Sword of Truth Wizard’s First Rule: Book Review

I went to Wikipedia and looked up Wizard’s First Rule after I read it on some mysterious whim. The second paragraph reads thus:

“Goodkind had no trouble selling his first book to a publisher. ‘I’m sort of the exception that proves the rule,’ he says. ‘I wanted to be represented by the best agent in the country and I wrote him a letter. He asked to see the book and he liked it. He showed it to a number of publishers. Three of them had an auction. Ten weeks after I’d written The End it sold for a record price ($275,000),’ the most money ever paid for a fantasy novel by a first time author.”

This depresses me in untold ways as Wizard’s First Rule is the Twilight of fantasy novels, not in a “terrible romance” way, but in a “terrible plot and characters” way. It’s an absolute mess of clichés and bad ideas in a terrible need of editing. Such is life.

The book starts out with Richard Cypher, a hopelessly boring hero who is a caricature instead of a character, walking through the woods. After a bit of searching around for clues as to who killed his father, he stumbles upon a mysterious lady and winds up in a quest to save the world. If you haven’t seen this story before, then you aren’t looking hard enough. The only way this could be more done to death is if our mysterious lady had amnesia.

But while Kahlan doesn’t have amnesia, she does lack friends and the concept of friendship. The poor girl has gone all her life without one, so Richard volunteers to be her first real friend. She’s afraid to open up to him (for she has a terrible secret), but that’s okay; as a true friend Richard will respect her privacy. Their first handful of conversations are grating and idiotic, the kind of mess you’d expect in a bottom-tier piece of fanfiction.

The two decide to go visit a wise old hermit named Zedd to see what they need to do next in their mysterious quest of helping Kahlan find a mysterious wizard. Of course, Zedd is the wizard in question because the only requirement Terry Goodkind had for his novel was that it would be exceedingly predictable. Richard, who is supposed to be really smart and clever, never knew his best friend Zedd was a wizard, and so that conversation happens.

Then Richard is given a magical sword that can cut through anything and the group set out to kill the bad guy named Darken Rahl. You know he’s the bad guy because he has “dark” in his name.

The book begins under the guise of a light-hearted young adult novel. Friendship and justice are the two motives that our heroes are operating under, and their quest will take Richard into places he’s never been. Our expectations are firmly set.

And then they are shattered when Darken Rahl is introduced. While the other characters and the world around them are pretty light hearted, Darken Rahl is quite the bastard of a villain. He’s evil for the pure sake of being evil, possessing multiple vendettas and daddy issues. He wants to take over the world because that’s what evil villains do, and he’s invincible to boot. His second in command is a cold-hearted killer who likes to molest children. They are both comically evil and contrast with the book so much it seems like they belong in a different novel.

But once we go back to Richard, Kahlen, and Zedd, things go back to being fairly light hearted and normal. There are evils afoot and various troubles to overcome, but nothing particularly frightening or on par with raping children.

Since Darken Rahl is invincible, the three are on a slightly different quest. There are these three magical MacGuffins that when put together and opened in the correct order, give the opener the power to rule everyone. Rahl has two of the boxes opened, starting this magical chain of events that won’t end until the year is up. Richard, Kahlen, and Zedd are looking for the third MacGruffin; for if Rahl doesn’t have it, he will die on the last day of the year because that’s how the magic works.

In fantasy novels, I expect magic to be an ever-present thing. It’s simply part of the genre. But Wizard’s First Rule takes magic to a new kind of explanative area where it becomes the answer to everything, especially plot holes. Why does Kahlen have no friends? Because she was born with a magical gift that forces people to fall in love with her if she touches them. Why is this random wolf talking? Because, with magic, a person’s infatuated love-mind can be placed into an animal. Why was this never mentioned before? Good question. Why do these magical boxes exist? Magic. Why can’t they simply take torches into this spooky and dark area? Magic. Why can’t Kahlen cut her hair to alter her appearance? Magic. Why does Richard get captured and controlled later on? Magic. Why are all the apples in the Midlands poisonous? Magic. Why can’t that magic be reversed? Magic. Why does Richard’s magical sword randomly gain unhinted at powers when the story demands it? Magic. Why can Richard fall in love with Kahlen when her powers are unstable? The magical power of love!

It’s both sloppy writing and simply boring.

To make matters worse, the book is set up where lengthy explanations follow pretty much everything of note. The only reason Zedd seems to be brought along is because he’s a walking encyclopedia of magical facts, so if something interesting happens, he’s there to tell us why. “Plot hole? No. This isn’t a plot hole, it’s magic!” Explanations take plenty of time because Terry actually repeats himself on a regular basis. The same sentiment might be repeated two or three times in quick succession, as if the reader were too stupid to grasp a simple concept like “the characters were confused on what to do next” the first time.

At some point early on in the novel, the characters run into the Mud People who are called Mud People and not something interesting or fantastical. They stay in this village for some time in hopes of speaking with some Mud People ghosts, but they have to earn the trust of the Mud People first. Richard and Kahlen spend a good chapter or two fixing up the city and doing general side quests, and then they are allowed to speak to the ghosts. But, the ghosts can’t tell them where the third box is, so Richard being oh-so-clever asks the ghosts to tell him where he can find out where the box is! Ah, that works.

Then a pointless battle happens because one of the magical items Richard has is actually really dangerous, but no one told him that because that would be logical. And then some Mud People child gets kidnapped by the evil rapist Darken Rahl keeps as a friend because the stakes needed to be raised from “saving the entire world from slavery” to “saving the entire world from slavery AND saving this one child.”

The next half or so of the book is spent with the characters meandering around doing fantasy stuff. They talk about how they are all great friends and will stick together, they run into a very blatant ripoff of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, and they all find out they carry terrible secrets even though they are best friends and are honest with each other.

And then they split up because a new magic showed up and Richard needs to go back and fix it, even though he’s an idiot and has never been to the Midlands before and therefore knows nothing of the magic there. He of course gets captured.

Other than Darken Rahl and his cohort, the tone of the book continued to stay light hearted and fairly jovial, all things considered. But when Richard gets captured, the tone once again abruptly shifts from “this is a kid’s story” to “holy crap, what kind of twisted thing am I reading?” Richard gets taken prisoner by a Mord-Sith, the magical equivalent of a dominatrix. She wears red leather, demands to be referred to as a “mistress” and then tortures Richard for a hundred or so pages without stopping. It’s torture porn without any sex, though there are sexual overtones throughout the process. The whole chunk doesn’t fit with the rest of the book, and honestly, doesn’t even need to belong in the book. Terry manages to force some kind of understanding—magical of course—out of the whole process, but it’s really just a tiresome and pointless non sequitur.

The book ends with Kahlen almost getting raped and Richard anticlimactically tricking Darken Rahl into opening the wrong box. Darken Rahl pulls a Darth Vader, and then he’s gone. There’s also a bit with a dragon and Richard generally being obtuse, but that’s really it. Wizard’s First Rule is absolute garbage, and it’s only the start of a 12 book series. Evidently Terry goes into some harsh political philosophy in his later books, but since he’s incapable of handling plot, story, and characterization, I can’t imagine he handles politics with any kind of maturity.

Such is life.

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4 thoughts on “Sword of Truth Wizard’s First Rule: Book Review

  1. As a child, I loved this book.
    As a child, I loved many things that I no longer care for, and that I smile with knowing understanding when recollecting.
    Goodkind is one of those things. I look fondly back at my 14 year old self and think, “never mind, you’ll figure it out”.
    Zero redeeming qualities in the first book, and it gets worse. Which is really quite incredible, all things considered.
    I suppose fantasy was going through a wasteland at the time, but I don’t really know. It was, at least, for me.
    When I became an adult, I put aside childish things (to paraphrase). And yet here we are. I wonder if this series still sells, or is considered important, or influential, or anything? Richard is a magical, do anything, great at everything, kind of guy, and reminds me a touch of Kvothe (dare I say it?), though Rothfuss is the better author.
    For an interesting novel that discusses depravity, hate, and evil, maybe try Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dwarf_(Lagerkvist_novel)). Tremendous.

    1. My bookshelf is mostly comprised of the stuff I read in high school, so it’s almost all trash fantasy and trash science fiction. I’ve been going back to some of it and have mostly been depressed that it doesn’t hold up. I have books that are damn near falling apart due to how much I read them, and now I look at them and go, “wait, so where’s the magic? I know there’s magic here. I swear there’s magic here!”

      And it’s an odd since of, “I mean, this book isn’t good, but it’s still kinda fun so that’s something” but my standards and preferences really have changed. Once you go Game of Thrones, it’s hard to go back to Dragonlance.

      I never got into the Sword of Truth when I was younger (thank God, or I’d have shelf devoted to them I imagine), but my local Barnes and Noble sure still carries them. I guess they sell.

      I’ll take a look at that novel recommendation.

      1. I purged all of my teenage fantasy books about ten years ago, and have started either a) borrowing them from the library and groaning at how bad they are; or b) buying and reading completely different fantasy. b) has been much better.
        Agreed about Dragonlance and all that. Goodkind is just as bad, and gets worse in the later books.
        I have read very widely within the “literary” genre, and can recommend some great fantasy-esque books in that sphere. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, anything by Jorge Luis Borges, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, Jose Saramago’s Blindness and/or Death With Interruptions, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, etc etc. That’s just off the top of my head, but there’s a lot about. Fantasy and serious literature have a cantankerous relationship, but it exists, and it’s worth exploring. I can certainly put together a strong recommendation list, and may actually do that as a blog post some time…

  2. Well, while the Dragonlance books are by no means high art, they are quite fun at points. Rereading the first set wasn’t painful, though I wish they held up better. There was some seriously bad writing throughout them.

    By all means though, throw together a fantasy novel inspired blog! I’ll take recommendations. I can’t promise I”ll get to any anytime soon, but it’s nice to know there are some good books out there.

    And I’ll woefully, well perhaps not woefully, admit that fantasy is a pleasure of mine. A terrible fantasy novel can still be fun, and I’ll gladly overlook problems if I’m having a good time.

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