Chainfire - By Terry Goodkind
I have just read Chainfire, by Terry Goodkind. As anybody who has read the series (Sword of Truth) will know, the books are thought by most to become rapidly worse as the series goes on. People find this to different extents, however, with some unable to finish the first book and some finding them unbearable around books 4 and 5. On the other hand, of course, there are those who like the entire series and although they may not like all the books as much as the first still much enjoy the series.
Myself, I found the entire series quite excellent (with the exception of temple of the winds which was only reasonable) until Pillars of Creation. This book was ruined by the absence of the protagonists Richard and Kahlan, though in the second reading I found it much more enjoyable. After this of course came Naked Empire which whilst reasonable was not as good as most of the other books.
Chainfire, however, quite rejuvenates the series in my eyes. I found it a very refreshing return to the kind of story I enjoyed at the beginning of the series. Firstly, and most obviously (as the story revolves around this) is the absence of that annoying Kahlan woman. I have nothing against her as a character and she is in her own way very interesting, but she cannot compare to Richard really. It makes a very interesting story that Kahlan has in fact disappeared from the minds of everybody except Richard. Richard himself, in fact, has just been injured badly by an arrow and everybody believes that Kahlan has appeared as a fantasy in Richards unconsciousness. Kahlans absence makes notable differences to the personalities of many main characters as the things which she has done to influence them are now absent from their minds. Such a difference includes Annalinas new dependence on prophecy over free will - something which she had partly lost when Kahlan threw her Journey Book in the fire. There are other differences as well which both help and hinder Richard throughout the book (Shota doesn't remember Kahlan etc), but which don't need to be detailed here.
All of this means that Richard is pitted completely against the wishes of his friends almost throughout the book as a new prophecy has come up - interpreted by them that Richard should not be chasing invisible wives. Richard in fact has to covertly escape them at one point as they plot against him (though without realising it of course).
All of this interesting plot is increased by the addition of Jagangs newest enemy for Richard. I will not go into detail here, but suffice to say that it will definitely be a problem greater than any before in the series as it harks back to the great war between the Old and New worlds. The creature appears throughout the book but without a huge amount of impact so presumably it will become more important in the next book ('Phantom', scheduled for release January 2006).
All in all, the entire book harks back to the beginning of the series as the characters move all about both the Old and New worlds and discover new things about each (one of my largest problems about some of the books was the lack of new material for most of the book such as staying amongst the pristinely un-gifted for an entire book). There are new characters introduced who will also play a part in future books (or so I assume), promising to continue to lend life to the series. Old characters disappear along with this, such as Jennsen who seems to have lost interest in Richard. This isn't a problem, however, as nothing important is lost.
Along with this there are the usual plot developments. Richard discovers new aspects of his gift and new powers which he can wield. As the seeker he unravels mysteries which confound everybody else. People run into enemy camps to kill huge numbers of enemy soldiers and get thousands of enemy troops chasing them into a trap. Indeed, there is a very similar incident to Kahlans first foray into the Imperial Order camp to kill the wizard - this time initiated by Nicci instead. Nicci herself becomes an interesting character in her own right as none of the other good characters can wield both additive and subtractive magic with ease.
In conclusion, I must give Chainfire a resounding 'excellent'. I dislike star ratings as they don't give enough variance when it comes to books. As I have said the series is quite rejuvenated by chainfire and since it is the first in a final trilogy it promises two more fun filled adventures. If you've struggled through the series so far it is definitely worth reading Chainfire as I don't see how anybody could find it worse than any of the other books. The only bad thing is that it heralds the end of Richards adventures as we approach the final battle.