In this self-published ebook, Terry Goodkind returns us to the New World, land of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell, but many centuries in the past. The book is set in the time of the first war with the Old World, a time glimpsed in the journals of Kolo, found dead guarding the sliph, and painstakingly translated from High D’haran by Richard and Berdine; the time of the creation of monsters from men, when sliphs, and dream walkers and Confessors were newly birthed.
The protagonist is Magda Searus, and the book is almost entirely set in the Wizard’s Keep in Aydindril, with a few scenes taking place in the city or just outside the city. If you’ve read all the other books, you already know she is the first Confessor, so there’s hardly any suspense in it (as if the title hadn’t already given it away). Lack of suspense is a common problem in a prequel, where enough of the story is known to the reader it becomes difficult to create hooks to keep teasing the reader along. In this case, I think the book has sufficient hooks, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a compelling page-turner.
Although we know the general outcome of this part of history (Magda Searus becomes the first Confessor), we don’t know the details, as the information known to us from Kolo’s journal is often vague on some points. So the book contains some suspense in the sense that we know Magda must be transformed, but we don’t know how, or what might happen to her along the way. In fact, one of the key plot points is that Magda is vehemently opposed to the transformation of people into something other than they were born by use of magic, and we travel with her for the evolution of her understanding.
There are a few other key characters – Prosecutor Lothain, who we already know from the Sword of Truth series is a terrible bad guy, although the reason why (to gain access to the Temple of the Winds, he must walk the Path of the Betrayer, thus betraying his loyalty to the New World) isn’t touched on in this book, and remains something we only know from The Temple of the Winds. Possibly this is because the only person who knows these details at this particular point in time is Baraccus, First Wizard – and he’s dead.
The other key character is Merritt, whose name I instantly recognised, but couldn’t immediately place, although eventually I remembered he was the first Confessor’s wizard. Lothain is suitably detestable, and Merritt perhaps the most likeable of all the characters, although he arguably channels too much ‘Richard’.
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did, but there were definite points that bogged the story down, sections I skipped or skimmed, and that’s not really like me at all. Magda consults with a spiritist, a sorceress who works with spirits, and the spiritist recounts her story to Magda – in laborious detail, spanning multiple chapters of not much besides dialogue. While it turns out the tale was critically important, I didn’t know that while reading it, and found it tedious to endure. I’m sure there would have been a more effective way to tell the story – perhaps even using the spiritist as a viewpoint character to tell parts of the tale as it happened.
Goodkind is also known for being ‘preachy’. This has never overly bothered me, but in this book (and also The Omen Machine) I felt it became a bit laboured. We’ve heard it before. We know all the principles Goodkind espouses. I’m beginning to feel a bit beaten over the head by them. Granted, they may remain relevant to the story; so touch on them, and move on. Instead, I got pages and pages of characters spouting their ‘beliefs’ in a way that really began to feel like the author is just using the characters as his mouthpiece. I. Get. It. I’m not that stupid. Now can we please move on to something more interesting?
If anything, I would say The First Confessor is even worse in this sense than The Omen Machine. Perhaps this is because it is self-published – while Goodkind’s editor clearly didn’t do a fantastic job of reining in the author’s impulses in The Omen Machine, The First Confessor may be an example of what we get when there is no one reining them in at all!
Other issues were more minor nitpicks. The response to Alric Rahl’s solution of the devotion to protect against the dream walkers wasn’t entirely what I’d understood it to be from previous Sword of Truth books, but this can arguably be explained away by saying the histories weren’t clear. Also, a bunch of mysterious murders take place in the Keep, and I feel the potential for conflict and suspense inherent in these murders was not utilised to its full capacity.
The story winds up by explaining some of the mysteries we were aware of from Richard’s studies into the histories and Kolo’s journals, and to this extent I was satisfied. I am a little unclear on the treatment of the Sword of Truth, as it doesn’t match my recollection of the nature of the Sword in the Sword of Truth series, but possibly that is my faulty memory. I would need to re-read the series again to double-check, I think.
Worth a read, but hardly Goodkind’s finest example. Still miles better than Soul of the Fire and The Pillars of Creation, the two Sword of Truthbooks I personally detest.
Also, don’t forget to come participate in my new book club, Club Fantasci! Our first meeting is at 7:00pm CST on 31 August 2012. You can view our discussion on our website and tweet me and the other co-hosts for discussion. Find out more about our first Google+ Hangout here.