Book Review: Wizard's First Rule
Wizard’s First Rule is the first book of Terry Goodkind’s expansive fantasy series “The Sword of Truth.” In it you can find the seeds that would later blossom into the mainstays of the series, specifically; tossing out dozens of world building ideas without ever rooting them to any sort of history or meaning, sexual violence against women and the odd pseudo-conservative political mumbling that would later blossom into a multi-book tirade against communism.
I didn’t dislike the Wizard’s First Rule as a story on its surface, there were parts that meandered off into obscurity but the main thrust of it was a fun little chosen-one adventure with some usual pulpy trailer-park-universe “Star Wars” style twists. Outside of characterisation the writing was fun and the surface world-building was interesting enough as long as it was never examined too closely. The systems of magic in the book are quite convoluted, with rules that seem to flex and adjust depending upon the needs of the hero. It seems like Wizard’s First Rule had all of the components to become a decent fantasy book but instead of the pieces being fitted together they were just laid out to be examined.
The centrepiece of the story, the mostly overlooked McGuffin that draws the protagonists into the villain’s machinations, are the Boxes of Orden, a neat little plot device that allows trickery rather than violence or ill-defined magical power to prevail. Which would have been fantastic if the protagonist hadn’t displayed the intelligence of a side of beef up until that point.
The romance between Richard and Kahlan is meant to be the emotional heart of the book but it has no depth. His relationships with other characters are similarly shallow. The eccentric wizard Zedd is the only one with any personality whatsoever and even that is a fairly cookie-cutter trickster-mentor archetype. Goodkind clearly had scenes in mind that he wanted to explore and everything in between was just there to keep things moving forward, the plot flowed along perfectly but the directions that it took didn’t always seem logical. Many of the characters introduced serve no purpose to the story. There was also a very uncomfortable sense that Goodkind was writing some of these scenes for his own gratification rather than to serve the story. I am by no means a prude, sexuality is an integral part of the human experience and speculative fiction that ignores it runs the risk of completely disconnecting from the reader, but Goodkind’s pedestrian understanding of sadism coupled with the absence of any positive depictions of sexuality make for a book that seems to be pushing a very negative agenda.
I can’t help but think that my opinions of this book are coloured by the direction that the rest of the series went, escalating the fairly minor problems of this story into a series that I would be uncomfortable being seen reading in public. I wish that I could say this was related to his objectivist politics but honestly this series is one of the better explorations of that subject, surpassing Ayn Rand’s original stories with ease and even holding up a direct comparative mirror to Atlas Shrugged in one of the later stories.
The actual writing is good, it just serves no purpose. The expressions of the world building are good but there is no cohesion. It is a frustrating book, overflowing with potential that I know never gets fulfilled.