Only one time have I been actually mystified as to why a friend would ever recommend a book to me. This book was Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind. The friend was a girl I was working with at the time; we’d both discovered we had a mutual love for fantasy novels. I lent her George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, and she said I had to read Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, which were her favorite books. So I grabbed it at a bookstore, hoping for a new set of bookstop fantasy tomes to gobble up.
I’m still mildly scarred from the experience of reading this book, so much that I couldn’t be induced to read it again to refresh my memory of it. So I apologize for any blurring of plot information. I think Goodkind’s writing is illustrative of why many people roll their eyes and steer clear of the fantasy genre. The characters are very stock, and the plot is a Star Wars rip-off.
But what really shocked me about this author (more so because a female friend recommended him to me) was his prevalent, even casual, use of rape. To be fair, we don’t actually see a lot of rape in the first book, the one I read, though from what I’ve heard, it gets worse. There is, however, a gratuitously lengthy and descriptive segment involving sadomasochistic sex and torture. It takes up about 80 pages of the book. I honestly couldn’t get past that, and ended up skimming the rest of the book.
It surprises me how many people, even women, don’t think critically about what makes a good female character. I’ve seen Kahlan, the main female character in the Sword of Truth series, described as a strong female character. I gather this is because she’s important and special and has strong magical powers that cause men to fear her. Kahlan is a Confessor, which basically boils down to her having a magical power that forces people to spill their souls to her and confess the truth. Confessors can’t cut their hair, because… well, this isn’t really made clear other than the vague explanation that their magic won’t let them, but of course, we all know it’s so they will all be hot. And Kahlan can’t have sex with Richard, the male lead, because when she has an orgasm she will lose control of her power and destroy his soul. Yes, this is her main personal conflict throughout the course of the book. She loves Richard but having sex with him will kill him. OH NO! Shock! What will possibly happen? Do you think they’ll ever find a way to get around that one?< /sarcasm> When not being able to have sex with the male main character is your major personal conflict, well, there are problems. It seems like fantasy authors sometimes think, “Well, I gave her really super special magic, so why are you saying she isn’t strong?”
As I’ve said, I stopped after the first book, but from what I’ve read in reviews, Kahlan experiences nine near-rapes in the series to date. And her sister is brutally gang-raped as a plot device. The bad guys engage in pedophilia. You get the idea. I do not have a problem with authors depicting sex, and even violent sexual situations, if these situations and their implications are treated thoughtfully. But this isn’t the case with Goodkind. As I said before, the word that describes it best is gratuitous. The “good” characters” are in love, and so their use of sex is “good.” The “bad” characters are evil, so they rape and sexually torture, or are raped and sexually tortured.
The world of Goodkind is a twisted place.