First of all, an overview of the series as a whole for new readers. I've always been a big fan of this series. Like many others out there, I'd probably say he's my favorite author. His writing seems to provoke strong reactions from people -- either adoration or contempt. This is doubtlessly because his story isn't just about the characters, the world, and the conflict; it's about philosophy, namely how life should be valued and treated. In a way, every good story out there dips into this subject, but Goodkind does so with a kind of single-mindedness that tends to either put people off or inspire them.
I can appreciate the way Goodkind defines, illustrates, and explains each side of the struggle. However, Goodkind's work isn't for everyone; even if you do agree with his philosophy, you could find his means of expression abrasive. His characters often go on long, repetitive explanations, rather than trusting the reader to intuit the point himself.
In any case, I recommend that if you consider yourself an intelligent and thoughtful person, you give this series a try. Worst case scenario, you lose patience or disagree with the philosophy, but giving the subject some serious thought will help you figure out what you believe in. The plot, characters, and setting aren't half bad either, although they can suffer from taking a back seat to the philosophy.
Now, for experienced readers. If you're like most I know, you really fell in love with the story at Faith of the Fallen, the novel that in my opinion was Goodkind's crowning achievement in illustrating a human's right to self-worth. It also sparks hope and belief that even those who seem lost can find the truth. A wonderful book, but many people are disappointed with the way the series has gone since then. However, it's important to understand that for the purpose Goodkind seems to have in mind, it was just one step toward the conclusion. You can't just stop seeking the truth because you've come across something you like. The journey isn't over yet, although what lies ahead may not be as pretty, inspiring, or easy to swallow. I don't blame you if you just got tired of all the monologues, though.
So we've reached the second to last novel, the middle of the concluding trilogy. And we can get down to the nitty-gritty reviewing of this book.
I wouldn't say there's a lot of action. For the first third of the book, the main group doesn't even go anywhere. There are a lot of discussions about the way magic works, and I admit I didn't really care enough about the details that I thought so much time should have been spent on them. It's magic -- I'm already suspending my disbelief, I don't need arguments and explanations. It's like Goodkind is trying to cover his, um, rear when in fact the people who would jump all over him would be the silly ones.
Additionally, it bothered me that at this point, Richard's closest friends and loved ones still express serious doubt and even scorn when he suggests something new that goes against their beliefs. I understand that any self-respecting person would question something that seems improbable to them, but I find it strange that at this point, even characters like Zedd still turn sarcastic in defense of their beliefs. In my opinion, the people closest to Richard would have more open minds by now, and if they didn't, I'd expect a lot more exasperation on Richard's part. I know it's a device to further expound on the philosophy, but it grates on you after awhile.
I did find the characters to be at least a little more believable overall in this book than the last one, because that problem was more pronounced in Chainfire. Our protagonists act a little more realistically, although sadly, some of them seem a bit pushed to the background. Interestingly, some characters get more attention. Nicci in particular is getting very developed as a character, understandable in the absence of Kahlan. I'm interested in what she will do next, and what will happen to her.
The story picks up as we perceive a new threat, and begin to understand the way our heroes' staggering problems are intertwined. The Order's invasion, the machinations of the Sisters of the Dark, the fading of magic, and more... They all start to become linked to one another in some grand scheme we can't quite see yet. And Richard's journey -- literally and philosophically -- isn't nearly as direct a path as it has been before. Things from the past, new discoveries, and sudden intuition are all mixed together for a story whose twists can be difficult to predict; maybe it's just jerking loose ends together for the final book, but some things are entirely unexpected. As the book comes to an abrupt stop, I'm left dangling with no idea really how it will all work out, but the sense that forces are inexorably coming together toward a fateful conclusion... with the story more than the philosophy, because the path the latter is taking is much harder to discern.
I'm looking forward to the final book in this series. I love the characters and the world, but I love more following their realizations and their fight for what they believe in. I recommend this series to all my friends. For some, it can be a life-changing experience, but at the very least this series makes you think. As long as you're patient, anyway.