Wizard’s First Rule (1994)
I’ve read a lot of fantasy books, taking in a variety of authors plying their trade in this highly imaginative field. While I regard Tolkien as the king of the traditional fantasy, a fellow monarch is Terry Pratchett who has amalgamated the genre with humour and taken it in a new direction. Not far behind these two masters is one of the princes of fantasy – Terry Goodkind. His Sword of Truth series covers more than ten novels. I originally purchased the first three entries in the series in a box set and once I began the first book I was immediately hooked by Goodkind’s world. While some entries in the series are better than others – Stone of Tears and Temple of the Winds are among the best – I felt it was most appropriate to choose the novel that started it all – Wizard’s First Rule.
The series begins with a woods guide, Richard Cypher, who lives in the Westland and is investigating the murder of his father. In Goodkind’s world the Westland is separated from the rest of the world by a magic boundary that requires great effort to pass through safely. While searching the woods Richard meets a mysterious woman in white – Kahlan Amnell – whom he saves from four men trying to assassinate her. Kahlan has come from the Midlands, having successfully passed through the boundary, and is in search of the First Wizard. Richard takes her to his friend, Zedd, who reveals himself to be the First Wizard that left the Midlands years ago and travelled to the Westlands. Kahlan brings ill tidings from the Midlands of a fearsome ruler, Darken Rahl, who is bringing devastation to the world while he searches for the third of three boxes that make up Orden, a trio of containers that can give the user absolute power over life and death but only if they open the correct box, opening the wrong one is fatal. Zedd reveals that Richard is to be the new Seeker, ancient warriors that wield the Sword of Truth and appear in times of great adversity for the world to face the purest evil. Richard is the first Seeker in many centuries and reluctantly accepts his destiny, joining Kahlan in making the journey to the Midlands to face Darken Rahl.
The Sword of Truth series always follows the progress of Richard and Kahlan, often dividing between the two whenever they are separated by the forces they are fighting. Theirs is a love story that overcomes many struggles though you often have to smile at their frustrations of never seeming to have any time alone due to another crisis bubbling on the horizon. The plot of Wizard’s First Rule is resolved within the first book and does not continue throughout the other ten novels. Along with Stone of Tears, I felt Wizard’s First Rule was far more detailed than the other entries in the series. The landscape is beautifully recreated and I soon became immersed in Goodkind’s world. In later novels Goodkind seemed more free to focus on the action, having introduced the reader to the background and giving us the look and feel of what is a very convincing world. The traditional battle between good and evil is always engaging in the Sword of Truth series. Darken Rahl is a fearsome villain with his followers, a group of cruel and twisted women in leather outfits – the Mord Sith – proving particularly nasty. Combat is prevalent throughout the series and in later instalments war is fought on a massive scale, especially when the tyrant Jagang also enters the fray.
Wizard’s First Rule introduces many of the core characters that play an active part in the series. Richard may be a woods guide but he is a born leader, one that sees the good in many, no matter how small it may be he will bring it to the surface. Richard’s kindness does not extend to the likes of Darken Rahl of course but even when dealing with those who have wronged him he can find the strength to forgive. Kahlan is a strong, independent woman that perfectly complements Richard though she harbours secrets and unbelievable power of her own. Zedd is something of a closed book in the first novel as the truth of his origins slowly emerges before he delivers a shocking revelation to Richard at the end that changes his life completely. Other characters that appear in Wizard’s First Rule that appear in later novels include Richard’s friend, Chase; Adie, a bone woman; and a witch woman, Shota. Goodkind’s characters all have varying motivations and are not often completely honest with each other. This is a world where friends and foes are always nearby, you just can’t always differentiate between them.
The Sword of Truth series was at its peak with the first four novels – Wizard’s First Rule, Stone of Tears, Blood of the Fold, and Temple of the Winds. Later novels I felt didn’t quite capture the same quality as their predecessors but they are all still highly enjoyable. Tolkien’s work and Pratchett’s Discworld series aside, I currently rate Goodkind’s series as among the finest works of fantasy to date.
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