NAKED EMPIREA novel by Terry Goodkind
(2003, TOR Fantasy)
The Sword of Truth, book 8
Richard travels to a land where people cannot be detected by magic, and who are overrun by the Imperial Order.
-- First reading (hardcover)
Well written, as always, but way too sanctimonious and preachy.Spoiler review:
The book starts out almost the moment that Pillars of Creation ended, so it helps to have a handy reminder of what happened in that book. Actually, much of what happened is repeated for our sake here, and in such an obtrusive manner that it is distracting.
Soon along their journey out of the Pillars of Creation, Cara encounters a man who is looking for the Lord Rahl in order to get him to help rid their land of the Imperial Order. Actually, he doesn't want help. He wants Richard to do it for them. As time goes by, we learn that Owen is pristinely ungifted, like Jenssen, the main character from the previous book.
We get a lot of history about the Pillars of Creation -the people- from the book that Nathan sent to Richard. We already knew that to balance the nature of the Rahl gift, the bond between their people and the necessity of always having a gifted Lord Rahl, the balance was the pristinely ungifted. I don't see why breeding with these people should always give pristinely ungifted children, though. That it does is fine, but it doesn't make sense logically, especially from a balance or genetic point of view. If it hadn't been hammered into us so many times, I would have been able to accept it without much thought.
I thought Richard was suspicious by nature, but I guess I am more suspicious than he is -or perhaps the writing style is just more transparent than it should be. While reading about Richard giving Owen his waterskin, I thought that it could be an Imperial Order trap to poison him. Since they didn't know anything about the man, I thought it was unwise to let him dip his waterskin into the communal barrel -it could contain anything.
And it turns out that I was right. Richard was in fact poisoned, and near death until Owen brought the antidote. He was not from the Imperial Order, but thought he could coerce Richard into saving his land, which proves how much he didn't know Richard.
In addition to the history that he knows about these people from the book, Richard surmises a lot about what happened afterwards. All of it turns out to be correct, of course. The Old World didn't want these people either. I think, though, that imprisoning them because they "couldn't see evil" is a very strange and unlikely event. There is no way that I can believe that such a doctrine could be such a danger to society. How is this belief system any different from any other? Richard himself is imposing a belief system on these people. He believes that he is morally right, but so did Brother Narev. At least the people of Bandakar didn't try to convert him. I also can't believe that every single person involved could believe they were being sent to a promised land. Surely there were ungifted people who would have elected to stay behind? Those who didn't believe would then have married with the gifted, and the Old World would be full of pristinely ungifted. The abolishment is just too absolute for my tastes.
Regardless, that is often how these books work. There is no room for shades of grey. This ungifted Empire was kept away from the world by a boundary, similar to the ones that separated the three parts of the New World. That boundary failed when Kahlan released the chimes back at the end of Temple of the Winds. After the chimes were banished in Soul of the Fire, the boundary would not magically reappear. The spell was broken. The Empire was "naked" to the rest of the world.
Owen tells his tale of woe, in which he was banished after the Imperial Order came because he wanted to send them away. His people commit no violence, nor do they think it. His story, though, takes way too long to tell. In order to ensure Richard's help, he only had about half of the antidote with him; the other three bottles are in separate villages within his land. Strange that Richard needs all of the bottles, when some of the poison was meant for Kahlan. What was she supposed to do to cure herself?
The group is led to the land of Bandakar, but Richard takes them in by another route, to avoid being spotted. The leader of the Imperial Order troops in Bandakar is a magically endowed wizard who can Slide into other people and steal their souls. He sends these souls into the bodies of birds which have followed Richard since the last book. When the races stopped flying overhead, my first thought was that Nicolas the Slide had found Betty, and was using her to keep track of Richard. Was I right? It became more and more obvious as the book went on, but when it is revealed, it is so subtle, especially compared to the way the author writes other aspects of his story.
Before we get to enter Bandakar, though, Richard has to convert the few free people that Owen could round up. He spends way too much time trying to tell them their own history. These people seemed like school-children, so interested in a story that they didn't seem to care that he wasn't addressing their needs of ridding their land of the Imperial Order. How he thought that would convert them is beyond me. The story is poorly told, not by Richard, but by the author, who doesn't break from it for more than one or two lines at a time. Of course, it works anyway.
I wondered if Richard's long sermon on the mountain was really the author talking about the world today. Besides going on for way too long, it was way too black-and-white. Truth and Good are not absolute, as both Richard and the author have contended. Allowing a murderer to live, for example, does not necessarily place a higher value on the murderer than the victim. Justice does not demand that the murderer be killed. We cannot bring back an innocent who was murdered, but we can do justice by trying to make sure that the death was not in vain. Killing for a crime is simply revenge, which is very popular in the world today. An exchange of one life for another is not fair trade. (War, of course, is different, and Richard lives in a world at war, but that is another slippery slope.) There are also different kinds of murder. Terrorists in the Middle-East claim that Western society is murdering their people because of economic policies that leave them in poverty, which causes death. Is that murder, if something can be done to stop it? Suicide bombers are doing exactly what Richard advocated here: revenge. Then, of course, because of our different point of view, we call them murderers, and seek revenge. Where does it stop? Negotiation is always the preferable alternative, before going to war. Punishment is always due, but forgiveness is also appropriate.
I have read the author's beliefs and Richard's sermon sounds just like him. From his point of view, people cannot learn from their mistakes. From experience, this is not true. (I have not figured out how to create world peace. There are too many cases of repeat offenders and serial murderers and others who seem irredeemable, and I don't know what to do with them. It seems that our justice systems don't know, either.) End of rant!
I liked the ways that Richard used to rid the two towns of the soldiers. He has always been at his best when battling superior numbers indirectly. Trapping them in their burning sleep huts and poisoning them was definitely the easy way to do it, though I thought it would have been better to do both sleep huts simultaneously. Cara could have easily shot the second flame inside.
I think it is convenient that the Wise One of Bandakar is only a child, easily influenced and easily scared. Apparently all of these people, however, have been thinking blasphemy for a while now, so that their sudden change from non-violent to free and vengeful is easy to believe. In the third city, he gets help from two old friends.
Nicolas the Slide knows about the antidote that Richard needs, however, and dumps out the last bottle. He fakes a trade for Kahlan's life (unknown to Richard), and Kahlan's power doesn't work on him. I liked the way Richard fooled the Slide when he first realized that the man was using Betty to spy on him. Knowing that the only way to slip up on the Slide was when he was out of his body, he uses this to full advantage, then guides Kahlan back to her body.
Throughout the book, Richard's Gift was failing him. Even Nathan couldn't help him fix it. It turns out that he was hindering himself by thinking that killing people had to be balanced by not eating meat. But I am confused, because he began getting sick from meat long before he understood his Gift. I suppose that he can eat a little meat, but not always a lot. On the surface, it seems that this is a turnaround from what we have seen before because the author suddenly wants to stress that what Richard is doing is morally right, so it shouldn't require balance. I hope this is not so.
Jenssen did a lot of work in this book, and not just providing Betty so that she could be used to spy on Richard. She has completely changed sides, which is understandable since she realized how she was being misled and used. I have trouble with her commenting on the brutality of the Imperial Order, however, because she never witnessed that brutality. When she went to their camp, they made sure to show her a tidy and just facade. Similarly, Kahlan uses the example of how her Confessor sisters were brutally raped and murdered as how she has suffered from the Imperial Order -but the people who terrorized her sisters were D'haran soldiers who invaded in the name of Lord Rahl!
I was very pleased to see more of the war against the invading army, even if it was simply in small snippets, and not the main thrust of the story. I like the involvement of people who actually know what they are doing. I think I liked Faith of the Fallen so much in part because Zedd and the Sisters of the Light were in charge of the army. Richard and Kahlan have been bumbling around in the dark for so many books. Richard would be so much better off in the presence of Zedd, no matter how he must "find his own way" to do things, which are always unconventional, and always cause more suffering than the alternatives. At the same time, though, we are learning about the history of this world, and the backlash of the war from three thousand years before. I was happy that Nathan and Ann were to travel to meet Richard, and unhappy that they were left behind to help the people of Bandakar along with Jenssen. I did like Nathan's idea of revenge on Ann for her imprisonment of him back in the Palace of the Prophets -and he didn't keep it up for too long.
From Verna's point of view, she is setting up the defense of D'hara, which hopefully will be exploited in the next book. Not much happens, but I loved her commentary and reactions. Subverting the Old World from Jajang as Richard is doing is definitely necessary, and probably the only way to win the war. He also has responsibilities as Lord Rahl, though the world and the war seem to be getting along fine without him. Undoubtedly the troops would be energized by seeing their Lord fight with them, as they were by Kahlan, though. Now even Nathan is gone from D'hara.
In the last book, the Wizard's Keep seemed so safe and secure. What a difference a handful of pristinely ungifted people make. It is easy to pass through magical barriers when you are unaffected by magic. Jajang's coercion to have them commit violence was obviously very persuasive. I wondered why Jagang needed Jenssen in the last book, if he had a whole village of people like her. I suppose he needed Richard's actual sister to get close to him.
Zedd and Adie, meanwhile, are captured and placed in collars. I hope Zedd tested the collar for Subtractive magic, just in case the Sister was bluffing. Not able to stand hearing children tortured, and figuring that the first plunder from the Keep would be mostly trinkets and nothing powerful enough to allow Jajang to win the war, Zedd agrees to inspect the items. It is torture enough for him, until he finds an item that, when activated, can tell if the other items around it have been stolen, and blows up to destroy them all. Only after it is activated does just about everybody show up to rescue him and Adie!
We get a Mord-Sith, a covert military group, and the return of Chase the boundary warden and his adopted daughter, Rachel, whom we haven't seen since Wizard's First Rule. As they escape, the spell ignites, killing quite a few officers and Sisters under Jajang's control. Ironically, Jajang was spirited away after an assassination attempt by a soldier sent by Richard under the influence of Kahlan's power. Without that soldier, Jajang might have been killed!
After they escape, Zedd invites both Chase and his family, and Fredreich (known best from the last book) to stay at the Wizard's Keep. I like the thought that they might feature prominently in the last trilogy of books in this series.
There was a lot to like in this book. The story touches again on the war from a side perspective, of those being persecuted because of who they are, and what ideas they hold. What will become of the world as Richard sets them free within it, to lose the magic generation after generation, is a question that could ignite another war. Unfortunately, the book was far too preachy for my tastes. I could take small doses, but it was repeated endlessly, and Richard's sermon took way too much of the book.
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