to happen at the Speed of the Plot. Kahlan manages to get to the Old World--to the heart of the Imperial Order, in fact--rather quickly: just in time for the climax.

This book rewards you for actually reading the first five. I would have been content if this had been the second book in a series of maybe four.

7. The Pillars of Creation

by Terry Goodkind

The Pillars of Creation cover image
ISBN:
9780765340740
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 736 pages
Published:
Tor, 2002

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

After reading Faith of the Fallen, The Pillars of Creation let me down.

It seems like a great big detour away from the plot. I actually don't mind that Richard and Kahlan aren't present until the end, nor do I mind the plot of this book itself. Those factors alone would have made the book fine. The book itself, however, is just poorly written.

The protagonist, Jennsen Rahl, is half-sister to Richard and a "hole in the world"—ungifted, no gifted person can detect her with the gift. Coincidentally, this gives her the potential to destroy all magic in the world. Oops.

I found Jennsen an annoying character. I don't object to having antagonists manipulate the protagonist into doing their bidding--that is fair and also fun. Jennsen is just not that likable, at least in my opinion. The way that she resolves certain predicaments was improbable. She manages to avoid a snake in a swamp—one that apparently eats everyone else who tries to get past it—and arrive on the doorstep of an expository sorceress. I'm willing to accept that her heritage bequeaths her certain abilities, but it's all very convenient.

Oba Rahl, another of Richard's half-siblings, seems entirely unnecessary to the entire plot of the book. He overlaps with Jennsen at certain points, but Goodkind shunts him off to the side during the climax (which I thought was supposed to be the most important part of the book, so I'm very glad that Mr. Goodkind has corrected me on that). Oba shares traits with Darken Rahl: he is ruthless and has a taste for cruelty. Unlike his father, however, Oba is not cunning. And he hears voices, which can often be bad for your health.

It's a shame that this book wasn't better. I enjoy it when a series takes the time to portray the main characters from the point of view of secondary ones. But at the end, the story was just not very satisfying.

8. Naked Empire

by Terry Goodkind

Naked Empire cover image
ISBN:
9780765344304
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 752 pages
Published:
Tor, 2004

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

I didn't write a review for this at the time. So um . . . yeah. I'm pretty sure most of the book was Richard just giving a speech about how something is evil.

9. Chainfire

by Terry Goodkind

Chainfire cover image
ISBN:
9780765305237
Format:
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published:
Tor, 2005

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

This was like a breath of fresh air after reading the previous eight books. Finally, something new! And the glimpse of the ending! Perhaps it's just because I've been reading the entire series back to back, but it seems that it's long and plodding in some parts, then bizarrely exciting in others.

The premise of the book, that a spell has caused memory of Kahlan disappear from everyone's minds except Richard's, is new for Goodkind. It derives from the damage to magic that has been done in previous books and continues that plot. For some reason, Goodkind finds it necessary to draw forward plot elements from the very first book in an attempt to tie it together. I can't decide if this is clever or just reaching.

I found Shota's attitude toward Richard annoying and undeserved. Of course, what do you expect? All in all, I wish that the main characters had been more supportive of Richard and believe in him&#8212didn't he save the world eight times before?

I like fantasy books where magic evolves into a system of science. Goodkind's treatment of it is a little over the top—he sprinkles in more terminology than I'd like. The idea of magic destroying memory, however, and also the idea of contaminating magic, those are very exciting possibilities. They require Richard to use his wits and reason to develop a plan that does not rely on emotion, instinct, and gut-triggered magic (even though I know that at the climactic moment, it will).

If it weren't for the fact that you would lose all reference to previous events in the series, including the reason that Kahlan is so important, this trilogy would be worth reading alone.

10. Phantom

by Terry Goodkind

Phantom cover image
ISBN:
9780765305244
Format:
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published:
Tor, 2006

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

Goodkind continues the extended adventure begun in Chainfire as Richard struggles to reunite with Kahlan in the face of the approaching Imperial Order. I enjoyed Phantom, because it finally has Richard acting on a scale grand enough to affect the plot in a way I haven't seen since Blood of the Fold. In the intervening novels, Richard usually gets drawn off on a tangential adventure that then loops back into the plot. In this trilogy, Richard's actions directly affect the main myth arc, which is a refreshing change, considering he is the main character.

Here we get a sense of how truly clever Jagang is. Pillars of Creation gave us a better measure of his character, but we spend even more time with him now and watch him through the filter of Kahlan. Even without her memories, she is still tenacious—Jagang likes this. And we begin to see the seeds of his ultimate downfall—naturally, it's pride. He forbears raping Kahlan because he wants her to remember her identity before he rapes her. That's a mistake: delays only cost the bad guy his life. She also notes that his position as an emperor is paradoxical in a society that values egalitarianism and a lack of individual distinction, thus foreshadowing the Imperial Order's eventual demise: it is a paradox, a contradiction, and thus a violation of the Wizard's Ninth Rule.

The first two thirds of the book were somewhat boring and expository (think Stone of Tears). However, the ending made up for that with Richard's decisive actions. The fact that Richard can pass as a nobody among the Imperial Order is one of his biggest strengths. I can't wait for the look on Jagang's face when he sees that the point guard of the Ja'La team playing his team is in fact Richard Rahl. But that's for the next book. Which I have sitting next to me.

Hmm....

11. Confessor

by Terry Goodkind

Confessor cover image
ISBN:
9780765315236
Format:
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published:
Tor, 2007

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

Might as well just call this book, "And everyone lived happily ever after."

I acknowledge that I may have some sort of sadistic streak in me to want the author to kill off main characters, or at least have something bad happen. Whenever it looked like someone we cared about was going to die, I cheered (thank you for staying dead this time, Ann). The fact that Goodkind broke all the rules he established does not impress me. However, I suppose that was his goal from the start—the theme of the book, and the series itself.

Honestly, overall the series was not as bad as many made it out to be. When I started reading it, I read about the series. Most people focus on Goodkind's use of Objectivism. I agree that it's there, and in some places, it is very annoying. In some books it overwhelms the plot, but most of the books have a good story to them.

As a writer, Goodkind is not my cup of tea. His characters tend to give long speeches. Moreover, as I mentioned above, I am tired of everything working out happily-ever-after for the good guys. I did not form enough of an attachment to either Ann or Warren to really feel sorry for their deaths. If Kahlan had died, or if her memory hadn't been restored—that would have been respectable. And I'm not just mad because no one died. The ending itself was contrived to grant everyone happiness: Rachel somehow being of royal blood and therefore now the Queen of Tamarang? Adie just happening to fall for Friedlich? It felt a bit anticlimactic—sort of like the ending to Harry Potter (which I didn't actually read; I just read the spoilers, and that was good enough).

This last trilogy was very interesting. I enjoyed the Chainfire spell and its integration into the use of the boxes of Orden. Even though it was a bit of a deus ex machina, Richard's use of the Sword of Truth to operate the boxes of Orden made sense.

Judged purely on the merits of its story (and not its themes, which as others say, are heavily entangled with Objectivism), The Sword of Truth series is not bad but could be much better. Many of the characters are very interesting: Richard is a compelling and admirable protagonist. But sometimes the plot seems to nudge them ever so slightly if they get off track; sometimes the story isn't paced right.

The entire series reminds me somewhat of The Wheel of Time, including its length. I could not get past the third book of The Wheel of Time—in the case of this series, I've read all eleven books because my coworker lent them to me sequentially. Had she not done that, I may have consigned The Sword of Truth to the same category in which resides The Wheel of Time.

If you have a summer to spare for these like I did, then give them a try. Do not clear your schedule, however.