Wizard's First Rule
by Terry Goodkind
TOR Sci-fi/Fantasy, September 1994
This review, condensed, can also be found at Amazon.com. An attempt has been made to keep "spoilers" to a minimum; however, be aware that they may exist in this review.
In this novel, Goodkind gives us a story which, at first glance, seems typical of fantasy. A lowly woodsman (Richard Cypher) meets a strange woman (Kahlan Amnell) wandering in the woods, "rescues" her from her pursuers, falls in love with her, and discovers that he has a Great Destiny to fulfill. By the end of the book, he has deposed the big bad guy (Darken Rahl), who just happens to be his father even if he doesn't know it, with the help of a wizard (Zedd) who just happens to be his grandfather. Fairly straightforward, fairly standard. Some claim that it is a typical fantasy plot with cardboard characters.
No, wait. You aren't getting off that easily. Cardboard characters act according to a very simplistic pattern and their actions are often quite easily categorized as "good" and "bad". Darken Rahl might be classified as cardboard; however, the protagonists cannot be. Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd keep secrets, tell lies, and even kill. They are forced to do bad things--sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
This is not to say that the book is a masterpiece. In fact, the style and parts of the plot fall very much short of Robert Jordan, whose writing the series has been compared to. This is nothing like the Wheel of Time; then again, it doesn't appear that it was intended to be. There are things that are just a little too convenient, things that are a little illogical, and of course far too much graphic violence. The style is flat and sounds unfinished, perhaps a little stilted. It needs polished. The whole book needs polish.
On the other hand, it's not all bad. Goodkind may need work on style, he may throw in "coincidences" that are no such thing, but he has the gift of storytelling. In spite of the annoying parts of the story, the reader is drawn into the world that he has created. With or without "polish", certain scenes evoke a strong response in the reader and draw them farther in. This is the "hook" of the whole thing--not an outstanding plot or creative magic (although it is) or witty dialogue or complex characters, but excellent storytelling.
The climax of the book, where our protagonists face down Darken Rahl, is especially well-done. The reader is prepared for a simple ending when Kahlan and Zedd see Rahl, but shocked to realise (as Zedd does) that it is not Rahl; it is Richard! Anticipation comes to a head and the heart nearly stops as Kahlan releases the power she holds as Mother Confessor into Richard. Disappointment, as Richard becomes the servile thing one who has been touched by a Confessor must be; then joy, as he reveals that the touch didn't affect him after all. The fact that the "love conquers all" theme is a little cliché is overshadowed by the presentation of the scene.
All in all, Wizard's First Rule is a good book--not stellar, but good. It could be worse; it could be better. Whether the reader will enjoy it depends on how he or she reads; those who are not affected by the emotions displayed by the characters will find themselves bored or disgusted, but those who are easily caught up by said emotions will find themselves unable to put the book down.
(3 ½ stars/B+ for craft, C+ for art)
Copyright Sara Fawbush 1999.
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