The OF Blog: A rabid squirrel reviews Terry Goodkind's The Third Kingdom

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A rabid squirrel reviews Terry Goodkind's The Third Kingdom

After learning that he had been assigned the arduous task of reading Terry Goodkind's recently-released The Third Kingdom, the leader of the highly-trained and vicious Serbian reading squirrels, Stefan Veverica, sighed.  Ever since the calamitous attempt by his lost love, Marija, to read Robert Stanek's Keeper Martin's Tale for Larry had resulted in her full-on descent into rabidness, there had been limits placed on what the reading squirrels would have to endure.  Larry himself had to agree to read Dahlia Lu's The Dark God's Bride alone, as the squirrels were too busy licking their metaphorical and all-too-physical wounds to spare time for reading such dreck.

But Goodkind?  Really?  Why, oh rabid squirrel gods, why must this bitter cup be passed to me, Stefan thought.  If I make it out alive, some one is going to be eviscerated for this outrage.  Well, perhaps it won't be so bad if it's read really fast...

And so hundreds of pages were read in a near blur.  Not because much of anything was happening, the squirrel mused, but rather because everything was explained in such a redundant fashion that he, despite having not read any Goodkind in years, could fill in all of the backstory.  Richard was being Richard, spending dozens of chapters chit-chatting with a talented yet naive young sorceress about things which he could learn in a minute.  Such as how to read this oh-so-mystical thing called "the language of Creation," which due to this super-duper, hidden away for over a dozen books until the previous book, the eponymous "omen machine" could do this neat trick of "issuing prophecy by using focused beams of light to burn the symbols composing the language of Creation onto metal strips." (p. 159)  It was like the 1980s had reached Dick and K'lan Land and CDs of Hal Lindsey prophecies were now being mass-produced!

As the squirrel read on, it began to twitch.  Gah!  Why is Kahlan yet again separated from her dear beloved Dick and why oh why is she without powers and at the mercy of henchmen who probably failed the admission exam for Villain U and instead had to settle for an Associate's Degree in Criminalology?  Why does Dick ejaculate for page after page about the discoveries he makes from reading a language that he only discovered a few weeks ago?  Does he have some sort of special Rosetta Stone that teaches him these things or is he a mannikin from which plot information is yanked out of his ass like you might yank a series of knotted handkerchiefs from a magician's hat?  And for the love of juicy, succulent human flesh are there zombies in this book that have less mental capability than a spastic night crawler who had ingested 'shrooms?

Grr!  Gah!  Killkillkillkillkillbitedestroyevisceratemaimshatnerbonaduceattackchitterchitterchitter!

And with that, Stefan Veverica began running wildly around his tree, barking madly and baring his fangs at any who approached.  Looks like this review will have to be finished by Larry after all.  Damn, Stefan was such a good, devoted, discerning reading squirrel...

As you might already guess from reading the paragraphs above, The Third Kingdom is a very poorly-written novel by an author renowned for his clunky prose, paper-thin characterizations, and odious political philosophy.  It is a novel that tries to create suspense from yet another separation of the two main protagonists, Richard Rahl and his wife Kahlan, yet such suspense fails because the author has utilized this tired, exhausted plot device so frequently that one might be pardoned if he took the wrong inspiration from watching the movie Groundhog Day.  But, as I can hear Goodkind's most rabid fans cry, it is different this time because the two have been infected with death and their precarious balance between the unnatural combination of life-and-death in a body has to be redressed quickly, lest they die!  To which I merely note that the laborious effort Goodkind makes into trying to make a state of being, death, into a concrete, reified entity ultimately serves to make the entire concept rather ridiculous even for a literary subgenre, secondary world fantasy, that contains a plethora of asinine plot devices.  It's one thing to just say "hey, they're like uh...*in a Butt-head-like voice* huh-huh-huh poisoned."  At least then the urgency can be sensed and (mostly) accepted.  But the notion that a state of being, death, is a poisonous entity that affects Dick's powers is risible.  Trying to even explain this shoddy attempt at creating an obstacle for our heroes makes me feel as though I were trying to explain the concept of water to fish.

It doesn't get much better when the enemies are concerned.  Apparently the old, old, old bad guys from centuries before created soulless people, now gifted with the inventive name of "half people."  Yes, these soul-bereft people want a soul to replace their stolen ones, so they think, hey, I bet cannibalism is the answer, as life is in the blood!  Or is it the heart?  Maybe it's in the anus?  Who cares, let's munch!  And so most of these baddies devolve into mindless flesh eaters that barely display even a modicum of humanity.  This is not as much an oversight on Goodkind's part as it is an intentional feature

Goodkind has long been criticized for the flimsiness of his themes.  Yet here the hollowness of his argument that "reason must rule" is displayed.  The cannibals have to be reduced to such an abject, passion-ruled state in order to create an easy dichotomy, but when the situation is even considered for a moment, it all collapses like a deck of cards.  How can people, even extremely long-lived yet ultimately mortal soulless cannibals, possess even the rudiments of clothing or even subsistence if their minds are focused solely on eating the flesh of the souled?  Why are there literally thousands of these witless bodies being slaughtered as the hero allows his rage to fuel his deadly magic sword?  If anything, it is the passion behind Richard's actions, not the lip-service to ideals that he voices in a redundant fashion for long stretches in the first half of the novel, that is to be the appeal of the story.  If the quasi-zombies aren't being slaughtered en masse, then the story would be reduced even further to diabolical laughter®, maniacal scheming, and mustache-twirling, followed by heroic declaration, improbably escape from predicament and rushed conclusion that leaves the villains free to plot poorly for another day. 

The Third Kingdom is like the anti-apotheosis of Goodkind's prose, characterization, and theme development.  Virtually everything he has tried (and failed) to develop in his previous novels is present here (OK, there are no barbed Namble cocks, but there are flesh eaters and nearly toothless wannabe almost-rapists!); these elements, somehow, are presented in an even worse fashion than before.  The writing is atrocious.  Goodkind's repetitive descriptions, written in short, declarative sentences that feel too simple to belong even in a children's lit book, make The Third Kingdom perhaps an even worse reading experience than Robert Stanek.  It is that poor.  There is nothing redeeming about this story, this overarching plot, these characters, themes, etc.  The book is perhaps the epitome of what the late David Foster Wallace noted in an essay, "Rhetoric and the Math Melodrama," that touches upon the issue of reviewing (poor) genre fiction:

This sort of oddity is, in fact, a frequent problem in reviewing or assessing "genre fiction," which is a type of narrative it's usually fair to call "the sort of thing someone who likes this sort of thing is apt to like."  The evaluative criteria tend to be rather special for genre fiction.  Instead of the basically aesthetic assay the reviewer gets to make of most literary fiction – "Is this piece of fiction good?" – criticism of genre fiction is ultimately more rhetorical – "To whom will this piece of fiction appeal?" (Both Flesh and Not, p. 212)

As a reviewer of literary fiction, I can easily say that The Third Kingdom is as far from good as Shatner is to being an excellent singer.  But in regards to the criteria for assaying this book as genre fiction, it is the sort that will appeal only to those who like to read poorly-written works, who found Goodkind to be empty entertainment, and to those who partake of mind-altering substances on a regular basis and who thus want pablum in order to create a shifted perspective.  For everyone else, I think it is pretty safe to say The Third Kingdom will have no appeal.

Now pardon me while I go check on Stefan...

And as the human approached, Stefan began sniffing the air.  Yes, Las Vegas shall be a nice place to visit.  Come, Marija, we have an author evisceration to do.  And then it will be onto Washington state, where we can inflict revenge for you as well, my dear....

And with a tail twitch and a few body tics, the two now-rabid squirrels venture out to gain their revenge on the authors that had made them suffer so...

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Slagging off Goodkind is a pretty competitive field, but with the 'worse than Stanek' line you raised the bar some.

Nearly Headless Ned.

ronanwills said...

Never actually read any of Goodkind's books, but I've heard about how bad they are. Makes me wonder how he managed to become so popular.

Larry Nolen said...

Just be thankful I didn't quote copiously from the book; it is indeed that bad :(

As for Goodkind's popularity, considering how low the bar is for mass-appeal entertainment, I'm not surprised. Some people just want rehashed hack-and-slash peppered with vacuous "philosophy," I guess.

srs said...

So is there an S/SF author you would consider an "anti-Goodkind"? One whose work would be a sweet sweet balm to poor Stefan if only he had received it in time...

Larry Nolen said...

Stefan will have to read poetry written by an all-time great before he can recover. Leopardi, most likely.

As for SF/F writers, hard to say. Of those which occasionally use such elements, perhaps Mark Helprin will be the antidote, even if his own politics are different from mine. Or maybe Cortázar or Elsa Morante.

Anonymous said...

Larry, I'm going ot have to call P.E.T.A. about your unethical treatment involving Stefan.

Besides cracking jokes, that's a neat quote from David Forster Wallice.

RobB said...

"It is a novel that tries to create suspense from yet another separation of the two main protagonists, Richard Rahl and his wife Kahlan, yet such suspense fails because the author has utilized this tired, exhausted plot device so frequently that one might be pardoned if he took the wrong inspiration from watching the movie Groundhog Day."

#1 You managed to read this?

#2 A dozen books later and he still uses the same tired trick I quoted above?

cfunpage said...

I'm a die-hard fan of the sword of truth series and they're wonderful but I think he should have stopped after 'Confessor'. He's beginning to loose the Terry Good touch and becoming too repetitive. Nevertheless he's my best author, he's a Magician, he's good.

Anonymous said...

Fuck u terry goodkind rules

 
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