Sunday, October 01, 2000

Review: "Faith of the Fallen" by Terry Goodkind

In the world of fantasy fiction, the never-ending "saga" has almost become the norm. If a writer's first book does well, it seems the series will continue until the end of time.

In most cases, these turn into downward-spiraling, longwinded and boring repeats of the same story. Or worse, disjointed collections of scenes that stretch back to the last books and ahead to future books, with no self-contained story in each volume.

I thought Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series was headed down the first route after reading the last outing, "Soul of the Fire" - a good, but far from exceptional novel. To an extent, the sixth book in the series, "Faith of the Fallen" (Tor) follows that trend, but it still manages to entertain.

The book opens with the New World still under threat from the Imperial Order, a seemingly unstoppable force that considers itself to be "bringing light" to the world. The leaders of the New World resistance, Mother Confessor Kahlan Amnell and Richard Rahl - the Seeker of Truth and the first war wizard to be born in generations - have gone into seclusion. Richard has taken his wife to his boyhood home in the Westlands, so she can recover from injuries received in an attack at the end of "Soul of the Fire."

They are happy there, but as usual that happiness is short-lived. Kahlan and Richard are soon split again when the Sister of the Dark Nicci binds Kahlan to her and promises Richard that his wife will die if he doesn't join her on a journey to the Old World.

While Richard is held captive by Nicci, Kahlan is again forced to betray Richard for what she considers the greater good. Meanwhile, Richard again is able to win over people that should be his enemies.

In all honesty, Goodkind doesn't cover much new ground with this book. He returns to familiar story lines from "Wizard's First Rule" and "Temple of the Winds," but he does it so incredibly well that the reader doesn't mind. Despite the very similar plot, I kept turning the pages as Goodkind exquisitely tortured his characters, making me believe that this time there was no way Richard and Kahlan would win.

Goodkind offers hints of hope throughout the book, only to snatch them away.

A great victory for Kahlan over the Imperial Order turns into a defeat when scouts spot another quarter of a million reinforcements joining the invading army. A look in Nicci's eyes says that perhaps she's finally getting what Richard's been trying to explain, but in the next passage that excitement is quelled when you realize she has missed the point again.

Nicci herself is an interesting character. Despite the fact that she's seemingly despicable and devoted to evil, the reader actually wants to like her. I hated her for most of the book; but at the same time, I wanted her to finally see the truth and join the "right" side.

Goodkind does tread some new ground in the theme of the book. Whether intentional or not, there are some strong statements about freedom and the value of hard work that offer a satisfying framework for a good story.

The book ends with the threat of the Imperial Order still hanging over the Midlands, and its current position on the best seller list assures we'll see a seventh book in the series.

In a genre that's dominated by writers who tend to stretch stories to much greater lengths than they need or deserve to be, I think Goodkind delivers one of the best punches. Even so, there's a limit to how much longer he can keep this story alive.

Like all such "sagas," Goodkind's series is approaching the point where everyone but the hardcore fans loses interest. Perhaps it's time to wrap up this story and move on to something else.

Realistically, that probably won't happen as long as he's hitting the best seller list with every volume - so I just hope he can infuse a few more books with the magic that kept me turning pages in this one.

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