Posted by: kshayes513 | December 3, 2008

Reading: Wizard’s First Rule

Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind

One thing about being sick for an entire 4 day weekend: it gives me time to read a massive book like this. Normally I avoid doorstop-sized fantasy novels, which I find are often over complex, over wordy and overblown.  I’d still be avoiding this one except for the new series Legend of the Seeker, which is very loosely based on it. After watching the first 2 episodes, I decided to see for myself how badly the show dumbs down a popular series.

Pretty badly, as it turns out. There’s a good story and some good worldbuilding going on here. Normally I wouldn’t read a hundred pages into a book whose writing is so often beginnerish (I say this without fear of offending anyone, since I understand Mr Goodkind has said himself that he wasn’t a terrific writer when he wrote this debut novel). But the story is entertaining, the characters are appealing (and not overly numerous, which is rare in a book this size) and the world is quite vivid, and more original than many a northern European fantasy. It’s good enough that I’ve got the next 2 novels now and will give them a try in the hope that the writing improves with each one.

What’s well done in worldbuilding terms:

The overall political situation and the divided landscape of the 3 kingdoms at stake, and especially the consequences, throughout, of Richard being from the kingdom that has no magic and having to act in the kingdoms where magic is common.

The creatures unique to this world, especially the gars and the tiny fairy creatures (forget their name, sorry). The dragon, while a standard fantasy dragon in many ways, still emerges as a character as well as an archetype.

Some of the magic, especially the powers and spirits from the underworld, the relationship between Richard and the Sword, and the power of the Confessors

In particular, the psychology of all the bad guys, and how they get people to love and follow them, is particularly rich, plausible and scary.

What’s less well done:

Some of the warmer and more tender scenes between the main characters, (especially the only significant love scene, which was clumsy enough to almost make me close the book!); some aspects of the magic are not well thought through, when wizards and others just start throwing spells around without thought, explanation or any cost; and some situations simply strained my disbelief, such as a young child being kept happy and comfortable for days, though buried to his neck in sand. Perhaps Mr. Goodkind doesn’t know this treatment has been used as a form of torture for centuries. Certainly he never thought about how anyone, let alone a child, would feel if they were so immobilized.

And as I mentioned, the weaknesses in the writing itself.  So who cares whether the writing’s not fancy, as long as its a good story? Well, many people don’t care at all. It matters, though, for the same reason we prefer skillful drawings in a graphic novel and realistic effects in a movie. Clumsy writing, like stiff or badly composed drawings, will fail to convey many subtleties of a story. Plus, unskilled writers tend to be much wordier, saying the same thing in several different ways in the same paragraph (hence a lot of the doorstop novels). This is partly the fault of the book’s editors, who could have done a lot more work with the text to tighten and shape it (but then, like most big corporate editors, they probably didn’t have time to do much real editing.)

Still, much more good than bad, so I’m ready to give the next book in the series a look.

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