Monthly Archives: January 2013

Twilight, by David R. George III

mgamma1The two men who led the expedition across the North American continent on Earth, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, were sent on a mission to explore an expanse of unknown wilderness, to chart the lands they traveled, to seek out what new life there might be, to befriend the peoples they might encounter, to keep a record of their journey, and to bring that knowledge home.  They called themselves the Corps of Discovery.  Let us therefore, on this stardate, rededicate ourselves to that ideal.
-Commander Elias Vaughn, to the crew of the U.S.S. Defiant

In the beginning days of Deep Space Nine, Commander Benjamin Sisko was given two major tasks; he was to do everything possible to get the planet Bajor ready to join the Federation, and he was to explore the wormhole he discovered for Bajor-or more exactly, the space beyond the wormhole, in the Gamma Quadrant.  Unfortunately, the Dominion War derailed both missions, and was forgotten in the following episodes.

But beginning with Twilight, the Mission Gamma storyline brings both of those goals back into the full picture.  While the first third of the book is setup, the rest of the book goes in two different directions.  On the one hand, the Starfleet personnel (Nog, Shar, Vaughn, Dax, Tenmei, and Bashir) are off on a three-month mission to explore new areas in the Gamma Quadrant, now that the Dominion has chosen to (for now) isolate itself to ponder Odo’s experiences.  Then the other hand features the Bajoran front, with Kira, Ro, Quark, and some others as some very influential people in the Federation stop at DS9 for a semi-secret summit, discussing renewing Bajor’s petition to join the Federation.

First, though, the book wraps up some rather loose ends from the Gateways event; primarily the refugees from Europa Nova and the rather ticked-off Jarada who were really hoping for a benefit from the deal Vaughn had made with them.  Then the book goes off into the preparations being made for the Defiant’s flight through the wormhole, and for the arrival of some unexpected guests.  It’s not far into the mission, though, when the crew of the Defiant are called upon to save a world.

To be honest, the basic plot is kind of stock material; what sets the book apart (and a hallmark of the series to date) is the actions of the characters in it.  In the opening third of the book alone, we get:  more revelations of the troubled relationship between Vaughn and Tenmei; more Taran’atar and his attempts to understand this very different environment; lots more on Shar’s, er, romantic life, the intro of another Starfleet admiral, L. J. Akaar (points to people who figure out just who exactly he is right away; it wasn’t until waaay into the book where I finally remembered), and more!

Things get really moving once the mission is underway.  As I said, I found the Defiant segments kind of “the usual”, although it continued to advance the plots of both Vaughn and Dax (who’s taken quite well to her second-in-command duties).  The Bajor front is what really kept my interest, though.  Kira’s a bit on the defensive, still feeling the emotional impact of her Attainder, not sure if the First Minister Shakaar’s playing straight with her, and dealing with suspicious questioning from Admiral Akaar.  Quark and Ro’s relationship continues, as both come to realize that if Bajor is indeed accepted into the Federation, their lives will be turned upside down; Quark also has a new foil of sorts, as the Orion woman Treir proves to be as cunning as he is in running his bar.  Actually, the truth is that Quark undergoes a number of self-revelations in this book, which I’m looking forward to seeing continue.

The continuing subplots of Deep Space Nine continue to make appearances; another mention of the search for Jake Sisko shows that he has not been forgotten; we discover a secondary mission of Taran’atar that makes perfect sense considering who sent him; Kasidy’s pregnancy proceeds as most do, although she gets hints that the Bajoran religion is about to have a little turmoil.  While these don’t get much page time, they do continue to indicate the ongoing plot of the series, which is something that the television show did fairly well.

While there was a couple things that continue to annoy me (does Vaughn absolutely have to be on a first name basis with every single major player in Starfleet history?), there was far more that pleased me.  While Mission Gamma itself hasn’t drawn me in as of yet, the continuing story of Bajor (and a shocking event at the end of this book) made this book more than worth the time to read…and made me want to read the next one that much more.

(2013 note:  obviously, this book has NO relation to a somewhat more notable work called “Twilight”.)

Categories: Deep Space Nine, Mission Gamma, Star Trek | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Dissolution, by Richard Lee Byers

dissolutionWhat does the strange behavior of the goblins have to do with the rogue males?
I don’t know yet, but we have two oddities occurring at the same time and in the same precinct.  Doesn’t it make sense to infer a relationship?
Not necessarily.  Menzoberranzan has scores of plots and conspiracies going on at any given time.
-Ryld Argith and Pharaun Mizzrym

I was real close to not purchasing this book, much less review it.  But, I had a slot I needed to fill on my review schedule, so….

I did have reason to be hesitent.  Firstly, this is a Forgotten Realms book, and it concerns the drow, also known as dark elves; now, I’m a fan of Salvatore’s signature character, but it has felt to me sometimes that the publishers are trying to over-market them; banking on the popularity of Salvatore’s books.  Secondly, it is the first of six books, in one of those “event” books.  That makes me nervous too, as the last Forgotten Realms “event” book I read left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  Finally, the series itself-released in hardback-is being written by multiple authors, which sometimes works well, sometimes doesn’t.  Still, all three together combined to convince me to put this on my “wait until paperback” list.

But, I had a slot I needed to fill….

Deep in the bowels of the earth, there are all kinds of underground creatures and races.  One of the most feared are the drow; their entire matriarchal society revolves around worship of their goddess, Lolth.  Everyone there has power as their goal; they will murder friends and family to acheive their goals.  Layers upon layers of intrigue and shifting alliances in an eyeblink is the hallmark of their cities, such as Menzoberranzan.  Still, Mezoberranzan has had a number of reversals lately (primarily because of consistent desires to get at a certain drow ranger), so things are a little…delicate.  And this is where we start the novel Dissolution.

Gromph Baenre is the city’s most powerful archmage, a member of the most powerful House in Menzoberranzan.  And he’s quite the busy little beaver.  On one hand, he sends a Master of Sorcere (the city’s school of wizards) named Pharaun Mizzrym to seek out the reason why drow males are suddenly vanishing-and even more disturbingly, staying vanished, having taken nothing of value with them.  And it isn’t restricted to one House, and not restricted to commoners or nobility.  Pharaun “recruits” a friend and swordmaster, Ryld Argith, to aid him.

But Gromph doesn’t stop there.  He’s also interested in increasing his own status in the city, so he sends magical creatures secretly to assassinate his sister, Quenthel, who is currently the Mistress of Arach-Tinilith, the place where priestesses are trained (it also helps that he doesn’t like her all that much).  Naturally, he can’t be seen to have been responsible, especially if the attempts fail.  Quenthel, in the meantime, is consolidating her position, since her students seem to be a rather uncooperative bunch.  And in a seemingly unrelated plot point, Faeryl Zauvirr, an ambassador from the drow city of Ched Nasad, is concerned about caravans from her city never arriving in Menzoberranzan; worse yet, the Matron Mother of the most powerful House in the city, Triel Baenre, seems to have taken a sudden dislike for her, and that is not a good thing.

Everything starts to make sense (or mostly anyway), when Pharaun comes up with a theory after an unpleasant meeting with his sister (remember what I said about family in Menzoberranzan?); if true, it will shake the foundations of not just Menzoberranzan’s society, but that of the entire drow race.

I liked this book more than I thought I would; as a concept, I think that Menzoberranzan has been mined out.  After everything that Salvatore did to the city in his books, it amazes me how it is even still around!  In addition, it’s hard to root for the drow; these are not nice people.  In spite of that, Byers has managed to make at least two likable characters, Pharaun and Ryld; even though they are still pretty evil elves (at one point, they casually talk about murdering a drow patrol to cover their activities), they have a wit and charm that just accentuates the danger they represent.  And you have to feel a little sorry for both Quenthel and Faeryl, who are both under various types of assault without having a clue why; of course, that’s just life in a city of the drow.

While I won’t spoil how it ends (really, why would I do that?), I will go so far as to say that Menzoberranzan takes some more hits in this book, and promises a look to other drow cities outside of Menzoberranzan in the next book.  As far as I’m concerned, that alone was worth the price of admission.  So if you like Drizzt Do’Urden’s hometown, the drow, or even the prospect of the dark elves having a heaping sequence of bad days, you may consider picking up Dissolution.  It starts the War of the Spider Queen off pretty nicely, and I hope the following authors can match or exceed it.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, War of the Spider Queen | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Betazed, by Charlotte Douglas and Susan Kearney


Who’d you say you got those codes from again?
Fellow I know on DS9.  The guy who fixes my pants.
-Commander William Riker and Chief Miles O’Brien

One of the things that bugged me the most on Deep Space Nine was how the flagship of Starfleet, the U. S. S. Enterprise was never there during the Dominion War.  Never involved.  Not even mentioned once.  You would think that with the biggest war to hit the Federation in the last couple hundred years that the Enterprise would at least put up a token appearance.  Didn’t even show up in the series finale.

But that didn’t mean that the Next Generation didn’t make itself known in other ways.  In one episode, Captain Sisko decided to bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion, even though they were strictly neutral up to that point.  The reason:  Sisko had heard about the fall of the planet Betazed, where Counselor Deanna Troi was born and raised.  As usual, though, there was never any followup-even in a throwaway line.  Which brings us nicely to The Battle of Betazed.

The Dominion has built a Cardassian space station around Betazed, which they call Sentok Nor, where Dr. Crell Moset-a Cardassian exobiologist known for his rather…unpleasant…practices is performing experiments that could develop yet another front in the war.  There is a resistance movement (including the rather forceful Lwaxana Troi), but their numbers are thinning thanks to the Jem’Hadar.  But they manage to get a message out to Starfleet containing information about what they consider their last hope.

Enter Elias Vaughn-a covert operative of Starfleet who will one day become very important to Deep Space Nine.  Since the rather conventional methods of retaking Betazed have failed, he has the go-ahead to try something else.  That something else will involve the crew of the Enterprise, with a little helping hand from the crew of the U. S. S. Defiant.  A two pronged strategy-the first to get infiltrators aboard Sentok Nor, find out what they are doing, and blow it up.  The second is to go to a Betazoid colony and retrieve what the Resistance wants-a serial killer who kills with his telepathy, so that he can teach them.

Now, this makes a certain amount of sense-the natives of Betazed have always been established to be empathic at least, and highly telepathic at best.  The Jem’Hadar don’t really have any defenses against this kind of thing.  Of course, Deanna is horrified.  It goes against everything that the Betazoids believe, and is repellent to her.  Even so, however, she agrees to the necessity and agrees to help smooth the way on Darona-especially since she actually tried to treat the killer in question early in her career.

As far as it goes, The Battle of Betazed was an okay book.  To be fair, it had some good concepts; the reasons why the Cardassians stuck a space station around the world made sense, and the plans of Dr. Moset make a great deal of sense as well.  And as far as disabling Sentok Nor, it made sense to have the Federation’s foremost expert on Cardassian space stations involved.  And it made sense to for the Resistance to come up with the idea to find a way to fight that their oppressors couldn’t counter.  I liked it.

But, unfortunately, a good chunk of that enjoyment was fizzled at the resolution of the mess.  The authors kept themselves from opening a can of worms that you really aren’t allowed to do with Star Trek, but at the same time, it seems too deus ex machina for me.  Readers will know what I mean when they get to it.  So, what could have been a very good Star Trek novel becomes simply an okay one.  But at least it was nice seeing that Captain Picard and the Enterprise were at least doing something while the Dominion War raged.

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Sir Apropos of Nothing, by Peter David

aproposGood night.  Thank you for not burning the pub down.
-Apropos to Entipy

A word of warning:  this is not a book for younger readers.  I’m serious.  There’s enough questionable subject matter here to compel me to remark on this.  I was seriously considering starting a rating system for my reviews after reading this.  For the time being, though, I’m going to stick with simple advisories like this one.

Okay.  To the review:  Sir Apropos of Nothing is not a story about a knight, although our protagonist is named Apropos, and he is a squire to a knight.  But roughly half the story is his pre-squire days, and the other half…well, let’s just say it takes place free of any knights.  Apropos is a son of a tavern wench, and is told constantly as he’s growing up that he has a Destiny.  Not that his mother really has any grasp on what that might be; it’s just a strong belief, even though her son is half-lame and a decided scoundrel.

In the fullness of time (another way of saying I don’t want to spoil chunks of the book), Apropos goes to the court of the King Runcible, in the hopes of finding his father (not in a good way), getting “justice” for his mother, and get a lot of money in the meantime.  Instead, he gets put under the tutelage of a senile knight, and sent out to escort the Princess Entipy from a convent back to her parents.  In the process, unsurprisingly, things don’t go quite as expected.

I am careful not to refer to Apropos as the hero of this book; in fact, in spite of what some folks have said in reviews elsewhere on the net, I really don’t find him that likable a character.  He’s only slightly better than some of the other folks in this book.  Knights, and chivalry in general, really get dragged through the mud here; to be sure, that’s probably more historically accurate, but you’d think there’d be a few characters with redeemable qualities.  (Actually, there is one character, but I’ll keep that to myself).  Apropos himself is a liar, cheat, and selfish to the extreme.  Peter David does a decent job in making the reader understand why he is the way he is, though; with enough backstory, it makes Apropos’s actions understandable, if not always admirable.

There’s other interesting characters in here as well.  Besides some stereotypes, such as various tavern wenches and squires who only pretend to the honor that knights espouse, we have a king (not Runcible) whose kingdom exists wherever he travels; a warlord who’s over-the-top bad that you can almost hear a little voice screaming “Eeeeeeevviiiiiiill”.  And Entipy is a twist on the stereotypical princess in a direction I haven’t seen before; I’m almost certain no other book has had a royal princess who may be a psychotic arsonist.  Finally, there’s Tacit One-Eye, who certainly seems at the beginning to be that typical Hero of Destiny, who unfortunately gets sidetracked by encounters with Apropos.

While there’s a great deal of serious subject matter here, Peter David also laces the entire book with the humor that is so often displayed in his other works.  If you hate puns, you’ll really groan at some of the ones that pop up in this book.  There were several points where I could see the puns coming a mile away.  People who have read other books by this author will undoubtedly feel right at home with this book.  Sir Apropos of Nothing is a decent enough book, although a little darker than my usual fare.  All the same, if you’re looking for a fantasy novel with a slightly darker edge, this one’s for you.

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Star by Star, by Troy Denning

starbystarAm I worried about what’s happening to us?  Sure.  this war is bringing out all that’s selfish and wicked in the New Republic, corrupting the galaxy star by star.  I see it pulling one Jedi after another to the dark side, making us fight to win instead of protect.  But I can’t push others down my path.  Everyone needs to choose for themselves.
-Jacen Solo, Jedi Knight

For this book, I feel the need to paraphrase from another cult movie:  It’s always darkest before it gets really dark.

For those who haven’t been following, here’s the situation:  the New Republic has been dealing with an invasion by the Yuuzhan Vong; they’ve temporarily stalled their drive towards the Core Worlds in order to let the Republic turn against itself, offering not to conquer the worlds of Republic if they turned over all of the Jedi Knights, especially Jacen Solo, who had earned himself a place in the Warmaster’s “heart”; mainly because he’d just love to sacrifice the Jedi to his gods.

The Jedi have had a hard time of it as a result.  While the Jedi are slowly beginning to take some action, it’s still a holding action more than anything else.  But now, they are being forced to action.  The Vong have unleashed a strange creature upon them, capable of hunting the Jedi through the Force, and certainly capable of killing lone Jedi-and the fear is that they will be released in a widespread manner.  This is the opening of Star By Star, the latest hardcover in the New Jedi Order.

When the New Jedi Order began, it was stressed that the hardcovers would cover major events in the continuing saga of our heroes.  Well, believe me-this one certainly fits that description.  And at slightly over 600 pages, it comes in as the most densely packed Star Wars novel released to date (feel free to correct me…I’ve been wrong before).  I was slightly skeptical of this book; followers of my site will recall that I absolutely trashed the last book by Denning that I’d read (The Summoning).  Well, now I know why it was so bad-because his creative juices were going full steam ahead on this book!

The Vong are now hitting the Jedi on a couple of different fronts-first, the new creature unleashed upon the Jedi is hurting morale-not to mention cutting down the supply of Jedi Knights.  Another announcement from the Vong indicates that they are prepared to destroy refugee ships unless the Jedi surrender themselves.  It doesn’t require much imagination to realize that the Jedi aren’t going to stand for it-regardless of their internal dissension.  While Luke Skywalker starts the wheels turning to carry the war to the Yuuzhan Vong, as he consolidates the various factions of Jedi, a daring plan to infiltrate the source of the Jedi-killing creatures is begun.  This is of great concern to Han and Leia, because the effort is being led by their youngest, Anakin, who is also joined by both of his siblings.

Lest one believe the Vong are just sitting there, though, they are also continuing to maneuver both politically and militarily.  There’s enough political action going on that one almost starts to feel sorry for Borsk Fey’lya, the Chief of State.  Of course, longtime readers will be able to squash that feeling fairly quickly….

The book does a fairly good job on covering the rather large number of subplots that have been rolling around for the last year or so.  Han and Leia are finally beginning to become comfortable with each other again; Luke and Mara are not only beginning to take action, but are also learning how to be parents (one of the best quotes in the book comes from Mara late in the book; I almost used the quote, but I felt it might spoil some things-you’ll know it when you read it!).  Lando Calrissian shows up once more, with a rather…interesting…set of tools to use against the Vong invasion.  The droids are still there, too, although they really don’t get all that much time in this book.  You’d think that such a large book would have a bit more room for them….

Star By Star is a big book, with a price tag to match; but I think it was definitely worth the money.  By the end of this book, enough will have happened that the events of Vector Prime will look like a small burp in the storyline.  Take that as a warning.  And remember the first sentence in this review.  And keep in mind that there’s a very, very good reason why the next book (probably paperback, although I haven’t really checked) is called Dark Journey.

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2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

2001Oh my God!-It’s full of stars!
-Captain David Bowman, of the Discovery

In many ways, re-reading this book has been a pleasure.

It was inevitable that I’d review 2001:  A Space Odyssey this year; written over thirty years ago, it was a science fiction novel (based on a screenplay) that covered millions of years, although most of the book took place in what was then the not-too-distant future.  Obviously, we haven’t achieved the levels of technology shown in the novel, but it still holds as a strong novel without it.  If one simply ignores some of the time-dependent factors, you can easily imagine that the book could have been written in recent days.

This book spawned a number of sequels from the mind of Arthur C. Clarke, each more ambitious than this one, but with the common theme about Humanity, intelligent life out in space, and the processes of evolution (and whether or not certain objects might have had a bit of influence on them).  It’s easy to look at the movie and base a review on that, but I’m going to resist that and go straight to the novel.

2001 is a book that begins at the dawn of man, when-if you’re an evolutionist-he was little more than an animal; a man-ape, if you will.  Lacking the spark of imagination, or intelligence, or even short-term memory, the precursors of humanity simply exist until the strange arrival of a large near-transparent rectangular monolith.  It begins a subtle manipulations of the man-apes….

The second part takes place in the near-future (technically about 1999); Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the Moon for secret purposes, in order to brief the scientists of Clavius Base about a discovery made in the Tycho Crater, concerning a magnetic anomaly….

The third part is in 2001 proper, on the starship Discovery, as David Bowman, Frank Poole, and the ship’s artificial intelligence (named HAL) travel towards Japetus, the eighth satellite of Saturn, for reasons known only to Hal and the three hibernating scientists aboard.  Unfortunately for Bowman and Poole, keeping secrets is not HAL’s strongest point….

When I was younger, I was bored by the first part of the book, mainly because I wasn’t all that interested in the evolution of man (no offense against the concept…it had more to do with my misconceptions about just what the book was about).  I appreciate it a bit more now, as it is a necessary setup for the remainder of the book (and of the series).  In many ways, the first two parts are merely setup for the third, where the meat of the book lies.  As Clarke was somewhat bound by the screenplay of the film (although differences did eventually crop up), he did a great job on showing more about the daily lives of Poole and Bowman on the Discovery, as well as more detail about the more astronomical concepts behind their journey.  At the same time, though, there is plenty of dated material:  the Soviet Union was still very much a force in the world, and it was easy to believe that it would still be around in this time period, and have a presence in space.

2001:  A Space Odyssey suffers a bit for being so old, but it still makes for a fascinating read for an evening (or two).  It appeals more to the more philosophical reader of Sci-Fi, as opposed to the action oriented or the tech oriented.  For all its activity in space, it is a story about humanity:  where it has been, and where it may go.  It’s a thinking person’s novel, and is well worth thinking about.

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Best Destiny, by Diane Carey

bestdestinyYou see, Jimmy, I think humanity is all right.  Mankind is cunning and artful, enthusiastic, and ultimately smart.  Oh, we blunder from time to time, sometimes a bit butterfingered while we build on some unclear vision, but we always learn from our blunders and we rarely forget.  And we never, ever…stop trying.
-Captain Robert April, of the U.S.S. Enterprise

It was only a matter of time before I took a look at the most famous captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise:  Captain James T. Kirk.  However, I figured I’d take a look at a book that showed what Kirk might have been like in his youth, before he even dreamed of joining Starfleet.  That’s where Best Destiny comes in.

When I picked up this book, I already had high expectations-one of Carey’s other Trek books, Final Frontier, was a wonderful story detailing an important event in the life of both Starfleet and George Kirk, our esteemed captain’s dad.  I’d enjoyed that book immensely, and this book promised to build on that one.

So:  this is a story of Kirk’s youth.  Pay no attention to the framing plot, which takes place about two minutes after Kirk’s last log entry in Star Trek 6.  That’s not where the meat of the story is.  It’s years earlier, when Jimmy Kirk was the epitome of juvenile delinquency (well, all things considered, nobody should be surprised by that revelation).  In a desperate attempt to try to encourage his son to grow up a bit, George takes Kirk into space aboard the spanking new flagship of Starfleet:  the Enterprise, commanded by George’s old friend, Robert April.

I loved April’s character in Final Frontier, and he hasn’t changed.  If you were to compare him to any of the other Captains in the history of the Trek franchise, I think he’d be the most laid back-and perhaps the most idealistic.  Great rapport with his crew.  Unfortunately, the arrival of Jimmy Kirk puts a bit of a poison pill in the dynamic, but April isn’t fazed one bit.  So he takes the two Kirks to a groundbreaking ceremony to a planet called Faramond…or at least, that was his plan.  What happens next begins the evolution of Jimmy the delinquent to James Kirk, future captain in Starfleet.

In many ways, Carey does a great job detailing the conflicts in this book; it reminded me a great deal of submarine warfare in past times, when nobody was really sure where the enemy was.  There’s all kinds of crises in this book:  physical, in the form of trying to survive where no man has gone before; mental, in dealing with some rather harrowing choices that have no right answer; and emotional, as Jimmy comes to grips with his feelings towards his father and life in general.  This is a story about growing up fast in a harsh environment, and Best Destiny does a pretty good job in detailing that.  Carey also shows off naval knowledge, in applying some maritime laws and traditions to space travel; some of those become key points later in the novel.

I think this book will appeal most to the fans of the Original Series; if you prefer the newer Treks, this may not be your book.  But I expect that any fan of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock will enjoy this peek into the past, in the formative years of the Federation and Starfleet.  So go check out Best Destiny; you won’t be sorry.

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Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind

faithYour life is yours alone.  Rise up and live it.
-Richard Rahl

This is the latest Sword of Truth novel (number seven, and counting); the inside cover bills it as “A novel of the nobility of the human spirit”.  It’s actually not a bad description.

For those unfamiliar with the series:  A fellow raised as Richard Cypher was named the Seeker of Truth by the greatest wizard of the Midlands, found out that he was the son of Darken Rahl, one of the most evil wizards alive, fell in love with the Mother Confessor Kahlan Amnell, discovered he was a war wizard, and became a ruler of a nation-just in time to face an invading army from the Old World, which is only now beginning to come in serious force.

How’s that for compressing six novels?

More recently, Richard ran into his greatest failure.  In the last book, Soul of the Fire, Richard attempted to forge an alliance with Anderith, a nation with a serious caste system problem; due to a number of events, they voted against opposing the army from the Old World-charmingly called the Imperial Order, run by the dream-walker, Emperor Jagang.  Given some of the rather dirty politics that went on (almost like real life), and given the fact that Kahlan was beaten to an inch of her life in the process, Richard became disillusioned with the whole effort, and decided that he no longer wanted any part in saving the Midlands from the invasion.  He took Kahlan and his bodyguard Cara to the Westland to get away from it all.  Unsurprisingly, the world wasn’t interested in just “letting him go”.

With this book, Faith of the Fallen, Goodkind reintroduces Sister Nicci, one of the Sisters of the Dark, a sorceress in the service of the main evil power, known as the Keeper.  Nicci’s an interesting character; her reintroduction is heavily influenced by a rather grisly execution to one of the Imperial Order’s officers.  She doesn’t really see herself as a part of the Order-in fact, it seems that she’s more interested in self-discovery.  The bad news is that she wants to find out if she’s right by using a test subject-Richard.  Using a spell to bind her life to Kahlan’s, she blackmails Richard into traveling with her to the Old World to learn first-hand how righteous their cause was.  She seeks to justify the bleakness of her own existence.

In the meantime, Kahlan-finally recovering from her injuries-returns to the war, and attempts to destroy as much of the Imperial Order’s army as possible.  She’s aided by the Sisters of Light; Zedd, the First Wizard; and her own army made up of mostly Richard’s followers and her own.  The Imperial Army is pretty damned big, though-and it looks as though Jagang has many more soldiers to call upon to reinforce it.

The nice thing about the Sword of Truth novels is that they can be read as solo novels alone.  Sure, it’s better to read them as a series, because it is about the continuing adventures of Richard, Kahlan, and their friends.  But each novel is nicely self-contained, and contains a beginning, middle, and end.  Goodkind has been remarkably consistent in this, and there are several writers who could learn a lesson from this.

Faith of the Fallen explores the other side; the people who live under the regime of the Imperial Order.  I found those portions of the novel far more interesting than the ongoing war.  The previous novels had done a job on showing how barbaric the Order was in waging war, but this book shows how the general population lives.  It reminds me a twisted version of communism (no letters on politics, please!  I’m no poly-sci major), and the population isn’t encouraged to see the better part of human nature.  It’s an attitude brought out by their leaders, and it baffles Richard throughout the book.

In spite of the dark mood that permeates the book, it does succeed, I feel, in living up the the jacket’s claim of being a novel of the nobility of the human spirit.  The last five or six chapters more than gloriously makes up for the darker tone, and may provide a bit of hope for the next novel.  If nothing else, it inspired me to hope the next one comes out as quickly as possible.

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