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Chainfire: Sword of Truth    by Terry Goodkind order for
by Terry Goodkind
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the ninth in this prolific author's highly popular Sword of Truth series, that began with Wizard's First Rule. Though I read the first book and a couple more along the way, I found the amount of torture at times distasteful, and have just not been as engaged by this series as by Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. However, Chainfire (first of three that are to conclude this long-running epic) has pulled me in again, to the extent that I plan to go back and fill in the volumes I missed.

It begins as the series hero, Richard Lord Rahl, the 'pebble in the pond' of prophecy, lies dying, shot by an arrow in an accidental encounter with Imperial Order soldiers. Sorceress Nikki employs 'Subtractive Magic' to heal his mortal wound. When Richard awakes, he remembers a wolf's howl and discovers that his wife, 'Mother Confessor' Kahlan, has gone missing ... not only in person, but also in everyone's memories but his own. He's obsessed with finding her, while his companions - Nikki and 'Mord-Sith' Cara - are certain that he's delusional.

Soon afterwards, the action picks up with a horrific massacre, that reveals to Richard that his enemy, emperor Jagjang, has conjured an invincible 'blood beast' (a relentless creature of chaos), and set it on his trail; it will find him (and those with him) whenever he invokes magic. Richard sets out on quest for clues to Kahlan's situation. He visits Witch Woman Shota - where he pays a high price for meagre information, including the word 'Chainfire' - and his grandfather Zedd. The latter's arguments, the doubts of all around him, and the exhumation of a grave, make Richard question his own mental state. He finds himself in an ever-tightening trap.

Along the way, readers are re-introduced to many of the series' vast cast of characters, including Ann and Nathan, whose studies of ancient books have revealed that 'the final and deciding battle is upon us.' Nikki is involved in an exciting action sequence, defending the city of Altur-Rang from attack by Jagjang's troops, who have three wizards in their ranks. We meet the engaging young Jillian, 'priestess of the bones' and her 'ravenous raven' companion, Lokey. And we finally see what has become of Kahlan, whose own memories have been taken.

Fortunately Richard keeps his focus as 'the Seeker' and 'the magic against magic', to uncover the true danger to the people of both Old and New Worlds, setting the scene nicely for the second in this final trilogy. This Sword of Truth series seems to me the ultimate male fantasy, surrounded as Richard always is by adoring, beautiful, dangerous women (there's a Charlie's Angels flavor to this aspect of the epic). But it's also fantasy on a grand scale, written by a master of the genre, and I'm looking forward to Lord Rahl's next adventure.

2nd (Audiobook) Review by Lance Victor Eaton:

If your sole venture into epic fantasy started and ended with Lord of the Rings, you might want to take a deeper voyage into the land of dragons, elves, ogres, and wizards. Given the increasing popularity of the genre in the last twenty years in books - and in the last three years in audiobooks - fantasy has taken a turn for the serious, and in many instances acts as political allegory. Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series illustrates global affairs better than any political thriller. DragonLance plays with race and racism in ways few fictional texts can, without ostracizing some of the audience. And when it comes to political ideology, Terry Goodkind stakes his claim on capitalism in his Sword of Truth series. His declarative beliefs shine bright in his latest book, Chainfire.

Unlike previous novels which can be read stand alone, each with its own cathartic release, Chainfire serves as the first of a trilogy that will finish the decade-spanning adventure. While Goodkind presents some hope at the end of this audiobook, listeners can deduce that the story has a long way to go before reaching happily ever after.

It opens to the main character, Richard Rahl, Lord of Dhara, recovering from being shot with an arrow through the chest. In order to heal him, his close friend and former Sister of the Dark, Nikki must use her skills as a sorceress to keep him from passing on. But when Richard awakens, his life has inexorably changed beyond what he could ever imagine. Kahlan, his beloved wife, and leader in her own right, has not only gone missing but nobody except Richard can even remember her. Obsessed beyond reasoning, Richard traverses the continent in search of clues to Kahlan's existence.

Meanwhile, prophecy is disappearing. Richard's grandfather Zedd, First Wizard Ann, former Prelate to the Sisters of the Light, and Nathan Rahl, a thousand year old prophet, scramble to discover just what this missing prophecy could mean and how it will affect Richard, the center of so much foreseeing. The endgame is fast approaching, where Richard must lead his army and the last vestiges of individualism against the Emperor Jagang and the Imperial Order, an empire so vast and dispossessed of self that Jagang can afford to waste millions of lives in his fight against Richard.

Goodkind's earlier books had a lot more punch to them. While Chainfire is enjoyable and shows better progression than the last few books, Goodkind spends too much time grandstanding his political beliefs. Listeners are continually reminded of the evils of a socialist government, and one wonders if Goodkind's blatant aggression stems from the political climate in the United States over the last few years. Goodkind may vehemently endorse objectivism as much as Ayn Rand, but he is not necessarily as smooth or elegant in his delivery.

That's not to say fans will be disappointed. And newcomers to the series may find Chainfire a great place to start. Since Kahlan is missing, much of the storyline has to be highlighted at times, as Richard tries to make people believe that she does in fact exist. Listeners may also find the gathering of the most powerful people in this series - Zedd, Ann, Nathan, and Richard - rewarding and entertaining.

Jim Bond stays the course through this 26 hour journey, and keeps his narration tight and smooth. While his voice choice for some characters (such as Zedd), doesn't feel entirely right, his management of several male and female characters (both young and old) make up for this flaw.

Chainfire brings the Sword of Truth back to some of its roots, for it has been a while since Richard traveled so much in a single story. His unrelenting determination to find Kahlan, and his wayward journey, reveals much of the Richard that listeners fell in love with in The Wizard's First Rule.

Note: This review refers to an unabridged (26 hours) audiobook read by Jim Bond, available at Brilliance Audio in CD, cassette & MP3 CD.

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