Fans of Terry Goodkind’s hugely popular fantasy series The Sword of Truth have been itching for his new stand-alone novel The Law of Nines ever since word of it leaked earlier this year. Goodkind’s publisher, Putnam, is clearly hoping Nines will appeal not only to that core audience but to lovers of thrillers as well. They’ve even packaged the book as a thriller, complete with nondescript title and plain-Jane black-and-silver jacket.
Yet what Goodkind has delivered is an odd hybrid, a thriller with heavy doses of fantasy mixed in. On his 27th birthday, Alex Rahl, waiting at a crosswalk, notices a truck flying a pirate’s flag barreling straight at him and another pedestrian, an oddly dressed but striking blond woman. He quickly yanks her to safety. Jax, as she’s called, turns out to be a human from another planet — one that’s embroiled in civil war. And she’s come to find Alex because, unbeknownst to him, he’s got powers that can help her. Does our hunky hero think she’s nuts? No, he thinks she’s hot. He begins to take her more seriously, though, after his grandfather hands him a mysterious birthday present: a deed to thousands of acres of land in rural Maine, where, it slowly becomes apparent, there is a gateway — a sort of superhighway between his world and Jax’s.
If it takes a while for Alex — and the reader — to understand what’s going on, it’s because the writing is blocky and strained, especially during the high-octane scenes of carnage that occur every few pages. (Alex, an artist by trade, quickly morphs into an efficient killing machine.) Despite the rollicking plot, Goodkind just doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable in the straight-thriller vein as he does with fantasy. That changes during the final scenes, when he returns to what he knows best and starts to dish up more meaty fantasy. His writing becomes nimble, clear, dimensional.
So has Goodkind managed to hook all those nonfantasy readers for a sequel that looks sure to come? That’s the million-dollar question. From all indications, it looks like it will take place on Goodkind’s home turf, the purely imagined world of another planet. B?