The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind (The Legend of Magda Searus: Book 1)

4/10 The First Confessor is likely to be the last Terry Goodkind book I read...

Let me preface this review by saying two things:

  1. I’ve never read Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series (though I started once)
  2. I do not like mediocre writing, for I think writers and editors can do better

So when The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind rocked up on my doorstep a month or so ago, I was sceptical. I vaguely remember not reading the Sword of Truth series for some reason, and as this is a prequel novel, I was unsure whether I should read it at all. However, despite these fears, the blurb drew me in and I ploughed through it in a relatively short amount of time.

Thanks in huge part to the number of pages I just skimmed or out-and-out ignored.

For many years, Marvel Comics kept Wolverine’s real origin unwritten – his name, how old he really was, where he had been born, etc. It was a huge mystery – a mystery many fans wanted answered. But to answer it would have been to give away the mystery, to reveal a bit too much. Finally, however, as must always be the case, it seems, Marvel gave in and finally told the tale of Wolverine’s origins.

And the character immediately lost some of his mystique.

Without having read Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’m fairly certain The First Confessor was a story that didn’t need to be told. Even for me, I’m fairly sure that I would be able to point to the parts of this book that were supposed to be surprise revelations for long-time fans of the original series – name revelations, scenarios, magic discoveries, etc, that people who have read the Sword of Truth series will look back on and say “Oh, that’s THAT!!!”

And if I can do that without having read the series, then the author and editors have messed up.

But that’s no real surprise, considering how poorly The First Confessor is written. It’s desperately hard to believe that this is Goodkind’s sixteenth book, for it reads like a teenager’s first draft. There are five massive sections of dialogue which are nothing but badly written information-dumps. In fact, throughout this entire book the dialogue felt like it had been written by a child. I find it difficult to describe the placid and lazy back and forth dialogue; one character with no information perpetually asking “And why is that?” “And why is that?” “And then what happened?” It seemed to me like the author simply wanted to dump a lot of his world building onto his readers, and the only way he could think to do it was to say it, not show it.

And this lazy use of dialogue filtered throughout the whole book – in individual scenes and in massive chapters-long diatribes – which is utterly disappointing, considering how weighty and important I suspect this origin story is. While I maintain that this is a story that probably didn’t need to be told, the underlying story was nevertheless really interesting – and I’m quite intrigued by what the rest of the series holds. The world, the magic, the threats, and the characters all interest me, and I would like to read more.

However, if every book is written with this “And then what happened?” dialogue style, I do not like my chances of making it far.
Joshua S Hill, 5/10

In the time before the Confessors, when the world is a dark and dangerous place, where treason and treachery are the rule of the day, comes one heroic woman, Magda Searus, who has just lost her husband and her way in life.

I think I reached the end of the road with Terry Goodkind, and it is time we parted ways amicably. The First Confessor is the latest offering from Goodkind, the first book in a trilogy of prequels exploring the great war between the New World and the Old World that lead to the creation of such awesome magic as Dreamwalkers, Confessors, and the Sword of Truth. I wanted to like this book, and there were definitely some enjoyable parts, but in the end this is just a long winded repetitive sermon about the importance of truth and reason. I will not use the review to delve into the ebook debate, there has been plenty of discussion about at a lot of different places (and we talked about it on of the early podcast episodes), but in case you don't know, this book was self-published and is only available as an ebook.

The First Confessor, as the title suggests, tells the story about the creation of Magda Searus as the first Confessor. The story opens with a grieving Magda Searus trying to come to terms with the suicide of her husband, First Wizard Barracus. Convinced that Barracus would not have committed suicide without a reason, Magda goes on a fact finding mission where political conspiracies and zombies stand in between her and the truth. She meets the wizard Merritt and they work together to come up with a magic that will put an end to the corruption and reveal the true purpose behind Barracus' suicide. Yeah... there's not much plot here, especially given the size of the book. I'm okay with that - people who have read the Sword of Truth series already have a pretty good idea of what happened during this time, we already know how it ends, so the story has to be more focussed on the journey from A to B rather than building towards a big climax at B. But the journey did nothing for me. It was boring, it was repetitive, it was full of pages and pages and pages of over the top dialogue, and even the new plot threads revolving around the zombies and the conspiracies were painfully obvious and predictable. I remember a time where Mr Goodkind had a deft touch with subtle plotting and well timed reveals, but that has all been replaced with the heavy-handed subtlety of a brick.

One thing that Goodkind did get right in this book are his characters. While Magda is very similar to Kahlan, and Merritt / Barracus / Alric Rahl represent the different parts of Richard, we get to see these characters grow throughout the book in response to tough challenges, we get to see they have some depth and complexity rather than just being caricatures of human emotions (like in The Omen Machine), and I think you can really come to feel for Magda and her plight. I think Lothain was a poorly constructed villain, whose only purpose was to reinforce Goodkind's message of people are dumb and can never see what is right in front of them, and the only salvation is to use reason. But all in all, characterisation is a step up from Goodkind's previous two outings.

The biggest problem I had with this book was the writing, mostly because there was too much of it. Economy and density of words is thrown out the window in favour of the principle "why use five words when five paragraphs will do". There was so much repetition, so many of the characters rephrasing the same ideas again and again and again, just in case you didn't understand the first time, and so many characters recounting the events that have just passed to new characters they have just met on their journey. There was a scene at about the 50th chapter where Magda summarised the previous 49 chapters with a uprising amount of detail in just a few paragraphs of dialogue. If you want to read this book, you can probably get away with starting and chapter 50 given how good that summary was. The other point I want to bring up is the heavy handed sermon on truth and reason. Goodkind spends a great deal of time communicating these rather romantic notions about letting reason rule your life, and I remember those notions being rather appealing as a teenager. But come on Mr Goodkind, I get it now, you think all people are dumb unless they think like you, at which point they stop being dumb and start seeing the world how it truly is. The message is coming through loud and clear, you don't need to keep beating us over the head with it.

The First Confessor is likely to be the last Terry Goodkind book I read, which is sad given how much of my childhood I spent reading and reading his Sword of Truth novels. I felt bored reading this story, I was disappointed at how little risk Goodkind took with his story telling, and I was frustrated with having to read through so many pages after figuring out every major mystery and predicting every major plot point in the novel by 30% mark. I'm not sure who I would recommend this book to. The legion of Goodkind followers will probably have already read and loved this book, the long time Goodkind readers like myself will probably be disappointed by the amount of handholding provided in this story, and people who have never read Goodkind before will probably be disappointed by the weak plot.
Ryan Lawler, 3.5/10

Reviews by and Ryan Lawler

1 positive reader review(s) for The First Confessor


Terry Goodkind's The Legend of Magda Searus series

The First Confessor

The Legend of Magda Searus: Book 1

The First Confessor reader reviews

from US

I loved the book. Ever since reading the sword of truth series I find it difficult to enjoy other books. Until this one. Character development was second to none. Finishing his books are like losing family. They are gone. I previously did not read this genre of books. His writing grabs me like Disneyland grabs a child.

from UK

An amazing book from an amazing author. The point of view is powerful being from that of an ungifted and so vunerable character, knowing already how she becomes one of the most powerful characters in the world. It is an enthralling story which has you trying to understand things along with the character and forever making you look for the answers in small nuances of the conversations. The combat and battles are tense and the outcome unknown in spite of you knowing the eventual ending you are made to be invested in anciliary characters some of whom die in sudden and shocking ways making you fear for others. The perfect way to connect the threads of the epic origins of the eventual finale that is the primary works.

8.1/10 from 3 reviews

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