Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sword of Truth series review

When I read Wizards first rule what would have been four or five years back I was impressed. Sure there were some rough edges but this was Goodkind’s first book those could be addressed. The story was relatively original, the writing was solid and the characters were interesting. It seems I was too optimistic.

Books two, three and four can be summed up as the ‘invent a new villain for Richard to save the world from’ books. This usually involved adding a new area to the world where this threat originated from. In sum this was the result of poor plotting, giving very little thought to future installments to concentrate on the now. It also illustrates poor world building skills. The first book gives the impression that the midlands is filled with a variety of magical creatures, yet very little mention is made of these in subsequent books. There was also an element of plagiarism, the sisters of the light introduced in the second book were so similar to the way that Aes Sedai in Wheel of Time are portrayed and organized that they had to have been copied.

Book five was bad, there is no way around it. One POV was from a character who had no redeemable qualities. That is a feature of Goodkind’s characters they are either very good or very evil, there is no grey whatsoever. Characters can however move from one state to another, for example the incredibly evil Nicci turns incredibly good.

Book six, Faith of the Fallen, was by far the strongest in the series and I really enjoyed it. This was the first book Goodkind’s put forward his (Aryan Rand’s) philosophy and by far the book
where it is best articulated in the series. It didn’t feel like it was being forced down my throat and the character Nicc intrigued me.

Book seven was okay but the series went down hill rapidly from there. The last four books can be summed up as Richard giving long, elaborate, yet poorly articulated lectures. The quality in the writing really deteriorates as well. In the end Goodkind turned his series into a platform for the seemingly perfect Richard and Kahlan to spout his philosophy. Yet even this is unsuccessful as incidentally these characters are huge hypocrites. Somewhere in the middle books Kahlan orders that her half-brother be executed, the reason being that he is following the orders of his full-sister the queen of a small country in withdrawing their troops from the central army to protect their own country. So much for the rights of everyone to live their lives as they see fit (as long as they don’t impinge on other’s same right) and to take responsibility for themselves. It seems almost as arbitrary as something Jagang, the evil villain, would do. At the end of the series Richard dooms future generations to having no afterlife for the sins of their forefathers. A tad evil and overkill wouldn’t you say? Interestingly the more moderate character of Zed is appalled by such actions, especially the former, highlighting the protagonists hypocrisy. I don’t think the author did this intentionally either which is kind of interesting in itself.

The worst part about this series is that the author never smoothes those rough edges, his writing ability has in fact regressed by the final volume. In sum I would say that the
Sword of Truth is a below average fantasy series that is marred by poor plotting. It is a
shame the few decent books were dragged down by the rest. 5.5/10

Wizards first Rule (7/10)
Stone of Tears (6/10)
Blood of the Fold (6/10)
Temple of the Winds (6/10)
Soul of Fire (5/10)
Faith of the Fallen (8/10)
The Pillars of Creation (6/10)
Naked Empire (5/10)
Chainfire (5/10)
Phantom (5/10)Confessor (4.5/10)

Confessor Review

One would expect that the concluding book in an eleven book series would get on with resolving story arcs introduced in previous volumes. Sadly this seems to be only a side concern for Goodkind’s final installment of the Sword of Truth Series. The first third of the book consists of a combination of the repetition of events that happened in previous books and exploring the motivation of various characters usually in the form of a monologue or in characters preaching to other characters in longwinded, drawn out speeches about Goodkind’s (or should I say Aryn Rand’s) philosophy.

The first problem with this is of course that having read the previous volumes this is largely unnecessary or at the very least should not take two hundred plus pages, people shouldn’t be starting the series at the concluding book after all. But if Goodkind really felt he needed to put this in he could have put it in a prologue, thus giving the reader a chance to skip it.

The second problem is that Goodkind has been spouting his philosophy for the last six books of the series, you’ve put you point across already give it a rest. All of this could have been avoided through the influence of a good and firm editor. Sadly there is no evidence to suggest there even was an editor. For example Goodkind consistently uses insure when the in the context of the sentence he should be using ensure. This might sound like nitpicking but this occurs at least seven or eight times throughout the text, this is Goodkind’s eleventh book for crying out loud, he should know better. Having said that when things actually do happen Goodkind pulls it off reasonably well. This of course consists of the siege of the people’s palace, Richard’s attempt to save Kahlan from Jangang and the whole boxes of orden/chainfire issue. Although it did annoy me that the author seemed insistent on giving the majority of characters who appeared in previous volumes cameos, not to advance the story but just whimsically.

Without giving too much away there is a conclusion of sorts but there are still issues that were central to previous volumes that go unaddressed, most notably the ‘monster’ child Richard and Kahlan were supposed to have. Overall this is by far the weakest offering in the series, 4.5/10.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Erikson’s first book, Gardens of the Moon, didn’t do it for me. I saw glimpses of something that seemed to have so many people raving about it but that’s about it. There was simply too much going on and not enough of an explanation for things that the characters took for granted, most of those characters felt flat as well. Therefore it will come as no surprise that it took a few hundred pages to feel like I was into the book to any degree.

In that way Deadhouse Gates is similar to its predecessor, it took me two hundred odd pages to get into the book, having said that there were vast improvements. Erikson characterization has improved immensely, I now actually care about what happens to these characters, some of which I was largely indifferent about in the first book.

There is still a lot going on. Kalam and Fiddler are attempting to assassinate the empress of the Malazan empire, under the pretext of taking Apsalar back to her village. There is a massive and bloody rebellion going on in the seven cities. Icariun is wandering around looking for a way to get back his memory. All of that is just a fraction of the different events unfolding. One of Erikson’s strengths is the way he brings these seemingly unrelated events together. The author is like a master weaver sowing together a rich tapestry of a story through all these seemingly divergent threads.

Despite all of these considerable improvements there are still a few problems. There is still a lot about the way this world works that is unexplained, that really annoys me since the characters take it all for granted. Also Erickson seems to write his way out of corners with seemingly miraculous and yes still unexplained mechanisms and events. For an author who some class as “realistic fantasy” this doesn’t fly with me.

Overall though Erickson has made tremendous strides from his first book, the second is well worth a read. Still I can’t see more than glimpses of what some readers are raving on about. Maybe in the next book? 7.25/10.