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Fantasy Index


A novel by Terry Goodkind
(1997, TOR Fantasy)

The Sword of Truth, book 4

Richard is forced to sacrifice everything to stop a plague caused by his enemy.


-- First reading (hardcover)
October 2nd to 17th, 2001


A disappointment, frankly. Although the characterization was very strong, as usual, the situations the characters were placed in felt very, very contrived.

Spoiler review:

While reading this book, I scribbled down a lot of complaints, a lot of things that frustrated me about the story and characters, as well as the things that seemed to conflict drastically with what was said or done in previous books. However, I don't want to dwell on the complaints, for there was still a lot to like about this book. 

The premise of this book is essentially one of Richard vs. the spirits, who conspire to make his life hell. Between them and Jagang, it's really no wonder that Richard doesn't want to return to the world of the living! But then, I suppose he would have to live with those spirits.

I really liked the beginning of the book. We spend a long time in discussion with two unknown people, at least one of whom is malevolent. It is Kahlan and Cara, one of the Mord-Sith who deal with this wizard, sent by Jagang to give Richard a message, that his security has been infiltrated, and that he will be forced to suffer, one way or another. I do have a problem with such a wordy prophecy -it gives too much detail, where a concise prediction would have been better.  And even though our characters tell each other not to interpret the words, because they can be misleading, the words are exactly representative of what happens! 

But Cara captures the wizard's magic, enslaving him the way Denna did to Richard. I was waiting for this to happen, and loved it when it did happen.  When they return to him, Jagang has taken over his mind, and uses the link to torture Cara beyond anything her training prepared her for. He escapes Kahlan, who ends up chasing after him, through dank tunnels and passageways, until she finally catches him, and uses her power to destroy him. The book started on such a high note that I was sure that I was in for another incredible ride, as happened in Blood of the Fold

Unfortunately, this was also the high point of the book. The rest is mired down in people doing... nothing. Although the characters were interesting, they would have been more interesting had they been doing things. 

The other mysterious person who arrives at the same time as the wizard is Nadine, a woman from Richard's past. The witch woman Shota sent her to be Richard's bride, which sends Kahlan into a jealous fit, and Richard into a rage at Shota. Nadine spends the rest of the book taking jabs at Kahlan, trying to prove that she could be a better wife to Richard, while also staying distant, and biding her time about it. Kahlan says some stupid things to Nadine, after getting a huge history from the woman, something we are supposed to swallow almost all at once.

And therein lies the biggest problem with this installment of the series: It rambles on about past events, taking huge paragraphs to remind us of what happened in the previous three books. Kahlan spews out Richard's entire story in the midlands to Nadine, who seems to understand it all, even though she just entered the midlands mere weeks ago, and knows nothing about the different magical species that live here. Kahlan is obviously talking to us, the readers, without regard to her only character audience. Through the rest of the book, not only the beginning, where it can be partly excused, we get gobs of information. There is a proper way to do this, bits at a time, with sly references. Melanie Rawn's Mageborn Traitor did this well, if I recall correctly. The method used here is one that I don't care for at all.

What Jagang has done is infiltrated the Temple of the Winds, created 3000 years ago, and mentioned in the last book as a magical storehouse for things that shouldn't be in this world, unsafe magical artifacts. The Temple exists mostly in the underworld, but as far as I can tell, it exists entirely in the underworld, except for a small part of the entrance. He used one of the Sisters of the Dark to enter the Betrayer's hall by betraying the Keeper. She stole a book that magically created a plague. Since the plague was started by magic, it requires magic to stop it, even though the prophecy says that magic cannot stop it. 

Richard must enter the Temple of the Winds through the hall of the Betrayed, being betrayed, of course, by Kahlan. I loved the fact that he had to be betrayed to enter, even though I thought the betrayal was very contrived.

Most of the book is spent searching for a cure for the plague, while also waiting for a message from the Temple. Richard enters the most secure area in the Wizard's Keep looking for references to the Temple, so that he could find it. Kahlan goes to visit Shota in order to kill her (very naive of her, as Shota points out -and I don't think Kahlan was ever that naive), and is told that Richard will indeed marry Nadine, and Kahlan will marry "another man". The man is supposed to be a mystery, except that we are introduced to exactly one "new man" in this story, so it is obvious who her husband is going to be. 

I was hoping for a while that it would turn out to be Jagang, for that would create quite a stir, and would be pretty cool. But alas, I was right from the start. It was the only other man, the healer, and Richard's half-brother, a magic-less man whose mother was also raped by Darken Rahl. He  heals Cara from the wizard at the beginning of the book. He also helps deal with the plague, which causes thousands of deaths, including one of the Mord-Sith, Raina. How convenient that Drefan's superiors arrive just a few days after his death, to tell us how unstable he was.

Eventually, we get word about what Richard has to do to enter the Temple. That's pretty slow messaging, for a race of people who pride themselves on delivering messages. Richard chastises the man for his delays, but again, that feels to me like the author justifying things to the reader, and not the normal course of events. It has been about a month since the plague started! Couldn't the Temple have sent Richard the message earlier? 

So we get to the part where Kahlan betrays Richard. This is the most contrived part of the entire book, and it frustrated me to no end! The reasoning is forced, and exists only for the sake of the plot to move forward. I liked the unexpected betrayal, as the weddings take place, but Cara switches the place where the men are, so that Kahlan consummates her marriage with Richard instead of Drefan. But the whole thing was forced. The spirits tell her that they needed a virgin bride. Why? This is only to fulfill prophesy, which says that she will betray him "in her blood". They are told to consummate the marriage, but are not allowed to talk. Why? If the spirits wanted the marriage consummated and didn't know in advance that Cara would switch them, then silence wouldn't matter. It only exists to fit to the prophecy. Not because the prophecy actually prophesized anything. 

If the spirits could choose how Richard was going to be betrayed, did they have any say about how Jagang should have his agent betray somebody? It doesn't look like it to me. If the Temple wanted to help, why is it only able to influence one of the events, and not the other? And if they don't take that one chance, there will be no others. Again, contrived. 

Richard was in character in acting on his first impulses by leaving Kahlan after she "enjoyed" her experience when she thought it was Drefan. But I wish he would grow. He has been betrayed before, by Kahlan and by Verna. Kahlan made him put a collar on in Stone of Tears, and he learned to forgive her, and why she had to do it. Did he not learn anything? He learned the power of forgiveness when he forgave Verna; has he forgotten? I thought he was beyond being that petty and impetuous anymore. 

But more than that, Richard is out of character for not wanting to return. He knows that he is the only hope against Jagang. He sacrificed everything to stop the plague, to save the children and the women under his control. Would he actually leave them to be killed and raped by the Imperial Order? 

When he does decide to return, the book took a turn for the better. Drefan was way too cackling with evil, but the result was nice. Richard was forced to take the plague into himself as payment for returning to the place of the living. While this doesn't make sense (did Jagang's agent have to do something similar?), he did have enough sense to figure out the cure before he left. Kahlan had to implement it, and when he recovered, they went to get married before the Mud People. I guess I'm a sucker for good wedding stories, especially when the coincide with reunions.

For there are two subplots in this book that barely do anything. Ann and Zedd are still hunting Nathan, the prophet. They get into trouble time after time, and basically do nothing for the entire book. That they would end up with the Mud People was not really a surprise to me once I realized that Kahlan and Richard would be getting married in this book, because they were traveling the wilds. I thought the Jocopo Treasure would be setup for the next book, but, alas, we got to hear about the quest and the battle instead of seeing it firsthand. It used to be a surprise that people could steal wizard's magic to the people of the midlands, in the first book. When Denna stole Richard's magic, it was a completely new concept, when anybody else heard about it. But now it seems that any body can steal magic -all the peoples of the Wilds can do it. But I wonder how trapped Zedd really was, as he hints that he could have gotten them loose much earlier, but wanted to torture Ann because of what he put her through. The description of her loss of composure when he removes his collar was terrific!

The other plot revolves around Nathan and Verna's separate attempts to enter Jagang's stronghold. Verna wants to rescue some of her friends, and Nathan wants to stop her, and obtain the book that started the plague. In previous books, Nathan called the Prelate whenever he had a prophecy. Maybe he was holding back then, but now he is having the prophecies all the time? They tell him what to do? If that is the case, then there should be so many books of prophecy that Jagang should never have a problem finding them, and the Sisters would never have been able to map them as they did in Stone of Tears. Nathan obtains the book, and gives it to Kahlan as she takes the Sliph to rescue Richard from the plague. 

Verna contacts her friends, commits them to Richard, but when Richard enters the underworld through the Temple, they lose their bond! This was a great part, but it was very painful to read through. They escape with the help of Nathan's concubine, Clarissa, though Verna's friends betray her at the end. It is only Kahlan's timely arrival that saves them all. Verna has the other prophet Warren along with her. Now he is getting personal prophecies too! That seems just wrong!

There was another subplot in the book that is bewildering to me. It was obviously meant to be misleading, but I wonder how anybody could be fooled by it. A man is killing prostitutes. It is so obviously Drefan, from the way he handles Cara to the way he flirts with the other women and looks at Kahlan. But Richard thinks it is a rude ambassador, who for some reason tries to stab Kahlan in the night. They catch him by setting him up, as Richard and Kahlan are standing on the balcony watching the man, but why would he be trying to kill her? The prostitute killer always wanted to "please" the women before killing them. He gets beheaded, and Richard won't let Kahlan "touch" him with her power. This ensures that he cannot tell us that he wasn't killing the women. Kahlan has endured so much worse than this; Richard's reasoning was not realistic, but only meant to lead us away from Drefan. But because the killer always wanted the women to have pleasure, there was no way the reader could be mislead by this.

And when Drefan finally gets Kahlan as his wife, and Richard disappears into the Temple of the Winds, why do the generals follow him without getting him to prove himself? They required Richard to kill a dozen mriswrith in the last book before they would follow him. And now they don't need any proof of leadership? I was so glad when Drefan was killed, with help from the sliph at almost the very end. But it dragged on way too long. He was nearly killed, but recovers several times. Enough already! 

I have slashed this book a lot, but there were many good things, as well. It is just too bad that it was not consistent with the other books, and that the setup was so contrived. As I mentioned above, the characterization was great. I have never really liked Kahlan, because she is so whiny and never really thinks things through. But Richard was mostly well done. His frustrations and fears at being helpless were very insightful. It is only near the end that he became mistreated. 

But my personal favorites were the three Mord-Sith, especially Cara. They were so serious in their duty, but they have such a sense of humor, that I enjoyed every single scene they were in simply because they were in it. Berdine still calls herself Richard's favorite, even though she is in love with Raina. Cara is alone, but bonds with Kahlan, and she was so funny, yet so professional. And when she begged Richard to kill her for almost getting Kahlan killed, I was as torn as Richard was. 

As for the "guest" characters, Drefan was very subtly written, as we never see anything from his point of view, at least when he was sane, and there was just enough evidence that he had another side to him. He was very unsettling, constantly helping people, teaching them how to meditate, and speaking in a very calm manner. Only when he gets into power does he start to become permanently unstable. Nadine was less subtle, but she also helped people professionally. She administered to Richard's wishes, and would show up at just the right time to make Richard and Kahlan uneasy or embarrassed. 

And characterization is what I have to focus on with this book, because the plot and the way characters move from one situation to the next is frustrating. From a character standpoint, through most of the book, they are consistent and very well written. It is only near the end that the characters start to fall apart. The plot works somewhat the same. It starts off with a roar, becomes quite dull, then contrived, and saves itself a little bit with the last chapter or two. I, for one, would like to go back to the blood-pumping excitement of Blood of the Fold.  I miss Richard's pet gar Gratch, and I want more story with Verna, one of my favorite characters!


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