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Naked Empire

Terry Goodkind


US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-765-30522-4

Publication Date: 07-21-2003

669 Pages; $29.95

Date Reviewed: 07-28-03

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2003




The heroes of heroic fantasy all too often lack a philosophy more complex than "Find the sword". That's not the case with Terry Goodkind's 'Naked Empire', the eighth book in his 'Sword of Truth' series. Goodkind powers his heroes with nothing less than the philosophy of Ayn Rand. In retrospect, one wonders why other writers haven't done this, but Goodkind's strong beliefs give 'Naked Empire' a kick that this genre certainly requires. It helps that Goodkind has a fairly limited cast of characters, and a straightforward pretty-much standalone plot. Here's the deal with long fantasy serials. For all the hand-wringing about the plethora of Tolkien-inspired trilogies, there's a reason for this format. This would be that in a trilogy, there's only one difficult-to-write middle book. Beginning -- easy. End -- easy. That middle book, without a kick-start or flash finish, is bound to be problematic. But when you're writing a series that's seven, eight, nine, ten books long, you've got lots and lots of middle books. They're tough. Goodkind solves that problem in this novel, at least, by making the novel reasonably accessible to the external (never-read-the-series) reader and by having a story within the novel that has a clear start, middle and finish. For series readers, it's probably going to seem quite entertaining.

As 'Naked Empire' begins Richard Rahl, Kahlan, Jennsen, Cara the rest of Richard's group find themselves being followed by huge, black birds as they journey from the Pillars of Creation. It's not a good sign. Out in the middle of nowhere, they meet Owen, who is seeking help for the Bandakaran Empire. The Bandakarans have been overrun by the Imperial Order, and they want Richard to pull their biscuits out of the fire. But as Owen explains the beliefs of the Bandakaran Empire and the huge birds circle overhead, it becomes clear that the Empire is coming to them, and that the Empire has a new human weapon to match the evil Emperor Jagang. Before the novel ends, everyone's lives will hang in the balance.

Goodkind keeps the action pretty peppy as Richard and company try to find the why the birds are following them. Soon they're desperately trying to save a life. But he matches this with some witty satire and repartee with regards to the Bandakaran Empire. It seems that they are an example of cultural relativism run rampant. They are so opposed to violence that they won't strike back when they are run through, raped and pillaged by the Imperial Order. Goodkind gets Richard and Owen on opposing soapboxes and lets the sparks fly. Of course, maxi-multiculturalism is no match for the keen wit of a sword-bearing Ayn Rand. One could be inclined to call this novel 'Straw Man Empire', but you have to credit Goodkind for following through on his premise of self-defeating non-violence. His straw men behave with great consistency, and only imminent death and stirring speeches stem the tide.

Understanding that his Bandakarans are no real match for Richard's enlightened crew, Goodkind provides his real antagonists with a believer's agenda and very unpleasant habits. Speaking for the Imperial Order is Nicholas the Slide, who has taken the out-of-body experience to a new and gruesome level. He's powerful enough to make his appearances something the reader will look forward to, as long as you don't mind a bit of torture. Goodkind has a nice way of contracting and expanding time with this prose. The result is that pages are easily whisked aside as scenes of action unfold. Though the book is 650-plus pages, Goodkind has an easy way with his reader. It doesn't seem padded, and as I read it I constantly found myself wondering how I'd got that far.

As a reader who has not read every entry in the series, I found 'Naked Empire' quite approachable and satisfying. Goodkind writes with enough passion to provide an emotional payoff. He clearly enjoys his sword and sorcery adventure story. As an outlet for Ayn Rand, Goodkind's world enables him to speak clearly through his characters who stay on the right side of being mere mouthpieces. This is clearly not difficult reading for difficult people. Goodkind works on a wide canvas and though there aren't a lot of exclamation marks in the novel, there are paragraphs and speeches that serve the same purpose. He does know how to have fun, and he's able to share that with the willing reader. He may be in the endless middle of a long story, but he's learned to make a specialty of middles.