Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Rant: Phantom

Phantom is the penultimate installment of Terry Goodkind's long-running Sword of Truth series.

Just like the rest of the books, I was able to pick it up and get involved with the characters quickly. I read all 600 pages in a couple of days. Sounds like I really enjoyed it, right?

Goodkind is the friend you once welcomed into your home, but his constant presence long ago wore thin. He seemed funny and fresh at that first dinner party, but after the fourth or fifth visit you were sick of cleaning up the empty soda cans he left all over your house. You started to feel uncomfortable about the writhing anger that bubbles underneath his charming wit. You stopped inviting other friends over when he's there, because of the awkward and embarrassing moments he orchestrates. You anticipate his visits, but shortly after he arrives you begin to aniticipate his departure. You keep inviting him over, because you have this fond picture of what you thought he was, even though he keeps coming up short when measured against that image.

First, he's cruel. I was wide-eyed reading Wizard's First Rule, as the graphic and endless depictions of torture (of the main character, no less) in a fantasy novel surprised me. In addition, the torture served to underscore both the undeniable evil of the bad guys as well as the strength and heroism of the good guy. (Of course, the torturer was an exquisitely beautiful, athletic, and battle-trained woman who wore an outfit of skin-tight leather; dark red leather so the blood wouldn't show. This probably made the torture a bit easier to swallow.)

But after ten books of graphic torture and violence, I'm not wide-eyed anymore. I rotate between numb and disgusted as I read about yet another city mercilessly laid to waste by the evil invaders. The bad guys are now I get it.

Second, he's preachy. He's an Ayn Rand disciple, but he's even less subtle and more repetitive. His rants against self-sacrifice, socialism, and religion are recycled over and over again. His depiction of a society that quickly descends into barbarism as a result of these beliefs would be chilling if it wasn't completely overdone. Did you miss the implication that this facet of society was directly caused by the abandonment of rationality? Don't worry, just read the rest of the book and he'll explicitly explain the connection three times.

Third, he's formulaic. Look, I've tried to write and it's really hard. I'd be happy to be formulaic if I could only finish something that I started. But if you're going to write a 10+ book series, then you better be prepared to mix up your style a little bit if you want to keep readers interested. He's got certain characters that are inviolate, but he continues to attempt to create suspense by pretending he's going to cross the barriers with those characters that he's spent ten books defining. I don't think it takes a stunning intellect to understand when the author is simply yanking your chain, and it's neither suspenseful nor entertaining.

This should have been a relatively solid seven-book series instead of wordy eleven-book one. I've become attached to the main characters and their fiery passion, but I only continue to read this series to see how it ends. I'm sure Goodkind doesn't care, as long as he gets my $7, but I couldn't seriously recommend this series to someone else because the time invested is not worth the payoff. I don't care what the ending is (I'll find out in November), but no way will I suggest to a friend that they should read 11 books of over 500 pages to get there.

I've already started reading another book, The Engines of God. It seemed like a promising mix of sci-fi and archaeology, so I thought I'd give this author a try. The book is about finding the ruins of an advanced alien civilization (but no aliens), but just as a throw-in, the author notes that everyone on Earth is living in domes because of the constant hurricanes, storms, and famine caused by...unchecked global warming.

Awesome. I can't wait to see what other brilliant ideas he might have about the future. Maybe I'll just re-read Phantom.


At 8:10 AM, Blogger sparrowlegs said...

"Goodkind is the friend you once welcomed into your home, but his constant presence long ago wore thin..."

Are you trying to tell me something?

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Sweet Tea said...

Goodkind never built a deck for me.


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