I love Terry Goodkind. I love the Sword of Truth books – OK with the exception of Soul of the Fire and Pillars of Creation, which sucked, because why, why, would you not use a character as awesome as Richard as your POV character? But moving right along…
The Omen Machine felt strange to me. It didn’t suck to the degree of Soul of the Fire and Pillars of Creation (which, as a rule, I don’t re-read when I read the series again – I just read the last 50 pages or so to remind me where it ended before going to the next book), but it didn’t rock my world like the other Richard books. I would have to say I even enjoyed The Law of Nines more, and it isn’t even strictly a Richard book at all. So what was the problem with it?
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I’ve summarised it down to these issues:
- The book is primarily a mystery, albeit fantasy, without the impetus of a villain that exists in earlier books. The death of Jagang has left a void, and Goodkind attempts to fill it with a new villain, but for the early part of this book the main conflict is essentially discovering the answer to the mystery – what is the omen machine and what does it mean. I don’t feel this is handled with a sufficient degree of tension or suspense and I found the first half of the book quite slow and difficult to read;
- I noticed instances of less than stellar writing more often than I usually would e.g. excessive wordiness and the like. Possibly this was because of the less-than-gripping storyline, which left me greater leisure to notice things. Usually the plot whirls me past so fast the words are a blur.
- The book lacked the usual patterns I associate with Richard. Often I live in total dread of the terrible things happening to the characters and await that moment at the end where everyone gets his just desserts and Richard wreaks terrible, bloody havoc on everyone who deserves it. This time the problems for the characters seemed a mere inconvenience (until the very end) compared to some of the previous perils faced and the ending lacked the usual satisfaction. The tension was simply insufficient to the task. Repetition is undesirable but so are differences if the comparisons are unflattering;
- The characters seemed to overlook what I thought were obvious problems (hello, you have an inflamed cut that magic can’t heal and this doesn’t concern you??) and encountered problems that seemed repetitious (how many times now have the people lost faith in Lord Rahl? OK, probably realistic but *yawn* so over it). While it may have been necessary to deal with some of these, perhaps it could have been handled with less detail. Of course, here I refer back to Soul of the Fire, which I consider to be a boring book wasted on making a point that could have been made in a shorter or more interesting fashion.
When you add them altogether, that’s some serious issues. I believe this might even qualify as ‘story porridge’ as Tobias Buckell puts it.
To some extent, a reader should expect this book to be slow starting. Goodkind appears to be setting up a new multi-book plotline with a new villain, although I question if anyone could give Jagang a serious run for his money. The new villain takes a good stab at being more visually terrifying than Jagang, which isn’t a bad effort given Jagang wasn’t exactly a polished example of civilisation. That said, Wizard’s First Rule was the set-up for a multi-book series and had far greater tension and much faster pace, so this isn’t much of an excuse.
If you stick it out past the first half of the book you may find yourself more engaged in the latter half of the book, but sad to say that isn’t much of a recommendation. I’ll be interested to see if the next book improves upon The Omen Machine.
If we go with a strike rate of one dud book per five, hopefully the next will be much better!
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