Sword of Truth: A Wizard’s First Rule Review

5
Posted June 8, 2015 by Chad Waller in Nerdy Bits

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 desperate need of editing. Such is life.

The book starts out with Richard Cypher, a hopelessly boring caricature, 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 or any understanding of the concept. 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.

Kahlen is in search of a mysterious old wizard, and Richard suggests they visit his friend Zedd, a mysterious old hermit. He’s quirky and knows everything! Of course, Zedd is the wizard in question because the only requirement Terry Goodkind had for this novel was that it would be exceedingly predictable. Richard, who is supposed to be really smart and clever, never knew his best friend 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. I expected a fairly typical fantasy villain given how typical and by-the-books everything else had been thus far, but holy crap is Darken Rahl something else. I’ve never met a villain that’s trying this hard to be evil, and the worst part is, it’s all played straight. Darken Rahl is evil for the sake of it, 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! Now and then he murders children. 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 normal. There are 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? A dark magical secret. Why is this random wolf talking? Magic. 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 does Richard mysteriously regain his senses when the story demands it? 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? Love! (It trumps magic.)

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 said 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.

I’m convinced that a proper editor could cut a hundred pages from this book, probably more. It would still be bad, but it would at least end quicker.

Because Richard holds a magical sword that can cut through anything, he’s given the title, “Seeker” and is tasked with solving people’s fantasy problems. Seekers are warriors of high intellect, honor, and to be feared by wrongdoers everywhere. The problem is, Richard isn’t really that smart; everyone around him is just really dumb. At a certain point, he’s talking to some ghosts in the hopes of figuring out where the third MacGuffin is, but the ghosts won’t tell him. Clever Richard tries a different tactic, “Can you tell me who knows where the box is?” Ah, that works. Everyone is impressed because ol’ Richard asks the tough questions!

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 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 A Wizard’s First Rule 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, making it impossible to masturbate to. The whole chunk doesn’t fit with the rest of the book, and honestly, doesn’t even need to belong. 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.

 


About the Author

Chad Waller

Chad Waller is the cofounder of Dual Wield Software, a two-man video game company that just published The Land of Glass on Steam. You should check it out! You can follow him on Twitter @DualWieldSoft and find his company page on Facebook with a quick search.