First and foremost, I wish to apologise to Terry Goodkind. I am sorry for the words I am about to write, but they come from a fan and a reader who once loved and took great pleasure in The Sword of Truth series, from Wizard’s First Rule to Confessor. These books encompassed everything they were meant to, they were magical, dark and compelling, a true fantasy series.
When The Omen Machine was released I was thrilled, as the series for all intents and purposes had finished its storyline in Confessor. But after reading this new arc I was left sorely wanting. Once done with The Omen Machine, I remember thinking, you can't write a winner all the time and waited for the next in the series to bring me back to the world of Richard and Kahlan. The Third Kingdom, much like its predecessor, was still missing that spark, that engagement and level of commitment I had previously experienced from the original books, and much like The Omen Machine I found it a struggle to finish.
I was unsure if I wanted to read Severed Souls, I had been burnt twice now and didn’t think I could handle it again, but thanks to the good people at HarperCollins I obtained (probably my last after this) a review copy of the book and decided to give the series one last try. In the end, I had two attempts at reading Severed Souls, in the first effort I put the book down after thirty pages, not a lot but it was enough to make me stop. In my initial read, I found the story flat and un-engaging, but considered this could be my own mood or frame of mind at the time not allowing me to get into the story. So I stopped and gave it a week. Taking the book up once more, I reread from the beginning and this time made it through the one hundred pages before with bewildered heart and heavy head I closed the cover for the last time.
I could go into a litany of the elements I found off with this book, but think I will keep it to some main points. Firstly, the writing was bland and uninspiring, I could not believe that this was the same author who captivated me for eleven novels. Take a moment and think back to Phantom (I could be wrong in which book) when Richard is searching for Kahlan and he hides in the Jagang army. I remember strong emotions leaping of the page: fear, hope, strength and resolve. Unfortunately, none of that past writing comes out in this book or the previous two. From the opening scene where Richard is meant to be in a rage and fighting the Shun-tuk, the words are written without energy, come across forced, and are bereft of promise to the reader.
The single greatest flaw I feel, and I am not sure if this was down to Goodkind's vision for the stories, was the editing/writing style. There was repetition after repetition of words, sentences and themes. Basic grammatical treatment was thrown out the window leaving me confused at structure and flow. A good example of this was the recurrence of single adjectives used numerous times over a few lines consistently throughout the pages I read.
Where had it all gone so wrong? I have heard stories of some authors feeling that their works should not be edited and I have no idea if this is the case, but it feels like it. Have we come to a point where our favourite and most successful writers believe in their own skills to the point they forget we all make mistakes, that the input of others, whether it be an editor, proof-reader, beta-reader or fan boy could can add to the work. As the saying goes, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, I think someone needs to be very cruel to these last three novels.
In a contrast, I have just finished reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss and while a short story, the thought, skill and devotion placed into this piece dwarfs the banality that was the first one hundred page of this work. It’s a rare thing that I don’t finish a novel, even if I know I will return to it later, but I can say with raw sadness that I won't be attempting a rereading and I do not see how I could come back to another in the series, if one is being considered.
I understand that I have written a lot of very negative comments, and I really wanted to finish with something positive but the best I can offer is this - if you are of the younger generation a YA fan and have never read the first eleven novels in the series, maybe you can make this new story your own.
While I do not think it's appropriate to provide a score out ten, as I could not finish the story, I will because it's expected. Based solely on what I did read and the immense respect I have for Goodkind and his early works, as well as the respect I have for any author who has the courage to write and be successful, I give the book 2/10.
Review by Fergus McCartan
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