Volume 23, Number 04, Summer 2005


By Terry Goodkind

Tor Books 2005, $29.95
Reviewed by Charles Morrison
July 2005

Terry Goodkind has just recently released Chainfire, the ninth novel in his Sword of Truth series. His novels have evolved quite a bit since Wizard’s First Rule, the genesis of the series, both in content and delivery. While most fans agree that his writing style has changed for the better, with richer content and more fully developed characters, some have criticized what they consider a turn towards promoting a political agenda. With Faith of the Fallen Terry Goodkind started being much more overt about his definition of freedom and didn’t shy away from making his lead character promote it.

Personally, before Faith of the Fallen, I had just about had enough of the series. Although I saw the lessons in freedom the author provided, I also recognized a terrible trend in our main point of view character, Richard Rahl. Early in the series, Richard became the ruler of D’Hara and as the story developed he started trying to force people to fight the evil Emperor Jagang who was invading from the Old World. Although it was quite obvious that Emperor Jagang was entirely evil, I was just plain tired of reading about Richard trying to establish “freedom” by force.

I learned that Terrry Goodkind takes the “show, don’t tell” methodology to the extreme with some of his lessons. On several occasions he has had his characters learn lessons regarding occurrences several novels back, or about their own idiosyncrasies that they have had since the very beginning. He has often worked to emphasize the validity of premises that he in later books destroys without compunction.

Either Goodkind is decidedly wicked in his objectives, or he has learned lessons in life and is willing to explore these with his characters. At this point, I’m betting on the former. Either way, I admire what he has done with the anthology. I admit I did not give him enough credit early on. At about the same time I was ready to put Soul of the Fire down and walk away from his series for good, he made his character Richard Rahl realize that he had been wrong (over the last couple of novels) to try to force people to do something, even if it was in their own best interest. All of his books have explored some aspect of freedom however, the novels after Soul of the Fire have been very libertarian in nature. The eighth book in the series, Naked Empire, was even a finalist for the Prometheus Award.

Terry Goodkind received a lot of criticism for Naked Empire. The novel was too contrived for many people. The new characters, dialog, and events that promoted the author’s agenda were too convenient for many readers, regardless of their beliefs. Chainfire is much more subtle. Some of the points may even be too subtle, or make reference to past lessons in freedom that the uninitiated reader may not be aware of, to make this a strong candidate for the Prometheus Award. Regardless, I think it should be a candidate.

In Chainfire we find the main point of view character, Richard Rahl, in yet another pickle. In the opening scene he has taken a critical injury and his friends are doing everything they can to save his life. When he has recovered, he finds that nobody remembers his wife Kahlan, or is willing to believe that she even ever existed. Some magical force has stripped her from Richard’s life as if they had never met, and he later finds that an alternate life and death has been created for his one true love. The author uses this precept to put the whole world against Richard in one way or another. His friends no longer believe in his sanity, and his enemies’ plans progress as Richard chases the truth about Kahlan.

Some of the aspects of freedom that Terry Goodkind explores in Chainfire are extremely overt but many simply inspire the reader to make their own rational decisions about aspects of freedom.

One freedom oriented plot line simply involves free will. Several of the main characters actively push Richard to forget about his delusional wife and pick up the good fight by leading his army into battle against the enemy. These characters have previously established that they believe in prophesy, and in Chainfire they actively work against what Richard knows to be right in their efforts to make the desired prophesy happen. These people are so wrapped up in their doctrine that they conspire to magically destroy Richard’s memory of Kahlan, even with risks, so that he will conform to their desires. They all do so supposedly with Richard’s best interest in mind.

Another subtle lesson is about the nature of man. Terry Goodkind spends a little time contrasting the effects that government has on how people act and what qualifies as right and wrong. The country of D’hara, once ruled by an evil dictator, produced a legion of people who committed various atrocities. Chainfire shows in several instances where these same people, now that they are living free, question their previous actions. Some effort is even taken with the sorceress Nicci to explain the Machiavellian reasoning she used to justify her actions when she was an agent for the evil Emperor Jagang.

The main plot culminates with the realization of the Wizard’s Ninth Rule, “Contradictions don’t exist, in whole or in part.” The author uses this rule to indicate that even though anecdotal information and personal beliefs may point to a specific conclusion, that one solid fact can destroy it.

Terry Goodkind himself claims to be an Ayn Rand Objectivist and his works prove that this is true. It is obvious that he took the unwashed masses’ objections in mind when he wrote this. His freedom oriented theme was more subtle and the lessons more innocently developed. However, the extra work he took to make Chainfire is not lost on those who understand the lessons of freedom that are still at the foundation of this novel.

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