Soul of the Fire - Terry Goodkind
Even a casual reader of this blog will realise that I am no fan of Mr Goodkind; you might (sensibly) enquire why the hell I wanted to put myself through the ordeal of reading another of his books. The best I can say is "I thought it would be funny" - there was a sort-of reading group thing going on on the Westeros message boards and I wanted to join in, and this was the only Goodkind book I could find in David's Bargain Bookstore. Remind me never to do this again.
I'd been warned that Soul of the Fire was one of Goodkind's worst books, but to start off with it just looked like more of the usual crap. Everyone's favourite chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken is terrorising the Mud People's village; Richard goes around being a self-important arsehole while the narration tells us how clever and noble he is; über-wizard Zedd has yet another contrived reason why he can't use his magic. It turns out that (yawn) some dark forces inadvertently released at the end of the previous book are now causing all magic to fail, and it's up to the gang to stop them. There's some connection with the land of Anderith, which Richard is currently trying to annex for his Greater D'Haran Empire - but when we get there, the book goes from bad through offensive to downright ugly.
Anderith is the sort of pinko-liberal dystopia that could only have been dreamt up by a frightened conservative with a big axe to grind and no concept of social dynamics. Political Correctness rules the roost; the poor downtrodden Haken majority are unable to speak out against their oppressive Ander overlords for fear of being dubbed racist, imperialist or whatever. Goodkind probably believes this painfully clumsy worldbuilding to be biting satire, when in fact it just comes across as a ludicrous bit of grandstanding. But worse is to come, in the form of Anderith's Minister of Culture, Bertrand Chanboor, and his wife Hildemara. Goodkind himself has admitted that he based these two on the Clintons; knowing this, what would've been clumsy overblown character description becomes a petty and vicious personal attack.
When Dalton Campbell reached to dip his pen, he saw the legs of a woman walking through the doorway into his office. By the thick ankles he know before his gaze lifted that it was Hildemara Chanboor. If there was a woman with less appealing legs, he had yet to meet her.
[Her] dress wasn't nearly as low-cut as those worn lately at the feasts, yet he still found its cut less than refined.
Dalton had always found that a plain woman's kind and generous nature could make her tremendously alluring. The other side of that coin was Hildemara; her selfish despotism and boundless hatred of anyone who stood in the way of her ambition corrupted any appealing aspect she possessed into irredeemable ugliness.
To be honest, if the book had just been evil chickens, neo-con propaganda and a whole load of contrived magical plot devices, it wouldn't have been nearly as awful as it was; the main drawback was actually the soul-crushing tedium of Goodkind's writing style. No-one seems to have told him about the crucial writers' tenet of "show, don't tell" - every action is explained in exhaustive detail, in case we ignorant readers missed what had just happened or couldn't work out the implications for ourselves. It's like a bad comedian explaining his jokes. Characters have lengthy conversations where they remind each other of who they are, what they do and what happened in the last book, and both they and author constantly drop steaming piles of infodump in the way of the story, slowing the pace to a painful crawl.
I've only read two of Goodkind's books, so I can't really say whether or not this is the absolute worst, but it's certainly a lot worse than Stone of Tears. The one redeeming feature is the character of Dalton, who manages to have shades of grey in his personality, unlike nearly all the others who are either Good or Bad; his character is not particularly subtle or believable, but at least it's a start. Other than that, the book is a turgid, didactic mess of one-dimensional characters, deus ex machina plot twists and deeply unlikely societies being used as Goodkind's soap-box. By all means, look at the "best of" quotes and laugh at the evil chicken, but on no account should you attempt reading this abomination of a novel. You have been warned, and I should bloody well have known better.