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Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth Series, Book 1) by Terry Goodkind

If you’re looking for an enthralling fantasy epic, look no further than the Sword of Truth series. Though Wizard’s First Rule isn’t the best of the series, it’s a must-read because it sets the background for the rest of the series.

Richard Cypher, a simple woods guide from the land of Hartland, has a chance encounter with a mysterious woman and soon finds himself at the center of quest to prevent a magic box of vast power from falling into the hands of Darken Rahl, a “dark” wizard of with unimaginable power and unsurpassed cruelty. Richard is guided by beautiful Kahlan, who possesses a mysterious but deadly ability, and Zedd, a kindly, eccentric old wizard who is more powerful than he seems. He is also bestowed with a magic sword powered by unbridled fury. Along the way, which crosses his rustic Westland into the magical Midlands and dark D’Hara, he encounters sorceresses, otherworldly beasts, dangerous magical creatures, a savage cannibalistic people, and deadly spells. Richard has to learn how to use the magic of his sword and his inborn magic, as well as the eponymous wizard’s rule, if he is to succeed. Will he survive the encounter with a Mord-Sith, a leather-clad torturer who inflicts terrible pain or death as easily as the flick of a wrist, in order to even have a chance to stop Rahl, who commands the powers of the underworld?

In this debut, Goodkind did a good job of painting his magical universe and introducing the protagonists. The first half proceeds slowly, filled with trivial adventures and rather poorly realized characters. At times his dialogues are so bland and sappy that they may induce squirms. If you find yourself feeling that way, stick with it; the series, and the writing, vastly improves with subsequent books. In the second half of the book, the pace picks up significantly. Goodkind is an expert at crafting plots. The fast-paced, furious actions and the heart-pounding thrills of the climax may leave you emotionally spent, yet satisfied, at the end. Believe it or not, the climax will resolve most major plot threads, something I wish other authors (read: Robert Jordan) would do more often, while leaving enough open for the next installment.

Goodkind’s world is less complex than others. The New World, composed of Westland, Midlands, and D’Hara, is where magic still has a hold, while the much more vast, mostly unknown, Old World is devoid of magic. Most of Richard’s adventures take place in Midlands, though its geography and people aren’t all known at first; new kingdoms and realms are introduced along the way. Like many other fantasy realms, Goodkind-land of the present has but a shell of the richness and splendor of the past, in this case 3000 years ago before the time of the Great War. The number of magic wielders diminishes with each passing generation, and the magic that remains is no longer as powerful as it once was. Goodkind’s “magic” is a complex and mysterious entity, not as well characterized as, say, Robert Jordan’s One Power. Wizards and sorceresses call on their “Han” to cast “webs” of magic, or they can conjure spells and embed them in or invoke them from magical objects. Some aspects of the “gift” are unexpected, such as the ability to see or interpret prophecy. It’s not always clear what magic can or cannot accomplish. Adding to that are the humans and creatures, created with or warped by magic and themselves possess unique magical abilities. The resulting mix can be confusing, but leads to exciting, unexpected possibilities.

Unlike many other fantasy epics, Goodkind’s heroes are threatened by a variety of evil characters. The Sauron/Dark One archetype is represented here by the Keeper of the Underworld; besides that there are the evil wizard, Darken Rahl, evil spirits, evil underworld forces, evil beasts, evil humans. In the latter part of the series, the principal antagonist is an evil emperor with a deadly power. Added to the mix are secondary entities who are no less dangerous and disruptive, such as the Blood of the Fold and the Sisters of the Dark. Good-doers are never completely safe in this world.

One appealing aspect of the series is the human relationship between the characters. Complex, profound, and very human emotions are always there, bubbling beneath the surface, ready to burst open. Readers can’t help but find themselves taking a personal interest in the well-being of many characters. On the flip side, Goodkind also fashion many twisted villains who can exasperate and infuriate — a tribute to his craftsmanship.

Goodkind brings a mix of many adult themes to the story. This is not a series for young readers, though I don’t think Goodkind’s writings is as graphically perverse as some reviewers have claimed. He crosses the line occasionally, but for the most part doesn’t do more than is necessary for advancing the plot. The inclusion of themes can make his world “darker” than kinder, gentler places such as Jordan’s. Aside from the usual mix of love, lust, sexuality, loyalty, treachery, there are touches on infidelity, homosexuality, human sacrifice, prostitution, slavery, pedophelic practice, misogyny. Goodkind’s world is also violent, one in which blood is spilled copiously and without remorse. Nevertheless, these attributes make Goodkind’s world more realistic and potentially appealing to the mature reader.

Originally posted Dec 13, 2002 on Amazon.com