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A Flawed Love
on 22 August 2013
I'll start by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by The Third Kingdom. I enjoyed it more than I expected I would, and thought that it expanded on the occult theme in novel and interesting ways. These new items are what give the plot its vinegar, despite being sandwiched behind a wall of exposition and dialogue that seemed to last a hundred pages. I doubt Mr. Goodkind has the sense of irony to draw comparisons between this wall he sets for his readership and the one in the story for the Shun-tuk, and it is only once you pass both of these that the story gets interesting. And on that note, I have a bone to pick (pun intended) with the concept of the North Wall. It was an imposing, exciting concept, to be sure, but haven't we seen this somewhere before?
Let's recount just how many areas segregated ancient magic there are in the SoT world:
1) The Boundary in Wizard's First Rule
2) The Towers of Perdition in Stone of Tears.
3) The Temple of the Winds which is found to be in the underworld in Temple of the Winds.
4) The Dominie Dirtch (I think they count) in Soul of the Fire.
5) The barrier holding back those evil pacifists in Naked Empire.
6) The North Wall in The Third Kingdom
The SoT world seems to have an awful lot of these evil playpens lying around waiting for the good guys to discover somewhat conveniently late that the gates to Hell have been opened, leaving me with the impression that the ancient wizards and co. of the New World were a grossly irresponsible and incompetent bunch. Anyway, back to the book.
Prose has never been TG's strong suit, and this book started out well enough but later on it really begins to suffer. There are many poorly constructed sentences with broken punctuation that should have been corrected by his editor long before this hit the printing press. Many words or phrases were repeated in the following sentence, which isn't a literary crime by any means, but the repetition quickly becomes too frequent and too flagrant to ignore. Excessive strings of adjectives and adverbs also crop up quite a lot. Colloquialisms and anachronisms unseen in his previous books began to populate it like weeds, jarring me out of the flow on many occasions.
Certain words will always be up for debate as to whether they're appropriate for fantasy, but 'computational' is not one that should appear in the SoT universe. There were several other examples that only served to detract from instead of build on the world, which brings me to a general criticism of the style and tone of this book. Like the Omen Machine, its subtitle is 'A Richard and Kahlan Novel', and I couldn't help but feel that these new adventures are 'Sword of Truth: Lite', lacking the intensity, verve and direction of the original series.
The objectivist dogma is thankfully kept on the down-low, reserved to a few choice cuts that, although ham-fisted as any of Rand's cultist tosh, don't really intrude too heavily on the story. I actually found other bits more irritating because they sounded conversational, as if I wasn't reading a story but hearing him give his opinions about life in an interview. Yes it's true that young people have a limited world view because of their lack of experience, but their youth excuses them. At his age, he should know better than he thinks he does. As the old adage goes "there's no fool like an old fool".
Goodkind seems to have become reluctant to really explore new territory in the main cast's relationships, which is why they all seemed like cardboard cut-outs in the Omen Machine. As with the Omen Machine there's precious little character development, with one major exception hashed in right at the very end. Maybe he intends to play the consequences of it out in the next book, but a lot of redundant text could have been cleared in favour of covering new ground between Team Rahl and the consequences of this event.
At this point it would be a novel concept for him to keep his main cast together for more than a quarter of a book, and to actually have Richard learn how to use his gift from his peers instead of imagining how useful they'll be once he finds them again. Zedd might not be able to help him with his gift but Nathan and Nicci almost certainly can. After thirteen books he really should know more than how to translate a couple of dead languages, and it really makes me wonder why Terry is so afraid to play this trump card. What are you waiting for Terry? We're already past the actual SoT series, why can't you let Richard develop his birthright? We've been waiting to see it for over a decade since the teaser scene in the Temple of the Winds - another immense power source that Richard doesn't bother to make use of even though HE deliberately brought it back to the world of life.
The antagonists, while not as uniquely chilling as Darken Rahl or as maniacally loathsome as Jagang and the Sisters of the Dark, still held up well enough to be believable. I still think TG needs to come up with a way to make his bad guys threatening without having to nerf Richard's gift, which has also happened more times than I can recall. In his muddled, denial-stricken and occasionally abusive relationship with the fantasy genre, Terry has been whaling on magic in various ways for the last nine books while still relying on it to carry his multi-million dollar boat along. This time the entire cast was rendered powerless, and wizards that can't use magic are just ordinary people, making them immediately less interesting to read about. If this was compensated for by character development then maybe it would have worked, but it isn't - so it doesn't.
So what actually earns this book its stars? It's an easy and mostly compelling read with a few new surprises, even if the prose is pockmarked with amateurism and the overall framework follows a familiar formula. I'd say that it actually ranks somewhere between three and four stars for being better than the Omen Machine but still vastly inferior to his earliest works. The new characters are interesting enough that I didn't walk away feeling unsatisfied, but neither were they especially stirring or thought-provoking. A lot of the book focuses on mundane precursive activities like talking and travelling, but there's some good stuff that bends the established rules of the SoT universe further in. Still, I don't regret reading it and can't deny the man's work has a place in my heart. I just wish he'd re-evaluate his approach and hit the mark again like he did with Wizard's First Rule.