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Review: Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Brian G Turner

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This wasn't a book I'd normally want to read. I've seen too many online discussions dismissing Goodkind as a writer. And after reading about the "evil chicken scene" ... well, let's just say I kept Wizard's First Rule at the bottom of my reading pile.

I tried flicking through it a while ago, and at the time thought the prose looked somehow clumsy, and overly simple.

But I wanted to see how Goodkind works with ideas and morality, so I finally picked up Wizard's First Rule.

Perhaps it helps to start with low expectations, but in many ways I really enjoyed it.

The story is simple and focused - it rarely drifts away from the main characters of Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd. This helps keep a sense of pace easily lost in other epic fantasy - not least in the need to jump to many character perspectives in many different locations.

And yet, Wizard's First Rule becomes increasingly nuanced in interesting ways: threats of future betrayal overshadow the trio which, brings in a lingering source of tension and anxiety.

Additionally, the reveal backstories for Kahlan and Zedd make it clear that this is not a war of good vs evil - it's about overlooking lesser evils to overcome a bigger evil - namely, the end of the world.

And the way we constantly see - and feel - Richard's conflict, I found very engaging.

In fact, up to about page 500 I felt I could understand why Wizard's First Rule was so successful. I thought it a fairly brilliant YA novel - the twists, the moral complexity, the pace, the conflict, the love story. I know many may disagree, but I personally thought they were often intelligently and cleverly used. The reveal of what the Wizard's First Rule actually is I thought hilarious.

While I would have liked the prose to be tighter - do we really need to see everyone's reaction and comments to so many little things? - it's a criticism that can be levelled at many works of fantasy fiction.

At least Richard is dynamic and problem-solving, as opposed to remaining a wandering, confused farm-boy through the entire novel.

After page 500, though, the story goes somewhat downhill.

First, coincidence brings everyone together. Hooray!

Secondly, the story hits a 65 page torture scene.

While not graphic, it mostly consists of Richard screaming, crying, and begging for mercy. I could appreciate why this might be included. But I did not enjoy it.

Afterwards, the story ended in a reasonably satisfying manner, and the way was clearly opened for further sequels.

On the one hand, I feel as though I can appreciate why the story may be so popular. The use of conflict and pace I thought worked very well much of the time.

And the moral ambiguity was also interesting.

But, that's part of the problem. The concept left a bad taste in my mouth, a rumbling of indigestion. I felt like I'd just read a story about the SS over-throwing Hitler. Hooray?

In that regard, I can enjoy being challenged - enough to say that I can appreciate this book and say that for the most part, I enjoyed it - but not enough to have any stomach to want to read more. I just don't enjoy reading about torture and sexual violence, no matter the implied justification.

Without that it would have been a decent enough YA fantasy story - all the classic fantasy elements in a typically superficial "mediaeval" fantasy world, the Heroes Journey, simply written, and engaging enough without being too cheesy.

I'm just not sure that we needed 65 pages making us experience a protagonist's torture! I also find it hard to relate to the questionable morality of leading characters without a suitable counterfoil to them.
 

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Vladd67

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I seem to remember Goodkind getting uptight about being called a fantasy writer
Terry Goodkind said:
"First of all, I don't write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It's either about magic or a world-building. I don't do either."
But then he said
"What I have done with my work has irrevocably changed the face of fantasy. In so doing I've raised the standards. I have not only injected thought into a tired empty genre, but, more importantly, I've transcended it showing what more it can be-and is so doing spread my readership to completely new groups who don't like and wont ready typical fantasy. Agents and editors are screaming for more books like mine"
So he doesn't write fantasy but has changed its face?
 

HareBrain

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Those quotes actually made me feel a bit queasy. But then, I'm probably the kind of weak-stomached, milksop human being who deserves - maybe even secretly craves - to be trampled beneath the shiny patent-leather jackboots of his genius.
 

Brian G Turner

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So he doesn't write fantasy but has changed its face?
This seems to be a common claim from people who write fantasy without having ever read widely around the genre.

Namely, because the fantasy genre has often been perceived to be nothing more than Tolkien's shadow.

Have to admit, I thought that way once. :eek:
 

Vladd67

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Those quotes actually made me feel a bit queasy. But then, I'm probably the kind of weak-stomached, milksop human being who deserves - maybe even secretly craves - to be trampled beneath the shiny patent-leather jackboots of his genius.
SO you don't want to hear what he said to someone who compared WFR with Wheel of Time then.
Read and enjoy the words of the man himself.
USATODAY.com
 

j d worthington

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This seems to be a common claim from people who write fantasy without having ever read widely around the genre.

Namely, because the fantasy genre has often been perceived to be nothing more than Tolkien's shadow.

Have to admit, I thought that way once. :eek:
SO you don't want to hear what he said to someone who compared WFR with Wheel of Time then.
Read and enjoy the words of the man himself.
USATODAY.com

Yes, it's rather obvious that, as narrow as a lot of fantasy readers can often be in their views of what fantasy is, or is capable of, Goodkind comes across as someone who has read very little, and sees it as the whole. And yet he has the gall to talk about research. (All right, that's not entirely fair. He is talking about researching something specific for his books, but good grief, it you're going to pontificate about an entire genre of literary endeavor, especially one in which you have yourself worked, then you bloody well ought to at least put in some effort in learning about its parameters!)

Sorry, but when the man opines on things such as this, he really does come off sounding like an ass.....
 

biodroid

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JD - What has Terry said that makes fans "dislike" him so much? As much as I enjoyed the first book, I could not get into the second one, and as for the TV show, well that was basically just producers trying to hire super models to jump around and pretend to act then gets saved by Zedd at the end of each episode.
 

j d worthington

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JD - What has Terry said that makes fans "dislike" him so much? As much as I enjoyed the first book, I could not get into the second one, and as for the TV show, well that was basically just producers trying to hire super models to jump around and pretend to act then gets saved by Zedd at the end of each episode.

I've not seen any of the show -- I don't have cable, don't watch any new television save by chance (and with the exception of Doctor Who, which I see because I friend of mine has BBC America)... in fact, I wasn't even aware it had been done on television. I doubt I'd have watched it in any case, simply because I'm not interested.

But as for your question concerning "fans"... well, first I'd have to ask for a clarification: fans of what? or of whom? Sf? Fantasy? etc.

And, of course, I can't answer for anyone save myself, and in my case it is simply that the writing, when I attempted to read it, struck me as particularly poor; not necessarily "bad" per se, but lackluster. It didn't hold my interest. And as for his own statements -- his pontificating on things about which he knows little or nothing tends to set my teeth on edge, same as it does when one of my favorite writers (Michael Moorcock) does it as well. This is one of those things that make me want to smack Mike upside the head with a brick. I feel the same way when I come across a place where HPL did it... and largely because it isn't just ignorance of the matter, but the fact that they have the air of issuing ex cathedra statements; something which they really should know better than to do. (I reacted the same way when Dan Simmons made certain statements about Wilkie Collins. Simmons' work I tend to admire. I have a generally high opinion of Simmons himself. On this one, I think he's a nit.)

Problem is, Goodkind has done this about so many things, that it has left a very sour taste in my mouth concerning him. I'm not overly fond of the Randian philosophy to begin with -- I think it is venal, short-sighted, socially destructive, and overall contra-survival... not to mention stupid. And for Goodkind to promote this bilge as somehow superior to all other schools of thought on such subjects, strikes me as childishness of a major order. I might not mind it so much save that in statement after statement, when someone questions some aspect of it, he insults them as being "too young to read his books" or some such nonsense, rather than engaging in an honest debate. Ditto when they recognize similarities between his work and that of others in the fantasy field. Whether intentional or not, the fact that someone sees such similarities does not mean the person seeing them is delusional or childish; it often means that the similarities are there. They may be independently developed, but that happens all the time in literature; and to notice such things actually shows a reader is being attentive to your work and is willing to place it in context, to think about what you're saying and how you're saying it. Insulting such a person -- as long as their questions are not themselves couched in an insulting or insinuating fashion -- is, again, a childish response unworthy of anyone who really has anything worthwhile to say. if it happened once or twice, okay; anyone might be having a bad day. But Goodkind makes this kind of insinuation time and again... which frankly smacks a great deal of projection rather than anything else.

There are other things (the points made earlier about such ludicrous situations which are completely unconvincing being presented as somehow mature handlings of the subjects rather than simply bad writing where characters are forced like puppets to behave in accord with the author's philosophy rather than as living beings; not to mention the evil chicken monster, which still makes my jaw drop, it's so remarkably asinine), but this should give you more than enough of an idea why, despite the fact that I originally came to his work without any feelings whatsoever except wanting to discover the work of an apparently "important" voice in the field... I came away feeling that I really wouldn't feel any regret if Goodkind and his entire corpus were to be dropped into the Marianas trench. I don't actively think they should be, but I wouldn't miss 'em if they were....
 

picklematrix

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I couldn't get into this book. After learning more about writing, I believe that is due to the distant, limited perspective, amongst other clunky elements of the prose. The narration zooms in and out seemingly at random, never once hooking me into the characters.
Then again, I'm more of a fantasy guy, and this is cleary a work if contemporary literary philosophy or something.
 

vanye

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To my mind, the first book was OK, although I wouldn‘t have thought of it as YA, what with the violence and the smugness with which it is presented.

The second book is weaker, already, and so it continues until by the fourth or fifth book the series is completely beyond the pale and reading became almost physically painful for me.
 
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BAYLOR

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I read this book years ago on a recommendation by a friend. It was an excellent book. But ive gotten around to book 2 .
 
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