January 22, 2008

Magical Manifesto

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Although Wizard’s First Rule is, strictly speaking, a fantasy novel, sci-fi buffs and laypeople alike will find themselves riveted by the gripping and insightful fiction of Terry Goodkind. The incredibly long novel is the first in an equally long series of books known as the Sword of Truth Chronicles, by The Times Bestselling author.
The story begins with humble woods guide Richard Cypher, who, while hunting for clues concerning the murder of his father, discovers a woman who is much more than she seems, and who needs his help. In turn, the woman, called Kahlan, is able to help Richard uncover the mystery of his father’s death. The two are dragged into an epic struggle against a truly evil tyrant (the discussion of this man and his henchmen leaves you wishing it had been much less detailed), Darken Rahl, who is looking to rule the world or to destroy it. Their adventures are long and dangerous, involving wizards, dragons, aborigines known as Mud People, fearsome sorceresses, and many more. As classic fantasy as this might sound, the story is enthralling. I wanted to read through to the end every time I picked it up, but unfortunately it was far too long for such an endeavor. In any case, there are 10 more novels for me to read, all of equal length or longer.
The story itself is good enough to make the book worth reading, but Goodkind’s writing goes much deeper than just a complex plot (though I will admit that his twists are often predictable, if still inventive). Several underlying messages and meditations pervade the novel. First off, it’s strongly anti-communist. Darken Rahl preaches equal status for all, and goes by the title Father Rahl, while obviously exhibiting all the downfalls of the system — mainly, the fact that he is obviously in charge and favors some, while many languish in poverty. One condemned peasant puts voice to these failings when he is sentenced to death.
Goodkind also uses his various characters to muse on the labels of good and evil, eventually coming to the conclusion that nothing is purely good or purely evil. Finally, Goodkind spends the entire book ruminating on what justifies the taking of a life. He presents several positions (though “nothing,” the option that I would prefer, is noticeably excluded), and seems to come to the tentative conclusion that the intent to kill equals a forfeiture of one’s right to life. As a complete pacifist, I have to ask whether the intent to kill someone who intends to kill is actually a defensible act or simply a different form of intentional violence. As a shameless plug for the book, I’ll just say, and yes I know it’s clichéd, you should read it and see for yourself.
Wizard’s First Rule was a very good book, extremely well-written, with cliff-hangers like you wouldn’t believe, and a talent for keeping the reader going. The prose is rudimentary at time, yet still engaging, and though the descriptions were eloquent I often found myself skimming them in order to more quickly find out what happened next (this is meant to compliment the story-telling as well as the actual writing). I would recommend Terry Goodkind’s book to anyone who has some time to devote to it (though I understand all too well how short such time is at Cornell), and I look forward to reading more of the series.