Terrific writing, wonderful
characterization, and a simple plot that shows the best and worst of
humanity make this the best Sword of Truth novel yet.
It's amazing how such a simple story can show the difference between
free society and one that is oppressed. Through Richard's point of view,
we see the resignation to live against his will. The people he meets
show us the different grades of belief in the system they are living in.
The fire for life and freedom is expressed by Kahlan's side of the
story, which balances the quietness of Richard's.
I ended the last book a little sour at the author putting words into
Richard's mouth, having him think that the world had rejected him. That
certainly wasn't true, as only Anderith had voted against him, and that
was because of their treacherous leadership. What Richard really
discovered is that the people don't know what they are fighting for. He
realizes that the people must be ready to throw down their lives -to die
for their freedom, if necessary, before they are ready to be led against
the Imperial Order. He is able to experience that first-hand, as he is
taken right to the heart of the Order, to the oppressed, who finally
realize what they have lost -but only after decades of oppression. The
Midlands don't know yet what they are about to lose.
This book has no easy answers. Sure, Richard is very lucky, but that is
because he creates his own luck. The people he meets are so starving for
knowledge, especially the youngsters, and those old enough to remember
what the world was like before the Order, that Richard is really a
beacon to them. He is altruistic, he gives of himself for the benefit of
others, but saves enough for himself so that he might live, also. The
Imperial Order demands only the first half of that from people, and
gives it to those who are undeserving.
Nicci would argue that nobody is undeserving -or that everybody is
undeserving, perhaps. In either case, she would argue that you must give
until it hurts, and then continue to give. Other people might be
deserving, down on their luck, and unable to find a means to sustain
themselves. However, the bulk of people seem to be lazy, complaining
often, so that they don't have to work, and can live off the work of
In principle, this Communism is a terrific idea. However, people are not
born equal, and there is no way they can be forced to be equal. I
suppose Nicci believes that once the world is uniformly equal, the
servants of the Order, the people who are getting rich now at the
expense of the multitudes, will no longer be necessary, and will
disappear eventually. Nicci really is naive. She was brainwashed into
this kind of thinking when she was really young. The example of her
father's business, which failed after he died and his mother took over
with her Order attitude, should have shown her that. Unfortunately, she
didn't learn anything from it.
The book opens very calmly. I absolutely loved the retreat that Richard
built for Kahlan as she recovered from the attack she suffered at the
end of Soul of the Fire. Most of that
took place from Kahlan's point of view, so that we saw her struggle, her
self-pity, and finally, when she takes that first step to the window for
water, her victory (not to mention her shame and anger towards Richard
when he greets her there for doing it herself). It is nice to see that
the author isn't dwelling on past events like he used to. While many of
Kahlan's thoughts, especially at the beginning of the book, had a
tediousness to them when explaining the past, things got better as the
book went on, with descriptive dialog between characters doing much of
the explaining, instead.
The peaceful nature of the retreat felt very calming, and was a joy to
read. I was amazed that I was not impatient to return to the
battlefields of the war, or that I was not bored by any of it at all. It
was so tightly written, that I anticipated staying most of the book
there. That was not to be.
We also get to meet Nicci at the same time. As one of Richard's teachers
from Stone of Tears, she was a Sister of
the Dark. We get a lot of background on her, from her initiation into
the Order when she was young, being brainwashed by the cult that
eventually became the Imperial Order. We also get to learn a little more
about the Order, and how it came into being. It is a little like the
Communist revolution almost a century ago in Russia. The plan was to
spread equality across the land, but first the world must go through a
purge of fire. That is how she can justify the savage soldiers, brutes
who rape and pillage the cities they envelope. Jagang is not a perfect
person, Nicci reasons, but he is necessary to carry out the good of the
Order. She believe she is evil, but not in the way that she actually is.
She can't reconcile her beliefs that mankind should help each other in
the way she was taught, and her "selfish" nature, in wanting to keep
things for herself, including her dignity. The Order does seem to bring
about equality of a sort, at least in the peasant class: everybody is
treated miserably and abused!
In the "present", Nicci makes an example out of several villages in
Anderith. I suppose the people there have seen their mistake in
rejecting Richard. I was hoping that enough would escape alive to spread
the word through the Midlands, but Nicci's Jagang the Just, convincing
people that he was just in not killing them, cowed any
Nicci follows the map from a captured D'Haran soldier to Richard's
mountain retreat (since they are bonded to him, they know his location
at all times), and captures him by capturing Kahlan. Nicci binds
Kahlan's spirit to herself, so that she is the one who sustains
Richard's love. This prevents killing or torturing her, since Kahlan
would suffer the same, and the threat of killing Kahlan allows Richard
to be taken into custody. Nicci saw something in Richard when he was
initially brought to the Palace of the Prophets which she didn't
understand, but desperately wished to. It was the will to live, the idea
that he would give anything to attain that freedom. He would give even
more for the freedom of the ones he loved. Her motivation here is a
little weak, but justified by the events that follow.
I loved the description of Richard's entrance into the Palace of the
Prophets from Stone of Tears as seen
through Nicci's eyes. It was a great moment, and well worth repeating.
Through contact with the other Sisters Jagang has hostage, she learns
about Richard's bond, though the others didn't believe it when Ann tried
to rescue them at the end of the last book. Their conversation is the
right way to give back-story, instead of a giant monolog interrupting
the current story thread.
Richard's part of the story is really to show us another part of the
world, and what life will be like after the Order is through. He and
Nicci live as husband and wife to the outside world, but once alone, he
wants nothing to do with her. She wants to show him the poverty of the
human spirit. He keeps turning everything into an opportunity. When he
sees an opportunity to help people, he does. The idea that he might be
taking jobs away from people who need them just because he wants to help
is absurd, and he knows it. It doesn't take a lot of effort to do
something, even if it is not in the job description (as long people
don't start taking advantage of it...).
Richard meets people like Ishaq, the former owner of the transport
company, and Victor, the blacksmith, who both know that the system they
live under is absurd. If people can't do the job, they shouldn't hinder
the people who can. Everything that Richard tells Kamil and the others
is 100% correct. He teaches Kamil that he doesn't need to be a bully,
that he is worth whatever he makes out of himself. The people of
Altur'Rang are lazy, they don't want to work, and so they get no
satisfaction out of what they do. Learning to do things for themselves,
however, makes the people simply hunger for more.
So Richard goes from hauling steel to creating a black market, since the
Brothers in charge of building the Emperor's new Retreat want it built,
at any cost, such that they are willing to overlook his efficiency. I
loved the way he subverts the Order that way! He is turned into the
officials, however, by one of Kamil's ex-friends, another bully, and
suffers in a torture chamber. To get him out, Nicci has to volunteer him
as a sculptor, creating hideous carvings showing how worthless people
are. Finally, as extra punishment, he is required to carve a grand
hideous thing as a centerpiece to the Retreat's grand plaza.
Through all this, Richard really changed the world around him, including
Nicci. When she sees the statue he decided to carve instead, a picture
of the nobility of the human spirit, of life worth living, she realizes
that she has been living a lie, that the Order is evil, and she has been
helping that evil. Perhaps her turnaround is a little too quick, but
given the reactions of the other people in Altur'Rang, I can believe in
Kahlan's side of the story returns us to the battlefield. I was so
hungry for her revenge after Richard was taken away from her. Seeing her
and Cara deal blow after blow to the Imperial Order army was
exhilarating, even if it didn't even slow them down. I just love seeing
Kahlan in command. When she strode into the camp towards Zedd, even I
was hers to command. Her amazing battles were reminiscent of what she
led the Galean soldiers through in the middle of
Stone of Tears.
Almost as good was Kahlan's tirade against Ann. What she said was
completely true, that Ann was responsible for the Order taking control
of the Midlands, because they took Richard, and he destroyed the Barrier
Towers. However, Warren was also right, in that the Order probably would
have found other ways to get around it. After all, they managed to get a
small force into the Midlands before the towers came down in
Stone of Tears.
There is a statement made several times in the book that Kahlan and
Richard only met because of prophecy, so she shouldn't be too hard on
it. I don't remember that as being true. Kahlan went seeking Zedd, so
that he could name a Seeker to destroy Darken Rahl. Perhaps prophecy
guided her in seeking a Seeker, though -I don't remember the specifics
of her motivations in Wizard's First Rule
Kahlan had the usual doubts that must assail commanders in losing
situations. She was not responsible for the attack that decimated their
forces in the night after she was tricked by Jagang, though. He probably
would have changed his tactics even if she had sent the soldiers out to
counter the false threat to the North. She told him she would send
soldiers out there. Either way, her army would have suffered great
The battles were awesome to read. I was hungering for more all the time.
They have always been terrifically written, and here was no different.
We actually got to see magic used in the war, however, from Zedd and
Warren's points of view, which added even more to it. I was so shocked
to see Warren die, though, but in hindsight, it should have been easy to
foretell. Given that he and Verna were married, and had a wonderful
celebration that uplifted the spirits of the entire army, somebody
had to suffer.
By the time the first winter was over, we had seen so much of the
battles, that we didn't need to see any more, since it would be more of
the same. Seeing simply the end result, forcing the Order to stop for a
second winter before reaching Aydindril, so that it could be evacuated,
was all we needed.
The assassin who killed Warren, of course, is none other than the bully
who turned Richard into the authorities. A little weak in plotting,
perhaps, but not too difficult to swallow. Cara tortures him to death,
and finds out where Richard and Nicci are living. With the armies
stopped for the winter, Zedd off to secure Wizard's Keep (how does he
know he can fend it off by himself, or just with Adie?), Kahlan and Cara
go south to find their beloved. The D'Haran army disbands towards
D'Hara, where the Midlands' refugees are going, and the story of the war
is over for the time being.
The only difficult thing that the readers are asked to believe, is that
Brother Neal and Narev didn't check on Richard's statue, so that they
didn't discover it until it was unveiled. Given that they inspected the
wall carvings every day, it is a stretch that they were not interested
in his progress. However, it is a small weakness, since the effect on
the population, and the revolt that it sparks, were so incredibly
written. The joy of the people who saw "life" for the first time was
quite palpable. I was amazed that the author allowed Richard to break
the statue when he was captured! The cover-artist really did an amazing
job with the image of the statue -truly as inspiring as the "real thing"
must have been.
There were more surprises at the end of the book, as everybody converges
on the unfinished Retreat, including a reformed Nicci, Richard, Kahlan
and Cara. Richard makes a mistake in allowing Kahlan to stab him (him
being disguised in the robes of the Brotherhood), so that Nicci would be
forced to save him and release Kahlan. But Nicci is captured and
tortured, so that all looks hopeless... Of course, Cara rescues her to
help Richard and Kahlan, and all ends well.
With the head priest of the Imperial Order dead, and so many of its
Brothers, I wonder what will happen to the rest of it. People are
starting to believe in freedom in the Old World, just as the New World
is losing theirs. I thought Galea's betrayal (by Kahlan's half-brother
and his wife, the Queen) would play into future books as a new enemy,
but their apparent total defeat by the Order makes that unlikely.
The only part of the book I was a little disappointed in was Nicci's
maternity spell. She implied that it was permanent, so I suspected that
even she couldn't release it. The fact that she would "allow" Kahlan to
live after she decided to kill Richard indicated that she would never
even try to release the Mother Confessor, which is odd since it was
within her power. I am glad that Richard had the sense, if belated, to
tell Kahlan to seek Ann or Zedd to seek a solution, but I wondered if
the carving of Kahlan's Spirit would have played a role. Since, as Zedd
said, Richard had carved a sculpture of her spirit, I thought maybe the
spell could have been transferred to the exact replica. However, perhaps
that would have been too complicated.
I wondered more about the spell, however. If Kahlan could feel Nicci
having sex with the bully Gadi, and could have a bruise from Nicci
getting beaten, did she also feel Nicci's hunger pangs, her frustration
at being so wet when they were travelling, or her joy when she started
to fall in love with Richard? My guess is that Nicci could shield some
of the less brutal emotions from the link.
I liked a lot of the style of this book. Much of the beginning takes
place in flashbacks to Nicci's life, given between one footstep and the
next -sometimes taking chapters between those footsteps! However, I
really wanted to see how she turned to become a Sister of the Dark
-hopefully some of that will be seen in future books. After all, there
are still Sisters of the Dark out there who have sworn their loyalty to
Richard, whom we haven't seen since then. They might appear sometime
We get more flashbacks in the same form as Nicci and Richard are
travelling, as one or the other would reflect on their travels. It was
quite interesting to see the story progress that way, especially since
it allowed a lot of time to be covered at once. I have griped before
about how five books passed in less than a year, since such grand things
happened in that time. They spent more time in Anderith than they did in
the four books that preceded it! This book took its time, and was better
for that, I think. It allowed events to transpire at a more realistic
The best thing about this book was the way the characters were dealt
with so reasonably. Even supporting characters like Kamil and Ishaq were
given enough emotion to be very interesting. I just love Cara, though,
so it was amazing to see her opening up more, and even falling in love
with the D'Haran general! Kahlan got rid of the whiny attitude she has
shouldered in several of the books, and, as I said, was an amazing
commander. I like the fact that we got to spend time with Zedd, also.
Even if I can't have him teach Richard, it was about time he got to
teach somebody! Warren and the sisters were a good choice.
I expect that the story of the Imperial Order will continue, even though
their spiritual heart has been severed. It takes more than one man to
create that kind of Empire, and Jagang is still alive, as well. However,
this book offered a nice conclusion to several events, while, of course,
opening up some more storylines! This book was a true joy to read, its
enormous length an asset, this time. I am already anticipating the next
book in the series, though I will force myself to take a long break from
this world to absorb what has transpired.