After the past two books in the series have been not great (#7 was almost pointless in terms of the long-term arc, and #8 was one of the dullest things I’ve ever forced myself to finish; I couldn’t even bring myself to write a review), I wasn’t really expecting much from this book. Prior books in the series, even if I didn’t really like them, were always at least entertaining (and oftentimes over the top). That hasn’t really been the case since #6 (Faith of the Fallen). Goodkind’s perverse literary fixations (remember the bag of nipples? I will never get over it) seemed to have been replaced with a fixation on creating straw men for his characters to knock over. Aside from the presence of such poorly articulated philosophical arguments being annoying in and of themselves, reading them as a key part of a narrative is not interesting! What IS interesting is conflict that arises organically from your characters’ emotions. And that is something that this book actually does pretty well.
Chainfire is the first of what is essentially a sub-trilogy to close out the Sword of Truth series. The book begins with Richard waking up from a near-fatal injury only to find his wife, Kahlan, is missing, but nobody remembers she even exists except him. Nicci and Cara both think his imaginary wife is an extension of a dream he must have had when he was feverish for two days, recovering from his injury. They both think he’s delusional, and their beliefs are only strengthened every time someone who knows Richard hears him talk about Kahlan, and none of them remember her either. It’s obvious to Richard that something much bigger must be going on, and that the magic used to make something so large and complex happen is probably going to have disastrous consequences elsewhere.
The main arc for him is dealing with the emotional fallout. Not surprisingly, it’s not fun to be the only person who believes something, and something so fundamental as the closest relationship in his life, and not only that, but even his closest friends repeatedly deny his version of reality, and double down by trying to convince him that something is wrong with *him*. He tries to use logic and rational thought to convince Nicci and Cara, among others, but it doesn’t work. They have an answer for everything he throws at them, and their minds seem to have created false memories to replace what was erased. No one even seems to notice or be bothered when obvious holes in their memory don’t have exact answers. It is extremely frustrating for Richard, and it almost breaks him. No one believes him, and so he has almost nowhere to turn for answers.
There are also subplots involving Jagang trying to re-conquer Altur’Rang as a lesson, so that the rest of the Old World won’t get any ideas and rise up as well. And there’s something wrong with prophecy. Vast chunks of it are now blank, and no one has any memory of what those blank spaces used to contain (hmmmmmm). On top of all that, a beast created and sent by Jagang is now hunting Richard, and the collateral damage it causes is huge.
My main complaint with this book is the same complaint I’ve had with Goodkind’s writing since I first finished book one ten years ago: He is just not a good writer. I mean on a sentence level. He does not trust his readers at all, instead overexplaining every new concept introduced. And his dialogue, ugh, no one talks like that! Every conversation between every character involves endless repetition, and characters talking down to each other constantly as if their friends are infant babies instead of grown adults. “Now, Verna, don’t you see . . .” Etc. Sometimes characters literally say the exact same thing three times in a row with only slight variations. If I had edited this book, it would have been at least 2/3 of its current length, that’s how much unnecessary nonsense Goodkind peppers throughout. Also, a good chunk of this book has Richard essentially recapping most of the events of the series up until now, so that’s more useless space taken up. Brief references to those events would have been more than sufficient.
But, the series is back on track now, actually dealing with the events of the main storyline, whereas it’s tabled that almost entirely for the last few books, which were basically spinning plates as far as Jagang was concerned. I’m sure a lot of my relief at reading this has a lot to do with the book actually having a plot! And forward movement! But I also did like the relationships between Cara and Richard, and Nicci and Richard, especially Nicci. I like Nicci a lot, and it makes me wonder what a more talented author could have done with that character. Cara and Nicci are extremely frustrating when they are harping on to Richard about his delusions, but the rest of the time both of them have really sweet, supportive dynamics with him, and he regards them much the same. (It helps that Richard the cruel Dicktator doesn’t really make an appearance here in this installment.) Nicci in particular has a really nice moment with Richard when he’s at his lowest, and despite not believing him about Kahlan, she really supports him emotionally and is instrumental in his character growth.
Aside from what a relief it will be to finally finish this series after ten years, I’m kind of looking forward now to seeing how it ends. (Well, that’s a lie. I was spoiled ten years ago for the ending, but I don’t know how it will play out in context! And my memories of the spoiling are very vague.)