Stone of Tears - Terry Goodkind (BBHN)
Research purposes. That's my only excuse for reading this travesty of a book. It's not the kind of thing I'd ever pick up in a bookshop normally, but I've been very entertained recently by the Goodkind threads on westeros.org, which convinced me to part with two whole pounds of my hard-earned cash so I could see the train-wreck for myself...
Stone of Tears is part of the "Sword of Truth" series, currently running at about 7 books. From all accounts, what started off as some very average Swords 'n' Sorcery nonsense has now become a vehicle for Goodkind's Objectivist doctrine and right-wing politics. The author now even claims that his books are not "fantasy," and derides any of his fans who dare to enjoy the books for the wrong reasons - presumably the ones who prefer the wizards and leather-clad dominatrices to the long, long speeches about Freedom and the Nobility of the Human Spirit. Or the ones who just read them out of horrified fascination at their sheer awfulness.
The hero of the books is Richard, who is a True Hero in every clichéd sense. A simple woodsman with hidden powers, who turned out to be the son of the evil wizard dark lord, he is strong, handsome, deadly with a blade, with lightning-fast reflexes and awesome yet untapped magical power, irresistable to women and kind to puppies - and not a hint of irony in any of this. He is also the embodiment of heroic and noble values, particularly ones that fit in with Goodkind's own jingoistic and Objectivist views. Any potentially immoral acts committed by Richard are generally written off in "end justifies the means" terms, as Richard's cause is so righteous that everything he does is, by definition, the Right Thing.
Richard comes from the Westlands, where everyone is heroic and free. In the previous book, he travelled from there to the Midlands (yeah, I know) which is a loosely-aligned assortment of kingdoms, riddled with stupid superstitions, often feuding amongst each other and occasionally being overrun by evil goose-stepping dictators. To the east is an even more evil empire, where no-one is free and everyone has to suppress their individuality for the good of the collective... look at all familiar? Unfortunately this is about as subtle as it gets.
The plot is almost as bad as the setting. Some evil nuns want to kidnap the noble Richard, which separates him from Kahlan, his bride-to-be, on the eve of their wedding (oh no!); some dark forces are loose in the land and only Richard has the power to stop them; it has been prophesied that Kahlan will have to be executed to save the world; the evil Stone of Tears has been given by a wise wizard to a small girl for safe-keeping. And it's not just the plot that looks contrived and unnatural - there are all sorts of gems in the details, too. The totally unnecessary monster-sex scene where the evil nuns show exactly how evil they are by, er, consorting with demons; the overly specific plot-device prophecies ("I see Richard dying while wearing a red coat!" "Oh no! I'd better warn Richard never to wear a red coat!") and my personal favourite, the evil magic-draining artifact in the form of a small pewter statue of a wizard holding a crystal, obviously purchased from the local goth tat shop where they sell the unicorn figurines.
To be honest, I'm only halfway through the book, and I only got that far because I deliberately left all other books at home and have nothing else to do on the train. Really bad writing does have a certain appeal, and there are definitely some quality moments, but for the most part the book's just very boring and not even worth reading for the comedy value.