Thursday, December 29, 2005

Terry Goodkind: Chainfire

Terry Goodkind's Chainfire tries very hard to be libertarian (it's nominated for the Prometheus Award); the main characters talk constantly about self-determination. But most of them, along with all the minor characters, celebrate self-negation in one form or another. And the narration makes it clear that the acts of self-negation are healing, joyous, uplifting acts. I don't recommend this book.

I didn't enjoy the previous book from the series that I read (Naked Empire), but it was harder to explain what didn't work for me in that book. (And I wasn't yet blogging reviews.) This book makes the divergence between the (often pro-freedom) character's words and the feeling presented by the world itself more apparent. This is a world of magic, and the main character is preordained to save them all from an enemy who is using magic and military might to take over the world in the name of the greater good. It's nice that the villains represent a bad idea taken to its logical extreme, and that the protagonists are trying to preserve self determination. It's wonderful that the protagonists understand what they are fighting against and what they are trying to preserve. It's unfortunate that the religious faith that undergirds the hero teaches his followers to chant

"Master Rahl guide us. Master Rahl teach us. Master Rahl protect us. In your light we thrive. In your mercy we are sheltered. In your wisdom we are humbled. We live only to serve. Our lives are yours."

Sometimes they repeat the chant multiple times on the same page. It's clear that it's not an empty litany either. When Rahl asks his military forces whether they are willing to accept his orders, even though he's abandoning the role that is assigned to him by prophecy, their response is to chant "We live only to serve. Our lives are yours."

For me, the time spent attending to the villain's torture and depravity detracts from any positives in the book as well. I don't get a kick out of seeing characters on either side suffer, and I don't need the details to be gory in order to be convinced that the bad guys are bad. And when one of the good guys (who just happened to have been one of the most evil before seeing the light) tortures one of the (current) evil doers in order to find out what she knows about the "ticking time bomb", I see it as a not-well-hidden argument for torture. To add to what I said in a recent post , we already know why some people think torture is sometimes justified. Even if there are such cases, they don't constitute an argument that routine degrading treatment is or should be acceptable.

This book is much too long for what turns out to be an inconclusive chapter of a long saga. At the end of the book, Master Rahl has figured out the solution to the problem that has been driving him the entire course of the book, but hasn't resolved the issue. If we're supposed to be left hungering for the next installment, it didn't work for me.

No comments: