Friday, September 25, 2009

The Mystery of Terry Goodkind

For those of you Thrillerfolk who don't recognize the name, Terry Goodkind is a megaselling fantasy author best known for his Sword of Truth series. I was assigned Nines by my All Seeing, All Knowing editor, who added the footnote that this was Goodkind's first foray into the Thriller genre and that the book was going to be a Big Deal with his legions of faithful fans.

I read the book and liked it well enough. It sounded to me like someone - Goodkind's editor, agent, wife – made a bet with him that he couldn't write a Thriller where fantasy elements, magic in particular, were not allowed. The result, Nines, at least as far as TG is concerned, adheres to the sprit of this challenge, if not the letter. Here's a short precis:

Artist, Nebraskan, Alex Rahl rescues a fair damsel, Jax, on the street one day when a truck driven by two piratical types attempts to run her down. Turns out she's a traveler from an alternate world where magic takes the place of technology. She's in our world trying to get help in defeating a fiendish dictator who is attempting to enslave the citizenry and take over her home world. Because of various connections to this other world, Alex signs on for the task. Mayhem ensues.

Here's how Goodkind meets and yet skirts the challenge: Jax, who is something of a wizardess in her home world, has no magic when she's in ours. She's forced to use conventional weapons, such as her trusty dirk, to dispatch the evildoers who are out to kill her, and Alex. At the same time, these evildoers whiz in and out of our reality at will, and are super strong and have other powers. So, yeah, the heroes can't do any magic, but the other guys can. As I said, the spirit, if not the letter of the challenge.

So is the book any good? I liked it and gave it a laudatory review. I think that Thrillerfolk, a reasonably mellow and accepting crowd, will go along with the sort-of-fantasy elements. I found the pace a little too leisurely, but once Goodkind gets everything explained and up to speed, the book takes off pretty nicely. It's been advertised as a standalone, but I'll bet we see it turned into a series.

When reading and reviewing the book months ago, I went to the Goodkind site and read, with some amusement, the guesses of his many fans as to what the book would be about (pretty much universally wrong) and how worried they were that their favorite author was somehow abandoning them for another genre. A recent trip back to the site shows that most of them are relieved that the book is good and does not depart so radically from their expectations that they must disown it. In fact, they document many connections to Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, connections that readers who have not read that series (of which TG is one) would ever understand. Connections that, at least it seems to TG, in no way either hurt or enhanced the book for the unaware reader.

All in all, no matter what Goodkind's publisher says, the book is something of a hybrid. It's as if they were attemting to move some of the author's millions of readers over into another genre that they publish. Sort of like hiding medecine in a tasty snack. Did it work? Goodkind fans, will you now venture into Thriller territory when there's no new Goodkind Fantasy to read? Why do you think he decided to branch out into new territory? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Disney owns the rights to his other work? Is it a case of an author who is tired of writing in one vein and just wants a break? Could it be as TG suggests it might, that someone just bet him he couldn't do it? And make a guess: what's next for Terry Goodkind? Do you want Nines to become a series? Or do you want him to stop fooling around and get back to fantasy?

(See the following comments for a response from a Goodkind fan. Perhaps TG was not reading closely enough?)


  1. Great review, but a couple corrections on the use of magic in the books:

    The bad guys were just as impotent in the use of magic in this world as was Jax. In fact, they they likely had no magic in the other world either, as their leader was trying to eliminate magic there, which means he would limit the number of magical people under him (as they'd be a threat to him). They would only be able to do one thing (which didn't require magic) and that was to activate their "lifeline" to travel back to their world. Coming to this world would have required someone from their world with magic sending them here. The reason the bad guys were able to come and go more easily than Jax was twofold. First, their group had been coming here for years, and had mastered the method of travel, while Jax and her group had just figured it out. And when she last travelled here, she hadn't had time to set up a lifeline, which is why she was stranded.

    Also, their strength was not magically enhanced, but just a result of their occupation in the other world as brutish soldiers. Remember, Alex was able to overpower them physically, and he certainly had no magic at all.

  2. All good points, Eric. But I still contend that them having the ability to come and go at will was at least a little bit of cheating. Page 418 - "Do you know that we have the ability to show up in, say, the bedroom of your president? The bedroom of every world leader?" As a writer of many novels I understand that Terry had to have a certain edge to make the whole deal work, and I don't begrudge him that. The man is great at what he does.