Book Review: Wizard’s First Rule

19315199A preview of the new series Legend of the Seeker on TV last Fall got me to finally pick up Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, the novel upon which the first season of the show is based. 

Wizard’s First Rule is long and detailed, but not really epic: it concerns a fairly small cast moving in a linear plot line with only a handful of major episodes.  Reading it, one gets whisked away and wonders how the book doesn’t get bogged down when it lovingly explores every nook and cranny of a scene, for chapters at a time.  But, magically, it doesn’t.

Although sometimes the magic wanes and it does get a bit slow.  One long sequence in the middle, about the two main heroes sojourning with an indigenous tribe, goes on too long.  It presents the reader with some excellent daring-do, but we must wade through quite a bit of exposition to be so rewarded. 

Still, despite the occasional speed bump, Wizard’s First Rule engages us and invents far more than enough originality to make the slow patrs worth it.  However, (he said, reversing himself again), on the subject of originality, I must add that some parts of the book are poor copies of the genre classics.  The obvious example here is a creature called Samuel, whose every single characteristic is exactly like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  Goodkind clearly doesn’t need to crib ideas from anyone; why not write Samuel differently?

But the best part of Wizard’s First Rule is its unabashed politics.  That’s right; this is a very political novel.  From the outset, the narrator makes sure we know that the hero is a rugged, Ayn Rand-ian individualist.  Even the earliest glimpses at collectivist characters paint them as thoroughly evil (and makes the primary “surprise” at the end of the book painfully clear, 700 pages ahead of time).  In the book’s best two pages, a queen who gorges herself on the productivity of her people, all in the name of keeping their livelihoods fair and equal (Queen Pelosi, perhaps?), mocks a farmer who dares to insist that he has a right to the fruit of his labor.  She calls him a selfish fool and explains that she’s saving him from those capitalists who would “exploit him for gold.”  Liberalism is, indeed, most ironic. 

One more thing: there is a series of chapters near the end that I hated.  In them, our hero is captured and subjected to a magic torture that not only persists for dozens of pages, but practically wallows in its sado-masochistic twistedness.  Yes, Goodkind uses these scenes to advance the plot in a remarkably clever way, I have to admit, but still, despite there being no outright vulgarity or gore, I found myself so turned off by the intensity of the descriptions of the torture that I essentially skipped most of it, glancing at each page to see if there was anything that looked important.  It was good writing, sure, but classless and unnecessary, the same kind of thing that bothered me about The Dark Knight.  Maybe I’m being squeamish, but if you are too, then be warned. 

Overall, it was an intriguing, enjoyable read.  Would that the TV series could pack it all in.

2 comments on “Book Review: Wizard’s First Rule

  1. Good review. I have just checked it out of the library and getting slightly intimidated by the size. Nice to know that it’s a decent read. Have you completed the rest of the novels in this series?

  2. Nishita, no, I haven’t read any of the others in the series. Goodkind’s writing in excellent, but I have too much else on my “to read” list to justify going back for more. Maybe later on I will, as I did enjoy it and am curious to see where the story goes. It’s no spoiler to say that the hero’s antagonist in the future novels is not the one from the first book, and the series supposedly gets even more libertarian as it goes on. When I’m in the mood for a fun but thoughtful epic fantasy again, I’ll pick up book 2.

    And, FYI, the TV series turned out to have very little in common with the book. The more it went on, the more different it got.

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