Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review: Wizard's First Rule (Book 1 of The Sword of Truth)

Wizard's First Rule (1994), Terry Goodkind. Paperback, 576 pages. 

Summary: A young man encounters wizards, demons, dragons, prophecies, torture, and love interests on the way to uncovering the truth about his own special abilities and his heroic potential. For a more detailed summary, click here.

    Richard started over, keeping his voice low. "I was up there on a hill, above the lake. I saw you walking on the path by the shore. There are some men following you."
    She betrayed no emotion, but continued to hold his gaze. "How many?"
     He thought her question strange, but answered it. "Four."
     The color drained from her face.
     She turned her head, surveying the woods behind her, scanning the shadows briefly, then looked back to him once more, her green eyes searching his.
     "Do you choose to help me?" Except for her color, her exquisite features gave no hint as to her emotions. 
     Before his mind could form a thought, he heard himself say, "Yes." 
     Her countenance softened. "What would you have us do?"
     "There's a small trail that turns off here. If we take it, and they stay on this one, we can be away." 
     "And if they don't? If they follow our trail?" 
     "I'll hide our tracks." He was shaking his head, trying to reassure her. "They won't follow. Look, there's no time...." 
     "If they do?" she cut him off. "Then what is your plan?" 
     He studied her face a moment. "Are they very dangerous?" 
     She stiffened. "Very." 
     The way she said the word made him have to force himself to breathe again. For an instant, he saw a look of blind terror pass across her eyes.


Writing Quality: 2/10

Depth of Concept: 3/10

Rounded Characters: 3/10

Well-Developed World: 4/10

Page Turner: 4/10

Kept Me Thinking: 2/10

Overall Recommendation: 1/10


Writing Quality: 2/10. This is one of the most melodramatic stories I have ever read. Early on we learn that the main character is consumed by a "deep and riving pain," and that his "grief and depression overwhelmed him." But we'll come to see that Goodkind has a penchant for hyperbole without seeming to realize it. His protagonist seems pretty normal in every interaction, until he starts to remember his dad's murder, and then he wallows in utter darkness in an abyss of sorrow. Frankly, Goodkind doesn't seem to understand how to make consistent behaviors, and so his characters often seem a little schizophrenic. For instance, on the third page of the book, a thorn begins wriggling vigorously deep into the protagonist's flesh. He has "rising concern" (I think I'd be freaking out, personally) and then a wave of intense nausea. Then, he smiles as he remembers his old healer-instructor, lost in a nostalgic reverie. Then, he carefully plants a tree. Then, he "flinches" as a dark, "frightening shape" crosses over him and he goes "cold to the bone." Then, he "discounts his fears, and starts running" to catch a glimpse. What? What the hell does Goodkind have going on in the head of this bipolar amnesiac, who seems to have only slightly raised concern at a living thing burrowing into his flesh, who forgets about it as he lovingly plants a tree, who is intensely terrified at encountering an evil creature, and then blithely discounts his fear? The thing is, Goodkind clearly isn't aware of the strange person he is creating and it's infuriating! I can't even begin to describe how mind-blowing it is to me that this novel ever got published. It's like nobody ever edited this book! Every. single. page. has descriptions that are inconsistent and just plain weird, as I've described above. I stopped marking and making notes because it just seemed pointless. I could flip to any single page and explain why Goodkind sucks as a writer. And that's not even to get into the only slightly less irritating things like when a succession of characters "give a small smile," sometimes three on a page, without Goodkind recognizing that he's unaccountably repeating himself. Or the way that Goodkind can't decide just what emotions a character is meant to portray, and so he has them portray every emotion, as fast as he can (see the excerpt), no matter the apparent flip-flopping. Or the way that Goodkind allows his characters to see everything about a person just from looking into their eyes, as in "Richard glanced to her green eyes and saw the visage of a proud woman beseeching his help," or "his fierce blue eyes glared," or ""there was a savage hunter in the man's blue eyes," or "it matched the spark of intelligence in her eyes," or "It was an odd sort of smile, a special smile, not showing any teeth, but with her lips pressed together, as one would when taking another into one's confidence. Her eyes sparkled with it," all of which occurred over the span of just three pages near the beginning of the book. I've got to move on. I'm getting an ulcer.

Depth of Concept: 3/10. Goodkind's only claim to fame is that he introduces a staggering quantity of masochism and sado-masochism into the story, for reasons that I can't quite fathom. Is he trying to say something about the world? Can we learn something about our own lives from it? Really, it seems as though he puts his characters through page after page of melodramatic hell simply because he can't think of any other way to show just how strong and awesome they are. I mean, literally, there is probably a hundred pages of sexual torture written into this book. Why? It's not even very interesting. He could have gotten a lot more mileage if he had read Dante's Inferno or Paradise Lost and borrowed some of those themes to explain why people go bad, or why they choose pain over goodness. But this is pretty shallow stuff, that goes on, and on, and on.

Rounded Characters: 3/10. Yeah, not really. His protagonist is a boy scout, who succeeds in his ventures mostly because Goodkind writes him to be the most pure, truthful person around. The other characters aren't much better. The good guys are really good. The bad guys are really bad. Except for every once in a while Goodkind will set up a character who overcomes their evil in what he thinks is a poignant (if sometimes tragic) recovery. But I don't really buy it. His inconsistency with character development has the same problem that I described in his writing quality: he's all over the place, and just doesn't make his characters very distinctive, original, or consistent.

Well-Developed World: 3/10. His basic premise is that the world is divided into three main areas, each off-limits to the others. But you never get a very good sense of the kinds of people that inhabit each, or who rules, or how large the populations are, or if there are many cities around. It's not as though I think a detailed map solves the "well-developed world" challenge, but  Goodkind's map looks like it was sketched out in two minutes, and the way he writes about the world, it also feels that way.

Page Turner: 4/10. The novel isn't paced too poorly -- it's one thing that Goodkind does better than Robert Jordan, for instance. But the crazy, crazy inconsistencies and amateurish writing on every page of the thing got so distracting that it was hard for me to ignore them and fight my way to the end. And because the protagonist doesn't seem to be on much of an interesting developmental journey (he's already the best person you can imagine, he just needs to learn how to harness power), I stopped caring what was going to happen to him next.

Kept Me Thinking: 2/10. Nope. Except to try to figure out how things got past Goodkind's editors, or why he is so preoccupied by sexual abuse. 

Overall Recommendation: 1/10. It's crazy to me that people love this Sword of Truth series. I had a good, intelligent roommate who once told me he thought Goodkind "trumped" J. R. R. Tolkien. So when I finally read this, I was floored. And did you know that a TV series was made out of it? That fans loved? Mindblowing.

Books To Compare: You could obviously compare it to other bestselling fantasy authors, but frankly, every fantasy author I can think of writes better than this dud. I suppose you might get some mileage out of invoking the Marquis de Sade, but certainly not because Goodkind writes as well or as intelligently as the much-maligned (for good reason?) Frenchman. Is it clear I did not like this book? For more ideas, try plugging it in to What Should I Read Next?

Check out Wizard's First Rule on Amazon.


  1. I've watched some of the TV series on Netflix, and it's pretty boring too.

    1. Given that I have yet to make my way into 24, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and a host of others, I don't think I'll be spending time on the TV series version, either.

    2. 24 - Eh, Watched a few seasons, but didn't really care

      Lost - Still haven't finished, I'm waiting to watch it with my wife again

      Battlestar - Awesome show, skip the final episode and it is perfect. And don't watch Caprica, blech.

  2. Loved your review and your style of writing it!