TEMPLE OF THE WINDS by Terry Goodkind, Tor Books, hardcover, 528 pages, $25.95.
A character from Maine author Terry Goodkind’s “Temple of the Winds” (Book Four in his series “The Sword of Truth”) sums it up best: “Prophecy was never anything but trouble.”
Prophecy is, indeed, one mainspring driving this hefty fantasy novel’s plot from its opening pages, as Goodkind tackles the challenge of getting a new series installment under way while providing new or forgetful readers with the information they need to make sense of the story’s arcane goings-on.
Almost as soon as we’re reintroduced to Mother Confessor Kahlan Amnell, ruler of the Midlands, and her fiance Richard Cypher, a war wizard who’s newly the master of D’Hara after defeating his evil father, Darken Rahl, we learn that their plans to wed are threatened. The archfiend Jagang, leader of the Imperial Order that seeks to conquer Kahlan’s and Richard’s kingdoms, invokes a dire “bound-fork prophecy” (a doomed-if-you-do, doomed-if-you-don’t prophetic version of a Catch-22) that eventually separates the lovers. The same prophecy sends Richard on a quest beyond the World of the Living for a magical temple containing information that will enable him to stop a devastating plague Jagang’s minions have started.
If prophecy can cause problems like this, it’s easy to see why the art is deemed so dangerous in this story that bona fide prophets are often locked away in a Palace of Prophets for millenniums. As the story unfolds with Richard and Kahlan’s struggle to track down the source of the plague and find out what has become of the Temple of the Winds (which simply vanished from its earthly location, mountaintop and all, 3,000 years earlier) and how to reach it, the somewhat earnest main plot sometimes seems to keep going … and going, like everyone’s favorite battery-powered bunny.
Even relentless violence — a chase through a slimy castle subbasement, innovative tortures and torments, multiple enslavements and body snatchings by the evil Jagang, deaths and dismemberments — can lose its impact. Fortunately, the novel’s subplots provide a change of pace. For instance, there’s the rascally prophet Nathan, who escapes from confinement and seems intent on his own agenda as he outwits both good and evil forces (don’t worry, he turns out to be a team player in the end).
There’s Richard’s mysterious half brother Drefan, who always seems sinister (for good reason, as it turns out) in spite of his healing powers. There’s the sliph, an exotic form of transportation between worlds that (like some other reality-altering substances) won’t work if you don’t inhale. In spite of such entertaining sidelights and the book’s careful backgrounding, however, readers who haven’t been with Goodkind’s series from the beginning still may lose momentum.
Serious discourses on the properties of Additive vs. Subtractive magic bring the story to a standstill. It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of which magically gifted characters have which special powers, and why. And, as events in the story are finally drawing to a head, much of the most important action seems to be taking place either offstage or in the past, as revealed by conveniently discovered ancient books.
The conclusion of “Temple of the Winds,” however, provides a satisfying closure for most (though not all) of the story’s loose ends — including Kahlan and Richard’s long-postponed wedding by the Mud People.
Still unresolved is the mystery of just what (or whom) Kahlan has accidentally set free by reciting aloud three ancient words to save Richard’s life, and the question of whether the new couple will heed dire warnings from Shota the Witch Woman that they must never beget a male child. Those and doubtless other sources of trouble will have to wait for Goodkind’s next epic fantasy.