[while I am scrambling to write enough new reviews to have a decent buffer, I have realized that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be posting the old stuff…]
Terry Goodkind, Wizard’s First Rule (Tor, 1994)
[originally posted 12Feb2002]
Terry Goodkind hasn’t been around as long as some of the fantasy writers who are currently churning out long-winded, seemingly neverending series; Harry Turtledove’s alternate-history alien-invasion World War II series’ first book has been in print longer than most of Goodkind’s whole catalogue. But, as J. R. R. Tolkein and Greg Bear have shown us, you don’t have to be established to come up with a really whiz-bang first novel. Wizard’s First Rule is, most decidedly, a whiz-bang first novel.
The action opens with unassuming woodland guide Richard Cypher trying to dig up a few clues as to the means and motive of his father’s recent death. While in the process, he spots four men menacing a woman, goes to her aid, and unleashes the chain of events that have taken us seven eight-hundred-plus-page books and counting to unravel. Make no mistake, when you crack the cover on the first Sword of Truth novel, you’re committing yourself to a whole lot of reading. Sword of Truth is longer than Mission Earth, longer than Necroscope, longer than Michael Moorcock’s presently-in-progress series. Think of a series containing a whole lot of big, thick books. Sword of Truth is longer. It’ll probably reach Encyclopedia Britannica proportions before long.
The good news is, of course, that Wizard’s First Rule is a whole lot more readable than Britannica (in order, even). He’s got more of an eye for the readable than Moorcock, and is more restrained than Lumley. Goodkind doesn’t skimp on the character development, has an excellent eye for description and detail, and presents it all in such a way that, when you’ve finished the first book, you wonder how it is you managed to get through eight hundred twenty pages quite as fast as you did. (In other words, by the second one before you start the first, because you’re not going to want to take enough of a break to run to the store and get it. Trust me, I know—my copy of Stone of Tears is still in the mail.) With such a large canvas on which to paint, Goodkind takes the luxury of building up the minor characters; one of my most common complaints with genre fiction is the surfeit of cardboard characters who are set up just to be killed, or what have you. When Goodkind sets a character up to be killed, you know everything from what the character had for breakfast to his psychological makeup to his favorite color. It’s a refreshing change from the majority of fantasy novels. And it doesn’t slow the book down, because even the minor characters are contributing in some way to the plot.
This stands out, even at a time when fantasy seems to be at a high point in the public consciousness. George R. R. Martin and Philip Pullman may be getting more press and more awards than Terry Goodkind, but Wizard’s First Rule stands easily with A Game of Thrones or The Golden Compass as the beginning to an excellent series. **** ½