For most of the time reading this book, I was pretty sure I was going to give it three stars. I haven’t given a Sword of Truth book three stars since the first one, which I read way back in 2009. (Knowing how the series turns out from there, I think that may have been an optimistic rating, and if I read it again now, I might round it down to two stars.) Then somewhere around the middle I was like, nah, two stars. Then I changed my mind again at the end. If I don’t rate this three stars, I have to retroactively go back and rate all the others one star. That seems like too much work. Plus, aside from a really big flaw (BIG), this is actually the most assured, least erratic, least weird, best structured, and most character-centric of these books by far. So sure, let’s do it. Three stars!
Faith of the Fallen picks up shortly after that abomination of a last book, with Kahlan healing from her injuries. Richard and Cara take her to a secluded place in the mountains to heal. If this makes it seem like Richard is abandoning the fight with the Imperial Order, that’s because he is. He has had a realization, which he tries to pass off as a prophecy, that if they directly fight the Order, they will lose. He says that the people need to fight and truly believe in freedom, and he can’t make them want to. He believes they need to prove themselves to him, which is a such a dick way of going about it. But the whole book’s like that, taking the seeds of good ideas and impulses, and being a dick about them. So either live with that or stop reading it, I guess. Point is, Richard may be having a genuine moment of insight, or he may be having a crisis of faith because of what happened in the last book, where all the people of Anderith chose the easy subjugation of the Order instead of the hard cause of freedom (as Richard sees it). Months pass, Kahlan is healed, and then Richard is kidnapped by Nicci, the Sister of the Light/Dark who is now Emperor Jagang’s “Mistress of Death”.
Nicci is actually a much more complex character than I had been expecting. I knew ahead of time this book revolved around her taking him, so I had some assumptions going in, and most of them weren’t met. Nicci is a headcase. She is so indoctrinated into the ideals of the Order her moral compass is all fucked up and doesn’t calibrate anything for shit. She is also the only person Jagang’s psychic assaults don’t always work on, and she doesn’t know why (spoiler: it’s because of her obsession with Richard). She is entirely selfless, and believes giving everything of herself at all times is the only way for her to redeem her naturally corrupt and evil state in the eyes of the Creator. But she sees something in Richard that bothers her, to the point of anger, and she can’t figure out what it is. So she kidnaps him, lying to Jagang and telling him she’s doing it for him, and then absconds with him to the Old World, where either she’ll find the answers she’s looking for (to questions she doesn’t even know how to ask) or she will show Richard the true good of the Imperial Order. So, once again, Kahlan and Richard are tragically separated, but at least here the way Goodkind goes about is moderately clever. He has Nicci tie herself magically to Kahlan, so that whatever befalls Nicci also befalls Kahlan, including injury and death, and so she has Richard on an invisible leash and he’ll do whatever she wants him to in order to preserve Kahlan’s life.
The book takes place over the course of a little over a year, most of which time Kahlan and Richard are apart. Kahlan defies Richard and spends most of it fighting a guerrilla war against a vastly superior force (which I was side-eyeing pretty hard, because 1-3 million troops in a single area seems practically not feasible), trying to prevent the Order for as long as possible (until Richard can return, and they figure something out) from gaining as much ground as possible. These sections were actually pretty engaging. Aside from the logistical doubts I had about the army-size, Goodkind is actually pretty confident when he’s writing military strategy. His battles have never been the things I’ve complained about. I did get angry, though, when his black and white view of the world would infect his characters. At points, Kahlan becomes an unfeeling murderous monster, because Goodkind has no concept of subtlety or nuance in human behavior, and his morality is definitely of the “if you’re not with me, you’re evil and deserve to die” mentality. (I’m thinking particularly of two sequences, one involving Kahlan’s half-brother Harold, the other where Kahlan states that she would like to personally kill almost two million men one at a time.)
Meanwhile, Nicci and Richard are off learning about Why Communism is Bad and why Equality is a Lie and also There Is No In Between.
So here’s the big flaw I was talking about.
Goodkind is without doubt a staunch Libertarian, devout Capitalist, and student of Objectivism. Even if I had never read anything about the guy, and had only read his books, I would know this 100% for sure. I have varying degrees of fondness all along the spectrum for all of those things listed above, but regardless of my personal feelings, I am a firm believer that belief systems should not be the backbone of a book. Character arcs should. Any meaning one gets from a story should be derived naturally from the movement of character and plot. A superimposed meaning should not dictate a character’s actions. That is when literature becomes didactic, which in my opinion causes it to lose nearly all of the power you get from a story well told. This book hops back and forth across a very fine line in regards to which is ruling the story, character or Goodkind’s philosophy, and ultimately I’m not entirely sure which one dominated the most. It’s only that uncertainty that is allowing me to three star this book.
Because both Nicci and Richard do grow from their time in the Old World. Richard regains his faith in people, and Nicci finds inner peace by finally dismantling the myths of her upbringing, and toxic belief systems that molded her mind. I have zero problems with either of their arcs in that regard. My problem comes when Goodkind insists on detailing ad nauseam how terrible the Imperial Order’s ideals and methods are without any nuance at all. It’s just a wholesale dismissal, followed by an imposing of a new and just as equally radical set of beliefs with no acknowledgement of any gray areas at all. Nicci’s backstory is designed specifically to show how the practices of his fake-communism are evil. He creates characters and then has them behave in ways to illustrate the points he feels we need to learn about why communism (or whatever) doesn’t work. He shows no compassion or attempts to understand the factors and potential good intentions that led to the creation of such a system. Its leaders are all unrepentantly evil, not only in committing to such a terrible social system, but also acting with greed and corruption, raping, murdering, thieving, take your pick, etc.
That whole section would have been SO MUCH BETTER without the injected philosophy lessons. A fight against tyranny, inspiring revolution, those plots can work and could have worked better here without Goodkind having to resort to all the rest of it. Even some of his “messages” when divorced from the larger context of the rest of his belief systems have some good points, and he could have used those without needing to resort to all the rest of it. I appreciate complexity and acknowledgement of complexity in the world, and there was none of that here.
Also, I couldn’t decide if I thought it was terrible or great that Richard basically inspires a revolution by Doing The Best Art Ever (see the cover of the book). Because of course he can do that, he’s Richard Fucking Rahl, Mr. Perfect.
And yet, I was entertained, and I will read the next book, which I’ve heard is abysmal, so maybe it will be the last one for me? We’ll see!
[2.5 stars, rounded up because when you compare it to the others, wow]