I have caught a few episodes of the "Legend of the Seeker" TV show, and I heard it was generally based off this book. I figured I should read it to get an idea what makes for popularized fantasy.
I can now say with full confidence that if this is what it takes to get a book turned into a TV show, I'm going to aim for the quirky recluse writer in the big house at the end of the lane, who wears foreign clothes that smell of odd spices and gives full-size candy bars out at Halloween.
Oh wait. I was going to do that anyway.
I have several issues with the way Goodkind constructs his book. I can only assume that the rest of this series will be in a similar vein, and I'm put off enough that I'm not going anywhere near them. Ever. I'm going to dig a hole beneath my star rating so I can go negative on this one. So many factors in the book made for a frustrating, irritating read. This is not so much a review as a rant, I'm afraid.
I didn't even read everything in this book. At one point, my husband (who had already warned me that this wasn't a "happy ending" sort of book - that's a personal definition, btw; the book does have a technically happy ending) asked me how it was going. I told him I was about ready to throw the book across the room because I'd read, in the last few pages, about the ritual killing of male Confessor infants by their father, at their mother's order, and the gang rape of young girls who had been lucky enough to survive their village being razed by their own lord's army in disguise, just to cement the pretend-enemy's evilness. I've no general complaint against violence in fantasy. Swords and spears FTW. But when you feel it's necessary to stoop to describing violence against children--not necessarily in detail, but in continual reference--I've got a problem with your writing. When you must describe the flying gobs of blood every time there is a battle, the crunching bones and collapsing faces, every time, then you've strayed into violence porn, and you're no better than a 70's mob movie at keeping me focused on the plot you're ostensibly constructing. Some writing style elements just shout too darn loud, and drown the plot out. Excessive gore for its own sake is definitely one of them for me.
Honestly, whatever happened to hinting? I DO have an imagination, you know. It's why I enjoy fantasy worlds in the first place!
After explaining my irritation at the author's choice of details, my husband took the book away and said, "Don't read past when they cross the bridge after the castle then." He marked the place for me, and I skipped a good hundred pages of what he summed up for me as the hero being tortured by sadistic women who are the embodiment of the black widow spider. I didn't feel the loss of reading about a man tortured into Stockholm syndrome in loving detail, just so the next part of the plot could happen. It's the "loving detail" part that irritates me. I've read some twisted works by a misogynist sociopath before--before I realized what he was--and this was little different. Probably due to a good editor. Such things one cannot simply scrub from one's brain afterward. Some things cannot be un-seen.
I have to say, though, that I'm sort of expecting this to be the worst book Goodkind ever wrote. It is his first book, and one usually gets better with time. In this book, I can see other issues with the plot's construction that irritated me on a less personal level than as a mom of living children.
Situational irony got Out Of Control in this book. Sure, you can have the magic box go one way while the heroes are still looking somewhere else for it. Fine. But don't write about it for eighty pages until they realize what happened! After about page 3 of "it's still at the castle, let's get to the castle", and knowing that it wasn't in fact at the castle, I was ready for them to figure it out. But nooooo. In this case, better timing of scene switching, and hurrying up one side or delaying the other so that it balanced better, would have made me much happier.
The other ironic situation was in regards to the traitor who handed the magic box to Lord Rahl. Richard, our hero, is so focused on it being either X or Y that he can't consider anyone else. Meanwhile, the actual traitor had been acting odd from the beginning of the book. It was a no brainer, and caused all sorts of unnecessary conflicts, encounters and confusion until they figured it all out. It added an extra 50 pages to the book to discuss all this uncertainty and its resulting clashes, making the plot limp along with a hop-a-skip to get to the end.
This world is not a happy one. The magic that exists here is based on pain. Sure, there are technically two magics here, and magic has two sides, as they say. That's a cool concept. But the way it's used in the book, I'm fully on the Westlanders' side: I'd move away behind a boundary to get away from those freaky-ass magic users and their bizarre "gifts". There's a fair bit of underworld crossover, and they're always evil/bad/deadly. No friendly ghosts here. No mention of anywhere else for the dead to go, so it seems everyone goes to hell here.
Magic spells, unless you're Zedd, seem to involve manipulating prepubescent boys into adoring you, then killing them with molten lead, or screaming naked in the forest with blood pouring from your wounds, for a couple examples. For Richard, his sword causes him agony every time he kills someone with it, and he can only seem to use it when his anger is merged with its anger, giving him a sort of subjective perspective of righteous rage. For Kahlan, she makes people fall completely in love with her, then commands them to do stuff she wants. Most of the time, this is dying immediately. The original concept of Confessing is so twisted from its stated intent (seeking the truth), that it seems obvious that the wizards who created the Confessors were either psychopaths, or horribly inept. It was nearly inconceivable that her Confessing didn't bring her a small army of fanatics, that she had to kill them all, except Brophy, who wasn't even allowed to remain human anymore. How is that any sort of functioning magic, that the confessed are apparently so obsessive that even the ones you don't order to die on the spot are so irritating that they need to be turned into wolves?
Seriously, Goodkind must eat spicy quesadillas before bed each night to come up with this stuff.
These characters he's created are not merely flawed. They're twisted, shattered, and broken. They're way beyond flaws that others can relate to; they've entered the realm of the grotesque. They don't stand out because their whole world is similar. It's not a happy ending sort of book because it doesn't seem to grasp the concept of happiness. Love (Kahlan's magic) is twisted to bring death. Righteous anger is twisted to become Richard's Seeker magic, and he can forgive people for their actions with it too, but only by killing or hurting them. Rahl is a complete basket case, with the constant licking of fingertips and smoothing of eyebrows, and he's clearly psychopathic...in loving detail. He employs lots of evil people (Demmin, the Mord-Sith) who also get to do evil stuff in loving detail.
It's not the evil I mind. You can't have conflict without evil. You can't have a gripping story without conflict. It's the loving detail that irritates me. I'm generally in favor of free speech and against the banning of books, but when the intent gets out of hand, I'm not cool with that. There are in fact some things that should not be reveled in. Concepts are important for grasping. You can't deal with evil unless you know what it is. But this book reads like a low-key bacchanal of evil fun, where the heroes cry quite a lot, after proclaiming they never cry, bleed more than most books put together, and everyone seems to get tortured or lost or terrified at regular intervals. It's just a bit much, all around, like the volume got cranked to 12.
I've read worse, so this gets a -3 of 5.