Stephen Speicher

Phantom

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7 posts in this topic

I gave this book an 8, not a 9, for 2 main reasons:

  • There wasn't as much suspense or passion as Faith of the Fallen (which sent the standard)
  • It's only part 2 in a 3 part series, and the lack of conflict resolution makes it hard to rate extremely high

On the other hand, it really was a great book:

  • It integrated and explained small unresolved events from as far back as the first book in the series (Phantom is book 10)
  • It had a very Objectivism-oriented view of war that relates to current events
  • There were interesting new developments that fit with previous books, but weren't obvious
  • Goodkind no longer seems to be a writer who just heard about Objectivism and tries to throw unintegrated philosophy into the story

For the most part, this book was much more consistent with Objectivism--in integrated words and actions--than prior books. I think it continues a trend I mentioned in another post that appeared to be starting with Chainfire (book 9).

The focus of the series has now fully shifted from individual struggles with a war going on in the background to the bigger war's impending conclusion dominating the story. As the second book in the final trilogy, this was to be expected.

I got the impression, while reading this book, that Goodkind put a lot more thought into the long-term plot than I initially had in mind. I'm now very much looking forward to the final book in the series.

I have more comments, but most of them would require spoilers. I'll make a separate post for them sometime soon. Since the book just came out, I wanted to give a short review that could be read without ruining the story.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this book in this post.

(please take that warning seriously, as the spoilers aren't all minor)

Goodkind presents a much more rational view of war than you'll find on any news channel. It sounds very similar to Yaron Brook's writings on the subject, and specifically resembles WT Sherman's strategy of bringing the war home to the enemy's supporters. Here's a short excerpt from a speech Richard gives:

"From this day forward, we will fight a real war, a total war, a war without mercy. We will not impose pointless rules on ourselves about what is 'fair.' Our only mandate is to win. That is the only way we, our loved ones, our freedom will survive. Our victory is all that is moral. I want any supporter of the Order to pay the price for their aggression. I want them to pay with their fortunes, their future, their very lives.

"The time has come to go after these people with nothing but cold black rage in our hearts."

Richard lifted a fist. "Crush their bones to blood and dust!"

[...]

"The army of the Order has the support of the people of their homeland. The soldiers of the Order each know that their famlies, friends, and neighbors suppport them. The men of the Order need to hear from those back in the Old World. What I want the men of the Order to hear are wails of agony. I want them to know that their homes are being gutted, their cities and towns leveled, their businesses and crops destroyed, and their loved ones left with nothing.

"The Order preaches that life in this world is nothing but misery. Make it so. Strip away the thin veneer of civilization they so despise."

Even though that quote is pretty long, he goes on for a couple more pages and gets more detailed.

There was also one particular point in the story where it seemed like he picked up a small stylistic element from Miss Rand. The following passage reminded me of Dagny's sense-of-life question at the beginning of the Atlantis chapter in Atlas Shrugged:

Kahlan wanted to ask a thousand questions, but she didn't have the time. She couldn't resist one, though.

"What's he like?"

He also had a very interesting analysis of the Order's preachings that everyone is equal, and how the emperor and others are clearly treated differently:

Like all irrational belies, it was also unworkable. To live, those beliefs had to be ignored to accomplish goals of domination, which in themselves were a violation of the belief for which they were fighting. There were no equals among those of the Order, the torchbearers of enforced equality. Whether a Ja'La player, the most professional of the soldiers, or an emperor, the best were not simply needed but sought after and highly valued, and so as a body they harbored an inner hatred of their failure to live up to their own teachings and a fear that they would be unmasked for it. As punishment for their inability to fulfill their sanctified beliefs through adherence to those teachings, they instead turned to the self-flagellation of proclaiming how unworthy all men were and vented their self-hatred on scapegoats: they blamed the victims.

And similar to the Objectivist concept of integrating all of one's knowledge:

Zedd, like Richard, never dismissed any bit of knowledge. Like all knowledge he collected, he kept it cataloged somewhere in the back of his mind in case it ever came up again. When he had trouble finding an answer he would check his memory of forgotten things residing in an index in some dusty corner of his mind.

He also makes his view of magic (given that this is a fantasy book) much more explicitly rational than before:

"But there must be some way," Cara insisted, "some magic this-or-that that will restore her mind."

[Zedd:] "Restore it with what? What none of us can recall? Magic is not some super-intelligent consciousness behind a veil that knows what we want to accomplish and can pull a person's entire memory--their entire life--out of a pocket and hand it back just because we wish it."

Cara didn't look convinced. "But can't--"

"Look at it this way. If I push that book off the table, it will fall to the floor. The invisible force of gravity makes it happen. Gravity functions in a specific way. I can't wave my arms and by my wish command gravity to go make me dinner.

"Same with magic and memory. The Chainfire spell destroyed her memory. It can't be brought back. You can't restore what was and is no longer there. You just can't. What's gone is gone.

I should mention that this is always how he has treated magic in his stories; this just made it more explicit and seems to be something he just identified and put into words.

More important than any of this, though, a prophecy from long ago in the series appears to have a more sensical meaning now:

In the year of the cicadas, when the champion of sacrifice and suffering, under the banner of both mankind and the Light, finally splits his swarm, thus shall be the sign that prophecy has been awakened and the final and deciding battle is upon us. Be cautioned, for all true forks and their derivatives are tangled in this mantic root. Only one trunk branches from this conjoined primal origin. If fuer grissa ost drauka does not lead this final battle, then the world, already standing at the brink of darkness, will fall under that terrible shadow.

The "champion of sacrifice and suffering, under the banner of both mankind and the Light" is now identified as the Order. Previously it seemed as if this might have been Richard, although that didn't fit perfectly; he always seemed to do what was required for his constituents and suffered personally for it, and was the leader of the free world and everything moral. Jagang, though, fits this much better since he actually fights for sacrifice and suffering, and pretends to represent "the Light" and what is good for mankind.

With this turn of events, Richard now firmly stands for individual rights and the buildup to the series' conclusion is complete.

Further, Jagang has always been interested in this game, Ja'La. It has not quite seemed out of place, but it never added anything major to the story. Translated, this game's name means "The Game of Life." Richard, captured by Jagang's army without anyone knowing it is him, is now on a Ja'La team in a tournament where he will (presumably) eventually match up with Jagang's undefeated team. Jagang originally had a team that lost a game, so he had them all executed and went and got all the strongest brutes he could find and made an unbeatable team. Just as in his war, he wins through overwhelming force, although the game is represented as a game of strategy as well.

Richard, however, has always stood for strategy an intelligence. He is unexpectedly leading his team to upset victories and is already well known. This is not anything new for his character. In Faith of the Fallen, Richard was forced to go to a day laborer's job. He of course did this with great skill, and by working long hours and making free market deals to work for various employers, he became relatively rich and made the entire city he was working in function more smoothly and freely. In the end, the city rose up and fought for its indepenence. This is the inspiration for rationality and personal excellence that will hopefully motivate the watchers of Ja'La--the masses of Jagang's army.

And the connections to previous books building up to this final battle do not end there. The book of magic that provides instructions for the boxes of Orden--the only magic capable of defeating the Chainfire spell now king havoc on the world--is called the Book of Life (similar to the Game of Life) Nicci has put the boxes in play under Richard's name. He will have to solve that problem as well now.

Perhaps Richard's most important title, fuer grissa ost drauka, means "the bringer of death." It is a translation that has several concurrent meanings:

  • the bringer of death (physically killing people)
  • the bringer of spirits (calling spirits to his aid)
  • the bringer of the Underworld (the ability to tear the veil and loose the Keeper on the world)

The end of the book is building up to a series of parallel battles, including the strategy/brutal Game of Life, and the magic coming from the Book of Life. I don't know if there is or will be a third "Life" title to parallel his titles, but it now appears there are 3 meanings to the "final battle." There is the physical battle itself, the boxes of Orden, and the game of Ja'La.

Now that two books in the final trilogy are complete, I'm very much looking forward to the third. It's becoming increasingly clear that Goodkind has put a great deal of thought into ending this series, whether that was intention from the beginning or he just cleverly found ways to tie up previous holes in the story. The explanation of why his mother went back into the house while it was on fire was just now explained for the first time--along with why nobody understood and why nothing else was found in the ruins. That hole goes all the way back to the first book in the series, so I was quite shocked to see it filled in the next-to-last book.

Richard is heading into these three battles that will decide the fate of the world. He is currently captured without the use of his magic, although he has also hidden a book that will finally teach him how to use it properly. There are certain things that seem obvious about the final book--like that Richard will play Ja'La against Jagang and at least one of the boxes of Orden will be opened.

However, it isn't just set in stone with a few details left to fill in. Will Richard play Ja'La near the beginning and then win his freedom so he can go learn magic and fight the real battle? Will he somehow get magic back before the Ja'La tournament is over and all the three battles will happen close in time relative to one another? Will Kahlan be able to get any of her memory back? (there are hints that she can remember some things at least) Was the monster Kahlan will have a troop for Jagang's army, or a son of hers and Richard's? Was Richard's vision from Shota just a dream from Richard's mind as Shota claimed, or a prophecy? Is Shota good and helping Richard, or secretly Six in disguise? Did the Seer see the same thing Richard saw, or what was it? How will the war end--will the raids on the Old World destroy the supplies and starve out Jagang's army? Will Richard use the good box of Orden and just kill all of Jagang's soldiers through the power he gains? Will the Old World rise up and fight the army in the New World instead? Will Kahlan finally get raped after all those near misses, as Shota's prophecy now seems to imply?

These are all questions for the final book to resolve :(

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Other than Goodkind's first novel 'Wizard's First Rule', I find the entire SOT series boring, unimaginative, and too long. For crying out loud there is a character named 'Bruce'!

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Other than Goodkind's first novel 'Wizard's First Rule', I find the entire SOT series boring, unimaginative, and too long. For crying out loud there is a character named 'Bruce'!
Yes, I see your point. Is that why Batman became "The Dark Knight?" Because of his deep shame for having to bear the name Bruce Wayne?

... Now, Ralph, that would be a problem.

I really enjoyed the series, with plenty of caveats. Goodkind can be cumbersome -- he takes days and pages and pages to say what could be said faster. His scenes in which Kahlan releases her Confessor's power are unintentionally comical in their "Time stopped. Time was hers. blah. blah. blah blah blah." The invention of the page turn (or the fast-forward button for audiobooks) solves this problem elegantly. But, actually, I didn't mind all his excesses, most of the time, because I understood his lending gravity and importance to the scene/action at hand. And many moments are vibrant and exceptional, as in the battle scenes Kahlan leads against seemingly impossible odds. Very exciting. And I was very comfortable with Richard. He's an uncompromising, true hero.

Phantom was an excellent cap to the series, although ...

Spoiler

I hated the completely manipulated, deus ex machina, ending to the problem of

his sister and the Bandakarians. There is no way they weren't seriously at

risk being banished to a distant world with all the rottenest examples of human

depravity and bad ideas. That was just lazy. It was a tough problem and he gave it a Hail Mary. Shame on him.

Also, call me dense, I just plain didn't understand final Wizard's Rule, The Rule Unspoken, The Rule of All Rules. Sorry, Barakas' monumental blank-book-burying effort was wasted on me. I mean, I can manufacture an explanation -- that this said, essentially, "There is no 'secret' of a War Wizard's Power. And, btw, that Other Book, The Book of Counted Shadows, isn't worth the paper it's printed on, it's all bs." But it's still lame. The ending was, in spite of all of this confusion and contortion, exciting, but it had a tinge of authorial manipulation that I saw as a definite flaw. So what? It was still an exciting, rewarding read.

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Bruce just isn't a name I equate with fantasy lore. Could you imagine if Tolkien would have used the name Bruce for one of his character's? Also, in 'Confessor' Goodkind went way overboard with Richard and that knock-off rugby game Ja-La. I'm sorry, but creativity and beautiful visualization is not what one will get from reading Goodkind. Also, he has too many female heroines. I like Kahlan, but Cara and the other mord-sith, give me a break.

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Quality fantasy to me is reading such novels as 'The Iliad', 'The Odyssey', 'Ivanhoe', 'The Chronicles of Prydain', 'LOTR' etc. To anyone who hasn't read Goodkind; DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME.

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