Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Book Review: Wizard's First Rule

Title: Wizard's First Rule (first in the 11 book Sword of Truth series)
Author: Terry Goodkind
Year Published: 1994
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

I've been meaning to start this series for some time, and now that I have, I don't see what the fuss is all about. I mean sure, it's enjoyable, but it's also one of the most derivative books I have ever read. Wizard's First Rule is the epitome of trash fantasy – you name a clich√©, and it's probably in this book. Seriously. The titles clue you in to the wizards and magic swords, but there are also things like a talking dragon, babes in tight leather and a quest to save the world. You get the idea.

The story begins when Richard (our hero and humble woods guide) rescues a beautiful and mysterious woman named Kahlan. Together, they embark on a quest to save the world from the evil Darken Rahl, who will become all-powerful if he manages to get all three Boxes of Orden. Now, while this might sound groan-inducing, I have to say that the plot was one of the better aspects of the book. No, it's not particularly original, but it was written and paced in a way that made it easy to read and addictive from scene to scene and chapter to chapter.

That is not to say the writing is great. Though it's accessible and flows well, it's pretty uninspired. There are point of view issues and an over-abundance of exposition-via-dialogue, which is tedious but (thankfully) not hard to get through given the breeziness of the writing. Unfortunately, moral and philosophical issues are similarly discussed in a repetitive and lecturing ways, sucking the power out of what could have been an intriguing facet of the book; the reader is told what the “right” answer should be rather than left to decide for themselves. Incidentally, Goodkind is a fan of Ayn Rand and it shows (I hear this only gets more obvious in subsequent books).

The world-building is fairly decent and allows you to immerse yourself in the story. Both Richard and Kahlan are likeable (if generic) protagonists, but my favourite is probably Zedd (even though his main personality trait appears to be “hungry”). The best way to read this book is quickly – let yourself be carried away by the characters and the plot, and don't think too much. Though I tried to do this, I could not help but notice things like how quickly Richard accepted the quest and how he and Kahlan became immediate BFFs after having just met. The latter aspect in particular is a problem you can't help but notice, considering how so much of the book is devoted to Richard and Kahlan's ~forbidden attraction~ (so much so that I feel it warrants the “Romance” label). If you're the type that needs your characters to act realistically and consistently, this book will probably annoy you.

One last thing bears mentioning, and that is the adult content (minor spoilers in the paragraph ahead). There is violence, gore, torture and and sexual assault (but no sex) aplenty – it's not for the faint of heart. Most of the time, this is justified in the context of the plot. However, at other instances, the inclusion of such elements smacked of lazy writing – for example, introducing a villain as a paedophile to show that he is evil. Near the end of the book, I was blindsided by a BDSM sexual torture sub-plot that literally came out of nowhere. Its appearance was jarring and it read like some kind of fanboy's fantasy.

Though it's the start of a series, it works as a standalone, with things being resolved in a satisfying way. There are too many problems in the content and the writing for me to recommend this to anyone not already inclined to doorstopper fantasies. I liked it, but it didn't blow my socks off – I probably won't pick up the sequel unless I have nothing better to read. It's easy, fun and addictive, but certainly not for everyone.

Alex's Rating: 3.5/5

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