Something that was marked in the “loved” side of the Love-Hate relationship I have with Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Series (which, I don’t care what he says, is a fantasy fiction series, so there. If you didn’t want to write fantasy, you should have picked a different genre, setting, concept, whatever, for your pedantic preaching… I mean, you had a dragon who could speak, and a chicken which was an incarnation of evil) was the variety of characters that showed up throughout the course of the twelve books. Incidentally, it is the longest series I have ever read, and I almost quit in the middle of Faith of the Fallen, regardless of the fact that my favorite character was developed in that particular book.
One strike in the “hate” column, were it possible for me to keep up with the number of things I hated, is the way that Goodkind took incredibly interesting women characters and wrote them into incredible tropes whose sole purpose was to serve the whims of the principle protagonist, who might be the most annoying man I have ever read written into (fantasy) fiction, ever. And I have read some Star Wars fiction, and all of the Twilight books.
I am not sure if it annoyed me more or less that these women characters were from most perspectives, well, awesome. I fell in love with them on most fronts. The first of many, Kahlan, was undoubtedly one of the most unusual characters I’ve ever met in fiction. She was a matriarch of sorts over all of the Midlands with a rare and incredible power.
As a Confessor she commanded respect from everyone who crossed her path, or that was how things were intended to be. Until, that is, she met and fell in love with Richard Cypher, who turned out to be *spoilerspoilerspoiler* the heir to the Rahl line. A woman who is used to having kings and queens bow to her ultimate and unquestionable authority suddenly has her reign usurped by her fiancée and doesn’t seem to mind because she can still rule by his side. Once they are married.
In my mind it was fun to have this woman placed in a position of ultimate power only to have her toppled by the parties of men. Another Queen, who happens to be Kahlan’s sister by a coincidence, is also dethroned, then brutally raped and beaten until she literally goes insane by a group of misogynistic marauding men working for the Ultimate Evil Socialist Baddie (I am not kidding). The women who run the Palace of the Prophets, a group of powerful sorceresses who train young wizards, have their palace usurped and destroyed out from under them. This theme did not go unnoticed. /digression
Kahlan’s father taught her everything he knew about war and survival, and as a result she knew how to train young soldiers who were outnumbered greatly and spent more time leading armies than Richard — who was prophesied to lead the final battle against the great Socialist Evil. But love conquers all, right? When Richard decides that he must throw out the laws of the old Midlands and unite them under D’Hara (even though it doesn’t work), Kahlan, flinching momentarily, does anything she can to support Richard. Goodkind even goes to great pains to show her failing when she goes against Richard’s advice — even though it doesn’t make sense given her educational background, her personality, or the strength of her character and her power. One of the most absurd aspects of the story is that some of the greatest power she wields can only be invoked on behalf of Richard. And that particular point is never fully explained. I will never be able to fully explain all the ways that I loved Kahlan so much, and was so disappointed and frustrated at the same time with how her character was written.
I don’t know, though, if it measures up to the way that I became righteously indignant in behalf of Nicci. When Nicci was first introduced, I wasn’t aware that I would ever see Nicci again since she seemed to be an aside character, one of those cardboard cutouts who serve as a momentary evil tool of the
devil Keeper of the Underworld. Then I was remotely aware that she would turn up again — the whole “I’m going to kill Richard” thing gave it away — but didn’t imagine that she would develop to the point that I would find her the most amazing person in the series. Hands down.
Nicci spent the last third of the series being a martyr for Richard’s needs. Worrying about Richard’s health. What was best for Richard. Sleepless weeks studying ancient tomes because Richard doesn’t know squat about his own abilities, and Nicci has more than enough for three wizards and five sorceresses. In spite of Richard knowing exactly jack about being a wizard he magically is able to pull miraculous theory out of his arse so he can save Nicci’s life. Save. Her. Life. Because the most contrived plot points meant to show that Richard can do anything no matter how many times these incredibly educated women attempt to teach him anything, he instantly proves them wrong in the most amazing ways.
During the last third of the series, Nicci is constantly being shoved to Richard as a love interest, with whom she has fallen in love but is trying to keep that feeling buried, and she goes to great pains to help him in whatever way he needs because of this. She makes herself a sacrifice to Richard, and in the end, she is fulfilled because Richard is happy, even if it almost kills her in the process. She takes on heroic acts of selflessness because it doesn’t matter if she dies so long as the thing that makes Richard happy and successful comes to fruition. These things just don’t add up to her character development.
The Mord-Sith, Cara, who is sworn to Richard’s side is one of the most feared women in all the Midlands, known for the legendary torture that turns her into a weapon for the Lord Rahl. After Richard becomes the great hero who sets all Mord-Sith free, Cara chooses to be his personal guard. Now, Cara is badass, even as the lore created by Goodkind — who has no problem describing the torture and abuse of women as a plot device to show how horrible a bad guy can be — is as fascinating to me as it is triggering and problematic. Tougher than iron spikes and determined to show you that no man can scare her let alone better her at anything, the thanks Cara gets for throwing her life in front of danger for Richard’s protection is Richard’s insistence that she needs to be “more feminine”. Somehow her lack of desire to swaddle babies and feed squirrels makes her less feminine, because there is obviously only one definition. Cara is the stereotype of “strong female character” in that she is supposed to be the “anti-female” or something, but she is witty and clever and endearing, but there is a never-ending side-story to make her into a better, softer woman.
The series is rife with graphic descriptions of violence against women. Rape and gory death drawn out in great detail. A serial killer who rapes and strangles prostitutes to ensure that everyone knows that they are less than human. A man who cuts off the nipples of women to control them with magic. Rape scene after rape scene described to ensure you know just how evil someone is. Women reduced to sex slaves by the “bad guy”. Combined with subtle message after little detail that ensures you know that gender roles are expected not only in the Midlands, D’Hara, and all of the New World, but in the heart of the philosophy that is being pounded by the beaten horse in this Randian-lite crap, the utter contempt that Terry Goodkind has for women shines through in what would have been an incredibly enjoyable series.
And I’ve only scratched the surface. I’d have to go, book by book, to get more in-depth.
It baffles me the way that someone can write incredible women with depth and amazing attributes and still demonstrate a full-on hatred for them with the stories and plots written out for them. The way their lives unfold and the arcs stretch on, at times, made me weep with anger. To this day I can’t figure out how I can hate a series so much and enjoy it at the same time.