Thursday, March 08, 2007

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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That pretty much sums it up. I hope you learned your lesson

10:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't listen to moose, we need more stellar reviews on works of the great Tairy. I suggest Faith of the Fallen next, it's the preachiest of all the Yearded One's books. If you can get through it without killing yourself you will become immortal.

10:19 pm  
Blogger Red Templar said...

Your ordeal is over - you've finished it now. Exhale deeply, fix yourself a nice, big drink, and go bleach your eyeballs.

5:32 pm  
Blogger A.R.Yngve said...

If you want satirical fantasy, read a Discworld novel. Of the two Terrys, Pratchett leaves Goodkind eating dust.

12:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would feel sorry for you, but then I realized that you did this to yourself. Mad moose was right. I hope it hurt enough so that you won't forget.

2:05 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

sorry guys, i hate to tell you, but there has to be some sort of dislike for the genre here.i simply cannot believe someone dislikes these books. perhaps your perception is clouded? or maybe you just don't like to be involved. welcome to the real world kiddies, your opinion is different, and very much disliked. in point of fact, this is rated with Lord Of The Rings and other great fantasy novels, which is why i regret to tell you that it's coming out in a series later this year.
Best wishes with your bad taste
~Matty P

12:44 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

I've read the whole series. "I want my money back" would be the nicest thing I could say about it.

And Matthew... I read a lot of fantasy novels including LOTR. Even comparing Tolkiens work with Terry's is an affront.

9:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree on the rehashing of the story being annoying. Thankfully, in later books it's less prevalent. Despite that, these books are nowhere near as bad as you rate them. I get you don't like them, but come on, the things you've pointed out that you don't like can't honestly get to you that much. If they do, you need to stop taking things so seriously and read books for enjoyment. If you don't like something theres no need to blow up to the point you have. Nobody held a knife to your throat and told you to read it.
So dry up your tears sunshine. You take this too seriously.

1:59 pm  
Blogger Alice said...

What can I say? I like to suffer for my art.

*cries into hanky*

11:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the hell. You people who already read the book! what are you saying??? that maybe its not a good series or maybe your little brains are just too small to comprehend that this was no ordeal to read this book! You are just saying what others want you to say this book was good i'd say not his best work but it was still good. Unless you did not really enjoy reading it but you just thought it would be funny to critisize a book that is normal and better than your average work. I mean he paints a picture in your head that shows the detail of what he wants you to see. I mean if you say "The cow goes moo!" its boring but if you describe the cow and how the moo sounded it already makes it more interesting! you all are just too stupid to comprehend that this book was good and if you did not like it why read the next???? You should stop trying to think of stuff just to nag about it but point out the good stuff then slip in the bad at the end so you don't piss anyone off! I mean if he did not want you to know about what the characters were like and stuff like that than why even write a book in the first place?? Moose i just say to you if you don't like it don't read his books anymore even though they get better and myshkin how will you become immortal???? its a book! Red templar go do that yourself but don't tell me what to do if i like it. I can clearly comprehend what is happening and try to visualize what happens! TRY IT!!!! The person who said it was a good series Kudo's to you! If you did not like it then just get lost! Its a great series that puts the characters through real problems real people would face! Why not read cinderella or a princess story if you want the great the hero does not even get scratched in a fight or slays the dragon with no problems at all! This is the closest Fantasy thing to real it will get all i got to say is ITS A GREAT SERIES AND WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???

8:28 pm  
Anonymous somewheresouth said...

Hey, thanks for the review. Very funny. Though somewhat outshone by the brilliant rant in the comments. Says it all really, doesn't it? I hope it's fantastically ironic, or there really are nutters on the interwebs ... oh wait ... well, hopefully they won't breed... I think I'll have another baileys now.

1:01 pm  
Anonymous Owen said...

I'm not sure which I appreciate more--the condescension of TG's fans who assume that no one could possibly honestly dislike the Sword of Trooth books, so those of us who despise them must be juvenile, stupid, jealous, envious, pathetic, tasteless, or possessed of a great hatred for moral clarity/Goodkind qua Goodkind/the fantasy genre as a whole.

Or the fact that their posts defending said works/attacking said critics are so poorly written. Life imitating art?

And when the politics and 'philosophy' are so deeply ingrained in the story, it means that hating those political or philosophical views is a valid reason (if one needs to validate their opinion on something like literature) for hating the books.

P.S. The fact that TG used my name in his books makes me sad.

11:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking about starting this DESPITE how bad the previous Temple of the Winds was, since I scored a free copy of it. I think I'll pass after this review. Goodkind's writing chops are leave A LOT to be desired, but I'll admit enjoying the hell out of the first two novels, despite their complete predictability and simplistic writing. Temple of the Winds was pretty awful. The entire plot "tension" seems to have been contrived to produce the basic tension that drove the earlier stories, that of Kahlan and Richard not being able to get together. This was a funny series to read after reading 12 Gene Wolfe books. talk about contrast in quality.

12:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first book was amazing, the second was interesting but by the time I got to the fifth my opinion is much the same as your. The only reason I am still reading it is because I cannot let a book I have started to go unread. I also spend 6 bucks on the book...

5:02 am  

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