Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind is the first volume of sizeable series The Sword of Truth, counting eleven issues. It starts in the backwater Westlands where two strange things happen to woodsguide Richard who only recently lost his father. He is bitten by a strange plant and shortly thereafter helps the beautiful yet mysterious Kahlan escape from deadly pursuers — which all die in the process. Shocked by this experience, the otherwise peacefully living Richard is intrigued by the apparently foreign and rather tightlipped woman. He learns that she is looking for a powerful wizard who lives in exile in the Westlands; he turns out to be his life-long friend and mentor Zedd.
The two tell Richard of tyrant Darken Rahl who seeks to dominate all three territories — Westlands, Midlands and D’Hara — through brutal rule and powerful magic. Zedd names Richard Seeker of Truth and therewith proclaims him the one hero who can save the world from Rahl. Without further ado the little group sets out for the Midlands, Rahls agents on their tracks. Our heros are not helpless, though, having the magic of Wizard of the First Order Zedd, that of Richard’s Sword of Truth and a mysterious power of Kahlan’s at their disposal.
As you can see, Wizard’s First Rule is a good old orphan-becomes-hero tale. As such it is easy to grasp and follow. Goodkind has a pleasant style, if sometimes a little longwinded. Some episodes, especially Richard’s captivity, had my hair standing on end, literally. Others were sweetly malicious, for instance Rachel’s part. The main characters are easy to identify with; thank you, archetypes. To be fair, there are numerous inner and inter character conflicts that are very well engineered and spice the book up significantly, driven by secrets some of which even the reader does not know the truth of.
Interesting for me were a number of nods in Tolkien’s direction: a witch telling prophecies, an allmighty magic trinket, a destroyed former bearer of same, the notion of pure evil and an almost extinct magical breed are only some. Thankfully, there are no Orc-style grunts that can be killed off indiscriminately without second thoughs. In fact almost no open confrontations and killings happen around the heros. I liked that a lot, especially in contrast to the TV series adaption Legend of the Seeker. The story somehow resembles Star Wars, too; “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi First Wizard Zedd!” is only one example. I should also mention there is quite some situational humor to be found, especially concerning Zedd’s eating habits.
Sadly, there is also plenty less than ideal. It took me a while to get used to Goodkind’s narrative mode; he seems to be trapped somewhere between third-person subjective and objective. While we get all character feelings in great detail, we get almost no rational thought. Therefore, at least Richard’s point of view has whole pages of passionate inner reflection, often with the same phrase repeated over and over, after which he comes to a completely unprepared solution to an unrelated problem. There are no real mysteries; things are either unknown or so vehemently declared true that you can not really wonder. Also, Goodkind often tells instead of showing things, a style that increasingly tends to irritate me nowadays.
All major story elements are very simple. The evil is evil by declaration of some characters and not really shown to be so; there was large potential for a twist there, sadly wasted. The sword’s magic and ethics are for the most time a rather shallow thing: as long as Richard is angry, he is supposed to kill and feel justified about it. This kind of morale — be with us or die — is a constant undertone and not very pleasant. Characters are either completely good or despisable — and therefore killable. There is no middle ground. I have not yet figured out wether Goodkind did this on purpose and will shove the characters off some cliffs of revelation later, or wether this is how he thinks a world should function.
All in all, Wizard’s First Rule is a decent first volume. I am looking forward to the follow-up volumes waiting on my shelf and hope for significant broadening of scope and more depth.
Wizard’s First Rule: people are stupid. [...] they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.