Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind. I am going to change my normal format for this review because this was hard for me. I am a major Terry Goodkind fan, have been reading every new book of his since Soul of the Fire came out in 1999. I have read the original Sword of Truth arc multiple times over the years (every new book required a new read through!). Faith of the Fallen is my second favorite book of all time, there is just so much in that book that makes it perfection to me. Nicci, Death’s Mistress, is one of the most interesting characters in the entire SoT series.
But that said, Goodkind has lost it for me. Ever since the main arc of SoT ended (which was amazing!), his books have become something altogether different, lackluster and boring. And, the writing aside – which I will get to later, the main reason why I think these last handful of books are so disappointing is that Goodkind is trying too hard to stay within the world that made him successful.
The Richard and Kahlan four book series was a complete and utter joke. Goodkind introduced a worthy plot of a second series, but failed miserably on all levels with it. And the characters suffered, became shells of who they were in the original arc. Even the deaths of some characters felt like an attempt to push the boundary like Game of Thrones, but instead of the magnitude of their deaths, they were handled poorly and with little fanfare.
To me, a diehard SoT fan, it just seems like Goodkind is fearful of stepping away from the world he created to create a new fantasy realm and that is where Death’s Mistress failed.
Like I said, Nicci is an amazing character. I think she is the epitome of a redemption character, but in this new series – which is focused on her – she is not as interesting or worthy as a protagonist. Nathan, the cheery, fun-loving, jokester prophet joins her and they set off on their own journey to save the world – as they find out from a witch woman. Three different times in this novel – three! It was like Goodkind wanted to put three separate plots into one book, all under the banner of Nicci has to save the world.
Now this is where Goodkind loses me in this book. I loved these two characters, but they fall incredibly flat. All Nicci does is try to do things for Richard Rahl and her love for him, but it is her choice -or so she says. In SoT, Nicci is conflicted about her beliefs, going from darkness to the light, all because Richard showed her the way. And in this book, she harps upon her leaving Richard, her mission for him and all the things in her past. It bogs her down and makes her boring, makes her a husk of who she became after Faith of the Fallen. It was like Goodkind made a puppet of who Nicci was and then focused on her past as Death’s Mistress. She becomes just another boring female character pining after a man, which she wasn’t in the original arc. There was only one single moment in this book where I felt the old Nicci and that was toward the very end.
Nathan also became frustrating. He always was a fun character to read, but in this story he was too focused on his clothing and his sword. With prophecy gone from the R & K arc, he is useless with magic and this hurts his character. His humor was not strong enough in this story to offset this change in him.
My main flaw with this book is the world and the writing of the world. What I mean is this: if this was a brand new story in a brand new world, I would have thought this a better story.
But its not, it is firmly planted in SoT, which was the wrong choice. There are so many times throughout the novel where the backstory of the previous two arcs are defined. Repetitively too, I might add (like literally the same exact things explained multiple times, this is what also drove down the second arc). If Goodkind had spared those words for building a brand new world, it might have made this story so much more stronger and engaging. The idea behind the plot is intriguing, but it doesn’t fit into the SoT world. It was almost like a buddy cop movie with multiple episodes and that doesn’t work in the world Goodkind created.
And then comes the writing itself. While it is much better written than the R & K arc (which was atrocious) there is much to be desired. This book teeters back and forth between adult and young adult, where I think Goodkind wanted to write a simpler story like young adult, but couldn’t let go of the adult themes that were present in SoT (another reason to ditch that world for a new one!)
One thing that really bugged me was that he had to color code every description every time he wrote about something. For example, Nicci wears a black dress, we all know that from the previous arcs. Every time her dress is mentioned, the words black dress are on the page. Same with a new character’s ginger hair. It really bogged the reading down because, as a reader, you only need to tell me once that her dress is black or his hair is red. I don’t need to see it 100 times. Again, use those extra words to world-build.
The three main characters were all denoted by titles, not their names when talking to one another. Nicci = Sorceress, Nathan = Wizard, Bannon = my boy. It was so frustrating to see Nathan call Nicci Sorceress every time he spoke to her (like it was literally every time for these characters) and vice-versa. It made no sense that none of the characters could use a name. And then Nathan calling Bannon “my boy” was a glaring misstep. Zedd used to call Richard “my boy” not Nathan. It was almost like Goodkind making up for mishandling Zedd in the previous arc. This using titles thing was so frustrating to read and made me roll my eyes more times than not.
The biggest misstep of the writing is the focus on sex and rape. Goodkind used to struggle with this in the original arc, but it was better done. Jagang and his forcing the Sisters of the Dark -like Nicci – to undergo force of rape made him altogether more evil, it made him a force to be fearful of. The aftereffects of the rape shaped the characters, influenced their decisions, was haunting. In this new series, there are scenes of potential rape that bring nothing to the story, in fact, it made me angry they were there. Rape is nothing to be happy about reading, but when it is done properly to show how there is evil people in this world and the crushing affect it has on the victims, then I can see it has merits in a story. But this story didn’t have that. The readers are reminded of Nicci’s past with Jagang, but the new would-be-rapists don’t serve the story, and this angered me to have read it.
And the sex thing was also poorly done. Too many times the readers are reminded of this woman’s breasts, or that woman’s curves, the color of her nipples. It was unnecessary and out of place. The whole second half of the book focused on these four strange women who thought of nothing but sex and fertility. It was just odd choices and decisions.
But those aspects were mashed together with a young adult story. The writing is fast-paced, the journey quick, the chapters very short (some only two pages), the overcoming of obstacles way too easy for adults. It all felt pushed together without much thought. Pick one or the other and stick with it. Make it great, not bland.
As I said, this was hard for me. I will still read the original SoT arc with great joy, but these new books are a slog to get through. I wish Goodkind would leave this world for a new one, I know he has it in him. I will read his new ones after this, still, even though it pains me, he bought my loyalty with Faith of the Fallen. I just hope he returns to form.
2 out of 5