Sword of Truth, Book 5
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, August 2010
As with the earlier novels, Goodkind has sought to tell a stand-alone story which still contributes to a larger story arc that runs through the series. Unfortunately, he’s been less successful with Soul of the Fire than with earlier novels. This is still an enjoyable novel, it’s just not as effective in some regards as its predecessors.
In essence, the major problem with this novel is that it feels more like an instalment, a place holder, than the other novels have done. The overall story arc barely advances; the stand-alone story is rather weak; and new readers would have some trouble engaging with either the characters or the overall story.
In the earlier novels (minor spoilers follow here), Richard Cypher met Kahlan Amnell, and discovered that he was far more than a simple woods guide. By the time Soul of the Fire opens, Richard is the ruler of the Midlands, supported by Kahlan, the Mother Confessor – a powerful woman in her own right, and soon to be his wife. Indeed, this novel opens on their wedding night – after many travails they’ve finally managed to get married. But to save Richard’s life at the end of Temple of the Winds, Kahlan cast a powerful spell she didn’t fully understand. She’s inadvertently released the Chimes into the Midlands.
The Chimes are entities which essentially consume magic; as they leach the magic out of the New World, all magical people and creatures will die, and there will be far reaching side effects which may destroy the world. So obviously, Richard and Kahlan must find a way to destroy the Chimes or at least banish them. This is the stand-alone story of this novel; their quest to understand the Chimes and save the world from them. It’s complicated, of course, by the fact that the Chimes are destroying their most potent weapons – the different magics that both Richard and Kahlan wield.
The overarching story is the continuing struggle against Emperor Jagang, the evil dream walker who wishes to conquer the New World with the Imperial Order and make it his. Even while dealing with the immediate danger of the Chimes, Richard and Kahlan can’t forget that they must prepare to defend their lands from his sadistic armies.
Goodkind doesn’t spend a lot of time recapping earlier events, but there are enough reminders to jog the memory of anyone who’s following the series. New readers will flounder more; there are clues enough to give a general idea of what’s going on, but I suspect that the overarching story would seem flimsy to a new reader. It’s not fleshed out much here, so if you haven’t read the earlier stories it could easily seem like a convenient device to provide a background to the story. It’s much more than that, and has been powerfully explored in the initial novels. Many continuing readers, however, will feel dissatisfied with this aspect of Soul of the Fire – it simply doesn’t advance that aspect of the world much. The novel does little more than tread water in relation to Jagang’s plans for conquest.
The plot component that is complete within this novel is also less successful than the earlier novels. I think this is in part because Goodkind has focussed a lot of his attention on some new characters. In one sense this is a positive. Goodkind creates vivid and realistic characters, and the reader will quickly be interested in these new characters and empathise with them. It also relieves some of the burden for new readers of dealing with characters who have thousands of pages of character development and experience behind them, not all of which will be immediately evident to new readers. The negative side, though, is that for continuing readers it also feels as though the story of Richard and Kahlan has stalled a little. It felt to me as if we spent less time with them than in other novels, saw less change in them, and learnt less about them.
Soul of the Fire is the least successful of the Sword of Truth series to date, at least insofar as the ongoing story of Richard and Kahlan and the overall story arc are concerned. It does offer other strengths, though. Most notable is probably the new characters who seem likely to appear only in this novel. They provide insight into a particular nation in the Midlands (a coalition of many nations), and are interesting and realistic characters in their own right. Goodkind has balanced the story and action well; although there is a good deal of action, this is a thoughtful novel which is also concerned with motivations and feelings. Goodkind draws these out effectively, and writes about them in a relatively subtle fashion – he doesn’t have to blatantly tell you what someone is feeling or thinking. In addition, although this is another enormous novel (my copy is over 700 pages of relatively small print), the narrative swings along and the writing style is so invisible that this is a smooth read that never feels bogged down or too long.
This is an imperfect novel, not ideally suited to either a new reader or someone who’s been following the series. Having said that, though, readers who are following the Sword of Truth series will want to read this, and are likely to feel only a mild disappointment with it. New readers are likely to consider this a fairly average novel; they’ll have less background to the story and so may find it falls a little short of their expectations. Both kinds of readers, however, should find a good deal to enjoy here – and it’s unlikely they’d call it a bad novel. Just not entirely satisfying.