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Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind is the first volume in a multi-volume fantasy series called The Sword of Truth. This volume, which runs to a chunky 774 pages in paperback, was first published in 1994.
Goodkind, an American author who lives on a forested island off the coast of Maine received a six figure advance for this, his first book, but really, so far at least, while being a solid read it’s little more than fantasy by numbers.
As a teenager I often whiled away whole weekends reading the likes of Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist and David Gemmill. Wizard’s First Rule is pretty much part of that post-Tolkien fantasy canon, no better, no worse. As a teenager I would probably have loved this. However, I’m 32 now and after having read George RR Martin, who takes fantasy to a new level of intricacy and realism, it’s pretty hard to go back. I’ll try to review it as it is, though, rather than as what it’s not.
The world is split in two three parts, Westland, Midland, and D’Hara. Westland has been sealed off from the rest of the world for the last twenty years or so by an invisible “Boundary”, made of magic and protected by tough, soldierly types called Boundary Wardens. Richard Cypher has grown up there, brother to the Westland’s currently leader,
and friend to old Zedd, who lives in a forest.
One day, he comes across a woman in the forest, not far from the Boundary. He rescues her from a group of assassins, and so begins a chain of events that will lead them out of the Westland into Midland, a land of magic, which is now under attack from D’Hara, where all the bad guys are.
Richard is the strong, good-looking and distrusting central character, wonderfully clichéd, while Zedd turns out – surprise surprise – to be the most powerful wizard in the world (and the last, of course, just like Terry Brook’s druid was always the last) who has been pretending to be an old hermit while watching Richard grow up. He can shoot blue fire from his fingers, and he gives Richard a magic sword, the one from the title. Kahlan, the woman, is the only one not straight from a how-to-do-fantasy manual with her secret past, although she is extremely good looking, and falls in love with Richard. Of course, they are forced to stay just friends, for reasons that are explained over the course of the book.
The three of them are forced to go on a quest to save the world, and are accompanied by Chase, a tough, grizzled Boundary Warden and master of weapons in the Aragorn vein. Their enemy is the aptly named Darken Rahl, who can control bad magic as well as good, rather like, say, Anakin Skywalker. He’s considered all powerful.
This is the kind of teenage-orientated fantasy where no one goes to the toilet, no one gets laid, no one swears, no major characters die, etc., etc. There is rape and pillaging, but it all happens off screen. The characters often come across villages of dead people, and survivors talk (or not, as the case may be) about the “unspeakable things” that happened to them. This is very much traditional fantasy. The one time Richard’s anatomy is referred to, Goodkind calls it “his sex”, which made me chuckle. Even a ten-year-old knows it’s called a penis.
Anyway, with the clichés out of the way, the story gets into the complicated part that is supposed to make it stand out. Darken Rahl has taken control of two of the three “Boxes of Orden”, which once he has “put them into play” he has to carry out his plan within a month. He can’t find the other box – so Richard and his friends must try to get there first and stop him, although Rahl doesn’t know the rules for opening the boxes either – they are contained in The Book of Counted Shadows, which, conveniently enough, was stolen many years ago by Richard’s father. Richard, you see, has another secret – as a teenager he memorized the entire book, which was then destroyed. Confused? Yeah, me too.
It’s actually pretty good for what it is. The characters can be annoying – particularly the relationship between Richard and Kahlan, but they’re very well written and in general it keeps interesting. There’s a lot of moralizing, keeping of secrets, and arguments about the right thing to do. The pacing too, is frustrating. Some sections just drag, like the section with the Mud People, which seems to go on for countless chapters, and really stalls the book, while sections like the part with the witch woman Shota, fly past in a handful of pages.
This is just the first book of the series, so no doubt it’ll get more complicated as it goes on, but on the strength of this first book, if you like, say Brook’s Shannara series, you’ll like this. It’s very similar – lots of monsters with strange names, lots of different types of magic, lots of description but with some decent action set-pieces. If you thought that was formulaic rubbish, however, you probably don’t want to bother with this one. My friend gave me the first and second volumes, so I will probably read the second too just for old times sake, but in one respect it has me pining for the release of the next George RR Martin book in July. Apparently there are twelve volumes, now, including a prequel, putting it up there with Jordan’s Wheel of Time for length.
Recommended, or not, depending on your taste in fantasy.