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Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
2.5
Book Name: Wizard’s First Rule
Author: Terry Goodkind
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 15, 1995

A couple of years ago, whilst my best friend and I were browsing through my local Borders (which also happens to be one of the many affected by the liquidation of the company) for new writers to sink our reading-hungry fangs into, our eyes fell upon a novel called Wizard’s First Rule. My best friend promptly told me that one of his other friends had sung the praises of the novel, so we picked up the two copies, along with a couple of other books.

My best friend is no longer friends with that other guy.

…Okay, maybe that’s not the reason for the end of their friendship. But it may have been a contributing factor! Now, I know what you’re all thinking: the book can’t be that bad, right? After all, it launched the career of a fantasy author who has written nine books in the same series and two tie-in novels. On top of that, the novels were the inspiration for the television series Legend of the Seeker! Surely, anything that can last that long and have a show on television can’t be all that bad, right?

The story revolves around Richard Cypher, who spends his days walking through the wooded mountains near his home. During one such trip, he encounters a young, beautiful woman named Kahlan Amnell, who just happens to be chased by an armed band of killers. After a ‘daring’ rescue, the two slowly become close and embark on a quest to save their respective lands from the threat of a sadistic king who controls the hearts and minds of his people through fanaticism. Not to mention the powers of the Underworld. And did I mention he’s also looking for three boxes which either contain the power to destroy all who oppose him, himself, or all life completely? Seems like an important thing, doesn’t it?

I went into this book with every intention of coming here to sing its praises. Or to at least say there were some things I found to be redeemable and worth the read. Unfortunately, as I sit here typing this, with the book next to me, I am having trouble thinking of any highlights or points that were particularly worthy of remembrance. The back-story for the world is pretty intriguing, and I do like the very Pandora’s Box-esque plot device that is the boxes, and some of the monsters encountered throughout are interesting. But, even those aspects do little to raise my enjoyment of the story. If anything, I wish this book was about the war Kahlan describes, since it was by far more interesting than the story presented here.

Perhaps my biggest issue, and the thing that really sucks any level of enjoyment out of the story, are the characters. Richard starts off as a promising protagonist: he’s clever, resourceful, has practical knowledge on survival skills and a sense of duty that makes him initially likeable. Kahlan starts off as mysterious, and exudes an almost other-worldly presence. However, once these two meet up with Zed; an old man with a voracious appetite and has a habit of reading clouds, the two heroes are siphoned of all likeability. Richard obtains a Sword of Truth (I could swear Terry Brooks called, asking for his Magoffin back), and instantly becomes a hot-headed fool whose preferred method of diplomacy makes my Renegade Femshep look like a kindergarten teacher. Kahlan cannot seem to make up her mind about her role: sometimes she acts as intelligent and capable as before, and others she devolves into a whimpering, introverted sack. This is especially jarring once we find out what she is.

And speaking of that, Richard, Zed, and Kahlan all seem to share the burden of keeping secrets from the others. This is all well and good, since it would help increase tension amongst the group and give us a sense that the party could fall apart at any moment. That is, however, if they were not all open about the fact they’re keeping secrets, and the majority of their discussions are on the nature of keeping secrets for their own protection. So in other words, we have a party of heroes who are totally open with the fact they’re keeping secrets from one another. What’s even more jarring is that we as the audience are privy to all of their secrets right from the very beginning, which is perhaps the biggest mistake that could be made. If we were kept in the dark about these secrets, then their reveals would have been more interesting and we would have had some emotional investment. But as it is played out here, it’s just frustrating.

Out of all of the heroes, there were only three who I found genuinely likeable: a border warden named Chase, who vanishes for a huge chunk of the novel, a wizard who we’re supposed to dislike – he doesn’t appear until halfway through the book, and Rachel, the slave and playmate to a wicked and cruel princess who reminds me of the prince in a Game of Thrones who still gets breastfed even when he’s ruling. Rachel is by far a more interesting, engaging, and proactive hero in the story, and the tale of her courage almost saves the novel for me. Almost. Honestly, I wish the story was all about her.

Now, you’re probably wondering where the villains are, yes? Well, I was wondering the same thing to, as we don’t get to meet them formally until nineteen chapters in. Yes, nineteen chapters. And when we do meet them, they could not be more blatantly evil if they had mustaches specifically groomed for twirling, black capes, and elongated top hats. The evil king, Darken Rahl, is probably one of the weirdest and most emotionally and mentally scarred characters I’ve read about in a while. His back-story, mannerisms, and reasons should have given us cause to sympathize with him, but as a reader I felt utterly repulsed. And not in a good way, either. It does not help that his right-hand man is a pedophile. If only Chris Hansen was around.

Much of the story takes place out in the wilderness, with few scenes taking place in actual cities or established settlements. This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that the few towns we visit are rather generic and unmemorable. Perhaps the most interesting place the heroes travel to is the village of the Mud People, where we get to explore a complicated and ritualistic society.

As one could imagine, I had a hard time trying to enjoy this novel. I really wanted to give it a shot, but I just couldn’t find it in me to enjoy it. I respect Terry Goodkind for his work and for the fact he found the strength to finish a novel. I also found some of the monsters to be interesting and legitimately frightening. However, in the end, a story should be about the characters, and here the characters just weren’t enough to make me care. Perhaps what makes it even worse is that all of the characters share some form of stupidity. The most glaring case is when we meet Michael, Richard’s brother, who was just elected to his town’s council and makes a promise to ban fire. Yes. Fire.

I part by saying that this is all my opinion. If you find the characters to be interesting or refreshing, or if you can get some sense of thrill and enjoyment from this novel, then I’m really happy for you. Honestly, I wish I could have found something to praise outside of the history and monsters.

And in case you were wondering…yes, I have seen the show.

And it sucks.

Narrative: Fluid enough for the story that it tells. Descriptions are good, and the action works well. – 3/5

Heroes: The weakest aspect of the story. – 1/5

Villains: There was potential to make a three-dimensional villain, but it feels like it was wasted. – 2/5

World: Some aspects seem interesting, but not enough to make this world one that stands out. – 3/5

Magic System: Despite all the rules associated with the magic system, it was hard to get a grasp on it. – 3/5

Plot: Never did I feel any sense of tension or drama throughout the piece. – 2/5

Overall: 2.5/5

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Rating: 7.1/10 (14 votes cast)
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, 7.1 out of 10 based on 14 ratings
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14 Comments

  1. These books are only worth reading for the unintended comedy value. Some of the things that happen in the later books make the banning fire thing look convincing and eminently sensible. I’d probably give the book one star, but the problem you have then is that you need to leave lower scores free for the far worse books later on (though even so SOUL OF THE FIRE would still be well into negative score territory).

  2. Khaldun says:

    Alas, I actually enjoyed this novel when I first read it. Part of the reasons, I would guess, was that I was around 15 years old and didn’t really know what to read. I probably assumed, wrongly, that since the books took up so much space at the local Chapters that they had to be good. I bought most of the series when I was younger, but a single recent attempt at a rereads did not go well.

  3. jayiin says:

    I agree with a lot of your review, but you did one thing that makes it hard for me to read you as a credible reviewer – and that is, you got your facts wrong. The character of ‘Rebecca’ is actually ‘Rachel’ – and you’re right her story is fascinating, especially the sacrifice of Geller to protect her.

    I also wish you had mentioned one of the most tragic figures – Denna.

    I think the novel lost me in the character of Richard. I DO enjoy a white-hat hero quite a bit; I love characters who are good guys for the sake of being good guys, but I dislike perfect characters who, just by their presence make everything better for everyone.

    • Overlord says:

      thanks for the correction! 🙂

      N.B. When you read as many fantasy novels as we do at the faction it’s quite easy to get confused with names 😉 I did it by calling Kylar – Kyler in one of my reviews for example and Kelsier – Kaiser… It’s tough when you read 40-50 books a year and then need to remember the name of one character of many in any one of those books.

  4. Well, I confess: I loved this book. I think I probably still love this book, even with it’s flaws. I see them, I know they’re coming, I agree with most of your points, but I still love this book the way I love comfort food like meatloaf and potatoes. Yes, Richard is over the top. Yes, Kahlan can be a little bipolar. Yes, Zed is caricature. But I still love this book. 🙂

    @Jaylin–Yes! Thank you! I knew Rebecca wasn’t her name, but I couldn’t remember her real name. It’s been a long time since I read this….

    I think the character of Denna was actually one of the primary reasons for reading the book. But I’m a sucker for a forgiveness and mercy angle.

    Amy

  5. ChrisMB87 says:

    I stand corrected and apologize for getting her name wrong, as well as missing out on a character. In the future I will take more detailed notes when I review and make sure to follow them. I hope this does not dissuade anyone from reading any of my reviews or articles in the future.

    • No, not at all! Yeesh, I can barely remember my kids’ names sometimes, and the book did come out sixteen years ago. Actually, your analysis itself was pretty thoughtful and accurate. We can forgive flubs on detail. 🙂 And I appreciate that you weren’t just a hater on this book, because some of the most vitriolic things I’ve seen on the Internet involve this book and its sequels. You were pretty even-handed about it overall, I thought. 🙂

      Amy

      • ChrisMB says:

        I’m glad to hear that, Amy! I still feel bad for flubbing so bad, and I do think this may have been one of my weaker pieces.

        The way I see it is, although I’m a fan of fantasy and a budding writer myself, I don’t feel that I’m entitled to fully berate a book or become totally offensive to the material. It’s obviously popular for a reason, and this was all just a matter of opinion. If anything, I felt slightly intimidated going into this, as I’ve yet to professionally publish anything of my own. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone who genuinely enjoyed this book (and I should mention that I actually encourage everyone to pick up the books I review, regardless of my opinion), as well as the writers themselves. As widespread as fantasy fans and writers are today, we’re still a relatively small community.

        I should also mention I appreciate any constructive criticism on my reviews. As this is only my second review, and it was the first one I did on a book I was unfamiliar with from the beginning, I expected there might be problems with this that I could not foresee.

        Here’s hoping you guys will be reading my next review when it comes up in two weeks 🙂

    • Khaldun says:

      I’m going to assume that you’re not a robot and that you can make mistakes. I was able to figure out which character you were talking about anyways and get the gist of the review despite the error, so no worries.

      @Amy. Yes, the people that hate these books hate them passionately. About as passionately as I love A Song of Ice and Fire (which is a lot). In fact I almost hesitated in even posting that I liked these books when I was 15 for fear of the backlash (and for you predators lurking out there, note that I won’t ever reread them).

      • Khaldun, I love ASOIAF passionately, too. Far better books than Goodkind’s, that’s for sure! I gave up on the SOT novels after number 4, I think, but I don’t HATE them. I just got tired of the characters. They didn’t grow, but that’s partly because Goodkind didn’t leave room for them to grow or change because they were too idealized in the first novel (at least within their universe). I’m trying really hard not to make the same mistakes with my characters. I want my heroes and heroines to be flawed and willing to grow past their flaws. I think that’s something GRRM does brilliantly–especially with Jaime Lannister! After AFFC, I thought, “Okay, crap–now I actually *like* Jaime!” Curse you, GRRM! 🙂

        Ack, sorry to hijack this post away from Mr. Goodkind. I think his ego will survive. 😉

        • Khaldun says:

          GRRM does something that most other authors struggle to do: move the plot forward. Life is all about change, and his novels lives certainly do go through a lot of it. Most of the time once an author gets characters established and gets comfortable with what’s going on they just kind of recycle various scenarios and avoid doing anything that might upset that delicate balance. I have no idea how George does it in his novels and makes it all work. As far as I’m concerned, he is by far the best living epic fantasist.
          Also, agreed about Jaime. I also like the Hound.

  6. Sean Patrick Giblin says:

    A well written review and in some cases I agree, especially about the show, it does suck. But I am a fan of Goodkinds work, I put off the Wheel of Time to finish this series and even though there are some problems in the first book, It seemed to me on reading the whole series that the first book was almost like a giant prologue, it was needed, but the story gets so much bigger and better. There is a bigger reason for events which take place in the first book but as they say you’ll have to RAFO.

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