Sword of Truth, Book 8
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
The Pillars of Creation is the eighth book in the Sword of Truth series, assuming you also count the prequel novella Debt of Bones. The previous novels, Wizard’s First Rule, Stone of Tears, Blood of the Fold, Temple of the Winds, Soul of the Fire and Faith of the Fallen, have been reviewed at ASif! previously.
Although this novel arrives late in a long series (both in terms of the number of books and the length of each), it is a good entry to the series for new readers. It isn’t by any means a reboot, but Goodkind spends most of the novel introducing a character who has had no involvement with the events of earlier novels. A new reader would need no background information at all to be able to read and enjoy this novel. Mind you, if halfway through the novel you asked a new reader and someone who’d read the entire series what was going on, you’d get two very different answers. That’s not a bad thing – it simply means the interpretation of some events would be different with different knowledge. And that’s one of the points Goodkind is making in the novel.
The Pillars of Creation introduces Jennsen, a young woman who has spent most of her life on the run with her mother, hiding from the father who wants to kill her. Jennsen doesn’t know why Darken Rahl wants to kill her, only that he does, and that he’s ruthless. Jennsen has strong survival skills when it comes to physical challenges such as fighting, living off the country, or running; but having spent much of her life isolated from people, her skills aren’t so finely honed when it comes to judging people or their motivations.
As the novel opens Jennsen discovers a dead soldier, a find that tells her Darken Rahl has tracked her and her mother down again. They prepare to flee, cautiously accepting the help of Sebastian, a traveller who came across Jennsen and the dead soldier and helped bury him. Sebastian also brings news: Darken Rahl is dead, murdered and succeeded by his son Richard. It seems that Richard has taken Darken’s place in all things, including as hunter of his half brothers and sisters.
Jennsen eventually decides that she must know why it is that Richard is so determined to kill her; her best source of information is a sorceress who lives close to the People’s Palace, the seat of Richard Rahl’s power. Despite the risks, she and Sebastian head into the lion’s den.
As in earlier novels in the series, Goodkind has created strong and empathetic characters. Jennsen is a mixture of naivete and worldliness, and soon begins to realise she can’t fully rely on her perceptions, as her fears sometimes distort what she sees. She is also easily manipulated by those who don’t mean well – but which of the people she meets are genuinely trying to help her, and which are trying to use her? Ongoing readers may find this easier to spot than new readers, but I suspect even those beginning the series here will have some ideas fairly early on. Not all of Goodkind’s characters are likeable, but they’re all vivid and you’ll believe in them.
Ongoing readers may be disappointed that this novel advances the overarching story by perhaps an inch. In that sense, not a lot really happens in the novel, although it’s pretty full of events in terms of Jennsen’s story. Few of the ongoing characters appear in this novel, and those who do appear late and briefly. However, the novel does set up some potentials for events in future volumes (I believe there are at least five more to follow this). However, Goodkind continues to play with themes that have run through the rest of the series – the value of individuals, the belief that each person is entitled to determine their own life, the misleading nature of prophecy, misunderstandings and confusions due to inaccurate perceptions, and questions around an individual’s responsibilities to others. Goodkind incorporates these into his story and isn’t heavy handed, but ongoing readers will probably be pleased to be given further food for thought in this area.
The Pillars of Creation is a good novel for new readers to the series. It provides a smooth introduction without a lot of detailed exposition or background, and provides a main character to engage the interest for this novel and the future. However, it may not leave new readers eager to read the next novel, as it hasn’t really set up the overarching story in a compelling way. Presumably the next novel will draw older and newer readers back into the story of the conflict between the New and Old Worlds. Ongoing readers will probably enjoy this novel while spending much of it wondering when a familiar character is going to appear (particularly as some are regularly referred to). Ongoing readers could possibly skip this particular instalment and go straight to the next; as I said, little happens to the overall story or continuing characters. However, the novel offers strong characters, fast-paced action, and an interesting story, and these things will be enjoyed by many readers regardless of their engagement or not with the bigger story.