Well, I don’t know how Goodkind did it (which makes it a good topic for study, I guess), but somehow Wizard’s First Rule crawled up under my skin and embedded itself there. It kept getting better and better and in the end, I am shocked to say that I had a hard time putting it down and enjoyed it.
Why? I think because it had a lot of “heart.” The characters won me over. First Kahlan, then I even started rooting for Richard in the end. Though I must admit I thought the final solution was a bit cheesy (spoiler alert: love conquers all). I guess the whole book was cheesy too. It’s basically Romeo and Juliet where the tragic ending is narrowly averted. It’s a fairy tale, with a (spoiler alert) fairy tale ending.
And on the plus side, it has an ending. There’s no need to read the next book (although I put it on my wish list).
Here’s the caveat: The book does take a while to get rolling. I stopped reading around Chapter 18, when Richard and Kahlan enter the Boundary (somewhere around 30% through). At that point, the only interesting question to me was, “what’s the deal with Kahlan?” But it seemed pretty clear that Goodkind was going to drag that out through the whole book, which was getting annoying.
So, thinking I was done, I went to read some book reviews, and they all kept saying how much sex and violence there was in the book. That blew my mind, because for the first 18 chapters, Wizard’s First Rule is about as softball, G-rated, goody-twoshoes as you can get (like I said, it’s a fairy tale!). So, if only to see what all the fuss was about, I kept reading (actually, er, skimming).
The first instance of “graphic violence” occurs in Chapter 21, p. 210. It’s not really that bad. It’s more of the cartoonish, over-the-top sort of violence you see in, for example, Kill Bill. It almost makes you want to laugh more than cringe. He takes a single moment in time, ratchets up the film speed so it’s in super slow motion, and describes everything in detail. It was a fairly important moment, so I didn’t have a problem with it.
Then the unthinkable happened. Somewhere within Chapters 25 through 28 (the trials and tribulations with the Mud People) is when I first thought to myself, “wow, I think I kind of like this book.” (This is also where the first “sex stuff” happens, which was also PG-13 at worst.) It was a suspenseful time in the book, and one thing Goodkind can do is build suspense. And looking back at it now, I realize it was also the area where the writing switched from Richard’s POV to Kahlan’s POV, which could well have had a lot to do with it. IMO, Kahlan is a way more compelling character than Richard.
Starting in Chapter 29, we are introduced to a young orphan girl named Rachel, who is an adorable kid who could melt the heart of a sociopathic serial killer. She’s a side character on an almost entirely self-contained side adventure. Again, it was pretty suspenseful because I was completely sure that there was no way this sweet, innocent little child would be able to escape the evil clutches of the Bad Queen. But (spoiler alert) being a fairy tale and all, she did.
The infamous “torture porn” (a term used to describe movies like Saw) starts in chapter 41. But instead of being grisly and disturbing like I was led to believe, it was actually one of the most emotionally compelling parts of the book. I think that was the first time I started caring about Richard, and my hat is off to Goodkind for somehow making us genuinely care about his Mord-Sith captor Denna (spoiler alert: Richard gets captured).
And for what it’s worth, I didn’t think it was all that excessively graphic. If your idea of epic fantasy ends at Lord of the Rings, then yeah it would probably be pretty shocking. But it could have been much, much worse… a lot of really graphic details were missing. There were “hints” but almost nothing really shown “on screen.” It was more psychological torture in a way; there was a lot of dialog.
And in defense of the length of it: I think it was necessary to effectively build Denna as a two-dimensional character, and Richard’s relationship with her. One could argue whether a side character needed that level of characterization, I suppose, but it would have been a pretty boring part of the book otherwise.