August 06, 2008

Goodkind

I just finished the last book of the 11-book "Sword of Truth" series by Terry Goodkind. I don't remember what got me started on the series, but it was probably one of those websites where you enter in a bunch of titles of books you like, and you get recommendations based on the lists others have submitted, kinda like how Netflix recommendations work.

So anyway, I bought the first nine books from Amazon as three boxed sets, pretty cheap, then I bought book 10 separately, and when I finished book 10 last week, I went to the library to look for books for M*chelle to read while recovering from surgery, and right there in front of me on the "new fiction" shelf was the hardback copy of book 11. I hadn't even realized until finishing book 10 that the series was slated to end at the end of book 11, so I was glad to get this book and read it to end the series.

My overall impression of the series is that it is a good page-turner. The only thing maybe inappropriate for teens would be the level of graphic violence portrayed, including numerous fairly vivid depictions of rapes and associated depravities, along with a rather exhausting 100-page foray into extensive torture in one of the early books. But those parental concerns aside, it's really not much worse in that department that most other contemporary fantasy. By comparison, the Paksenarrion series by Moon would register about a 3 out of 10 whereas this series is about a 7 out of 10, roughly matching the Covenant series by Donaldson where the violence/depravity was less frequent but a bit more graphic, and a 10 would be the Gap series by Donaldson.

Anyhoo, good points: The plot was fairly interesting and unpredictable. A lot of different characters are used, and you never really know when some will live or die or turn out to be major or minor. The Gandalf-like Zedd looks to be a central figure of the series at first, but then he is totally ignored for most of books 3-8, while seemingly random bodyguard Cara is present perhaps more than any other character except the main two. A couple of books are half or more from the perspective of new characters who are thereafter relegated to insignificant status, just initially there to provide a fresh perspective on things.

The characters are fairly well fleshed-out and introduced gradually enough that it wasn't hard to keep track of everyone. The strategy and tactics (moves and countermoves) were pretty well thought-out, and Goodkind isn't afraid to run with long, unbroken sequences on a particular plot (instead of maddeningly mixing it up all the time, with 30 pages of something gripping, 30 pages of nothing, 30 pages of something else, then back to the main plot, etc) if it is a good one.

Also, most of the plots were fun to follow. There were a few spurts scattered throughout the series where I simply did not want to put the book down for a couple hundred pages. I was curious enough and engaged enough to really care about what happened next, to see how everything was resolved.

Bad points: The two main characters, Richard and Kahlan, aren't consistent in their level of maturity and common sense. At times, Kahlan is a wise and respected leader of nations, and then she'll spend half a book on a descent into junior high level jealousy which drives her to irrational thoughts and actions. If Goodkind needs his main characters to do something to drive the plot, he needs to do a better job of motivating them.

Also, he sometimes goes a long way for little payoff. For example, in the last book, a great many pages are spent on an obscure argument about magical theory just for the payoff that Richard cannot honestly tell Kahlan (who has lost her memory) that he truly loves her, creating a minor tension that lasts for all of 20 pages. There's 100 pages that could've been cut out with no great loss, but I guess you get that kind of thing in an 11-book series once in a while.

I was fairly neutral on the frequent forays into philosophy. There were several discussions of free will and determinism (portrayed as prophecy), freedom/capitalism vs communism and kind of a Randian individualism sprinkled throughout Richard's frequent speeches. It reminded me at times of Michael Crichton's habit of inserting liberal politics into the minds of his most evil and disgusting characters whereas the brilliant, beautiful, selfless and heroic good guys all seemed to favor lower taxes or corporatism over environmentalism, but Goodkind didn't go quite so far. It was mostly just a slightly more thoughtful version of the good vs evil struggle, trying to understand why a large population would essential buy into an evil philosophy.

Overall, I'd give the series about a 6-7 out of 10. It's a good shelf-filler for a library full of speculative fiction for kids and teens. Hey, they can't all be Tolkien, you know.

Posted by Observer at August 6, 2008 08:35 PM
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