Whilst looking for a suitable picture to accompany this review, I came across the reviews on a certain well-known review website. The first volume of Terry Goodkind’s long running saga, The Sword of Truth series, is certainly divisive. The majority of reviews are either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Wizard’s First Rule, it would appear, is a Marmite book.
So which camp do I fall into?
Well, with regards to Marmite, vehemently in the hate camp… I hate the smell of it, the look of it, the taste of it. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!
With regards to Wizard’s First Rule, I’m in the minority… I neither love it or hate it. I find it enjoyable, I find it flawed, I see the basis for the negative reviews, and I see the reasons for the fervent love.
I would consider this the porridge of the book world; it’s ok, some people think it’s the bees’ knees, some people think it’s glue in a bowl. I think it’s alright, a bit bland, a bit prone to inducing literary indigestion. I need to be in the right frame of mind for it but in certain circumstances it’s a delicious bowl of stodge filling me up with nothing too complicated.
Wizard’s First Rule is the first in an eleven book series (plus prequels and a follow up series) called The Sword of Truth. It introduces us to the world Goodkind has created, the central characters of Richard, Kahlan and Zedd (Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander to be precise), and the myriad of peripheral characters. Richard embarks on a quest, aided by Kahlen and Zedd to overcome a great evil, and to discover his true self.
Goodkind has often claimed that his books are not fantasy but character novels and he does spend a lot of time of developing his characters. Unfortunately he sacrifices this character development at times to further the plot- you find that Kahlan and Richard in particular act outside of the established boundaries of their character in order to make a point, or to introduce a new concept. It’s jarring but not an insurmountable problem.
What is more problematic is the treatment of good and evil. Evil in this book is truly evil- torturing, maiming, killing for fun, child molesting evil. And we are continually told that people commit acts that are evil not because they themselves are evil but because they believe they are doing what is right- Life is murder is a concept that is explained at one point. The two don’t really match. On the one hand we are shown despicable acts committed by people who truly enjoy the sadism of it all and on the other we are urged to understand that these acts are committed by people who have truly believe that these actions are the only way, that they are justified by the rightness of their cause.
On the flip side of this, we are shown heroes and heroines on the side of right and truth and justice who are just as willing to commit atrocities to get what they want. They consider killing innocent children with their bare hands, they attempt to kill old men because the men do not believe helping them is in the men’s best interests, they casually talk about skinning someone they believe has betrayed them and this is all only in the first book… don’t get me started on their actions in the rest!
It’s tricky; it’s something that keeps me mulling over my feelings about this book long after I’ve finished it. Combine it with the bizarre BDSM-on-steroids sub-plot/plot thread and the beginnings of a political ideology I disagree with and it makes me frequently consider putting this book in the Marmite category.
But it isn’t. It’s porridge. It’s been read and re- read a dozen times. Why is that??
Well it is pretty enjoyable, the story ticks along nicely and there are numerous interesting episodes along the way. The world Goodkind has created is complicated, magical, and full of little pieces of history that make you want to know a bit more.
The writing isn’t complicated, you don’t need to wade through indecipherable prose to get to the heart of the matter.
Yes, it has its issues, yes, I can see why people loathe it, but for me, it’s just a pretty decent book to read when I want something a bit familiar and a bit enjoyable to read.