Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
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.