The Omen Machine (Terry Goodkind)

The Omen Machine ISBN: 9780765327727
Publisher: St. Martin's Press 2011
Pages:
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The Omen Machine is actually the second most recent in a very long series; a pretty famous one called The Sword of Truth, by Terry Goodkind. Just to put it into perspective, the Sword of Truth series started in 1994 with Wizard’s First Rule (more on that later), and ending with Confessor (2007), so eleven* other books precede this one, and they resolve the major story arc of the entire series. The Omen Machine is a new adventure set inside the old familiar world of Richard Cybher (later Richard Rahl) and Kahlan Amnell (the primary protagonists) but explores a part of the world it never really had before, the D’Haran empire, which was ruled with an iron fist first when Darken Rahl, Richard’s psychopathic and incredibly powerful father was the Lord Rahl, and later, it became the last bastion of resistance when Richard ( Darken Rahl’s gifted heir, the War Wizard and the Seeker of the Truth), Kahlan (the Mother Confessor and the love of Richard’s life), Cara (the senior most of the Mord-Sith, personal bodyguards to the Lord Rahl), Nathan Rahl (the thousand year old prophet), Zedd (the First Wizard and Richard’s grandfather) and all the rest were fighting the war against the emperor Jagang and the evil Imperial Order in the last eight of the eleven books that precede The Omen Machine. There is a more recent book – The First Confessor -, but that pre-dates the events of the Sword of Truth considerably, although the characters involved have a big role in Confessor, the twelfth and concluding book of the Rahl and co. versus the Imperial Order books. It should be obvious how that ends, but the how of it is more than a little captivating, and well worth the read.There’s a lot to Goodkind’s world that hasn’t really been explored yet. The Sword of Truth series was set in a different geographical area, mostly the Midlands and the Old World. With The Omen Machine, focus now switches to the People’s Palace (one of the greater creative imaginations in architecture of a talented fantasy author), the ruling seat of the Rahl dynasty of the D’Haran empire. I don’t want to give too much of the Sword of Truth away, so I’ll not go into much detail. Incidentally, the Sword of Truth saga was also made into a TV series called Legend of the Seeker, which is a fairly loose interpretation of Wizard’s First Rule, the first book, although it merges plots from several different books while leaving a great deal of the original out. Which is perhaps why it got canned after its first series.

I must say though, I thought that Bishop Hannis Arc – the tattooed-eyed man -,  the primary antagonist in The Omen Machine (and presumably/hopefully those to follow) was pretty damn cool; quite a bit more and better an uber-villain than Jagang, the evil emperor, the primary antagonist for most of the previous series. When he is first described  as bringing darkness with him as he walks into the lair of Jit, the evil Hedge Maid, through the eyes of a boy who she captured and held prisoner, it made my eyes gape wide open, and possibly my mouth as well. I don’t want to give it away, as Goodkind’s description is terrific and picturing Hannis Arc as villain supreme stems easily from that. Suffice it to say that tattooed eyes (yes, eyes, not eyelids; his actual eyes are tattooed blood red) is just the beginning.  Jagang, on the other hand, seemed something of a caricature, a typical, muscular brute-force tyrant, and certainly wasn’t as intelligent as Hannis Arc, but then, the whole point to the Imperial Order was that they were largely mindless brutes bent on fighting a war to reduce everybody the the same level of mediocrity. The belief system of the Order is repeatedly reviled through the series, as (like some versions of the Abrahamic religions) it places more importance on the life to follow this one, which, if you’re an objective realist (and you are forced to because you read primarily through Richard, who is the most preachy fictional objective realist I know and converts all the others) is just plain senseless. So Jagang is naturally their brutish, ruthless, cunning, and occasionally brilliant emperor. There are a lot of contradictions in Goodkind’s meta-philosophy though, which emerge quite clearly out of a few readings. More on that later.So in The Omen Machine, we learn that Hannis Arc wants to rule D’Hara, and his apparent ability to use prophecy to guide his people finds a great deal of resonance with the various leaders and representatives of the D’Haran empire in residence at the People’s Palace, the seat of power in D’Hara, all of whom believe (not entirely without justification) that Richard and Kahlan are holding back valuable information gleaned from prophecy, and the communications of Regula, the Omen Machine. This, coupled with the political as well as the magical (called ‘gifted’ in the SoT series) skills he possesses to do so opens a whole new realm of possibilities, assuming Goodkind decides to carry on where The Omen Machine leaves off. Goodkind uses the clamouring of the representatives for the so-called secrets of prophecy to again offset his insistence that reason is the way to live. The reason being, well, reason. Making intelligent, informed decisions. It lies at the very heart of the series, in many different ways. We still have a fairly standard Manichean epic fantasy, but it has its nuances, as well as a very distinct ideological, or philosophical, if you prefer, bent.To give you an idea of the kind of philosophy behind this book, the critical (in every sense of the meaning) term here is ‘objective realism’, something that Ayn Rand, and Mitt Romney among others were and are very fond of. It’s a very this-is-your-only-life-you-must-live-it-to-the-fullest kind of thinking, putting humans and their culture at the centre of the real, material world, not some independent supra-personal being, and believe me, that Richard guy can sure get mighty sententious about that when he puts his mind to it. As I recall, the Wizard’s Fourth Rule is something along the lines of ‘passion cannot be allowed to rule reason’. Nonetheless, the Sword of Truth saga is a pretty incredible epic high fantasy at its best. Granted, you do have to wade through pontifical mumbo-jumbo every now and then, but for the most, it’s a fast, well thought out, complicated, and often riveting story. Lots of books though, so you should get cracking.  The Sword of Truth is one of the better epic fantasy series knocking about out there, and has the very nice bonus that it’s also complete. I’m still waiting on my three favourite series to wind up, and that’s going to be a while away, at least for one of them (yes I mean you, George R.R. Martin), so since the Sword of Truth is finished, or has at least completed one very major story arc, beginning with The Omen Machine or Wizard’s First Rule (the first part of the series; The Omen Machine is the 12th, for those paying attention) are two very different choices. I picked it to review because this way, you get to know what the old series was about while simultaneously realizing that a new, and hopefully just as good series has begun. I would recommend starting from the beginning, but each book is fairly stand-alone in itself, however you will lose a lot of continuity and history if you jump in in the middle.

Goodkind isn’t for everyone, there’s a bit too much undisguised pseudo-moralism cloaked with sincerity and truthfulness. Richard in particular, as First Wizard, Lord Rahl, and Seeker of the Truth, is naturally prone to it the most, which gets might annoying after a while.So if you get upto Faith of the Fallen (part six),  you get a pretty decent idea of the kind of ideology that Goodkind tries so very hard to condemn, and you begin to get the idea of what philosophy Goodkind ascribes to the Imperial Order  (static thinking) versus Rahl rule under Richard (free will). It’s bit more complex than that, but its the best generalization one can make  without giving anything away. It’s irnoic though, because a lot of the contradictions condemed in the ideology of the Imperial Order crop up in the pragmatic yet unfettered realism so passionately advocated by the good guys.

As the war progresses, Richard and Kahlan find themselves becoming more and more ruthless, bloodthirsty even, but there’s reason behind it, so that makes it okay. If I start explaining the wars, or the barrier between the Old World (where the Imperial Order comes from) and New World (the Midlands and D’Hara), or the role of the Sisters of the Light and their prelates…we’d be here quite a while. And I haven’t even touched on the various other significant protagonists – Cara, Zedd, Nicci, Nathan, Verna, Berdine, and antagonists - Drefan Rahl, Nicholas the Slide, Oba Rahl – and the others. So, long, well populated and character defined, complicated and occasionally dense and more than oftenly sententious are good ways to describe The Sword of Truth epic. The politics though, can get very interesting, especially as the Order continues its annexation of the Midlands and Richard and Kahlan are repeatedly faced with a lot of unpleasant political choices by the exigency of circumstance. How they evolve politically is a big part of what makes this series worth reading, along with the detailed and complex military strategies and scenarios. There is a strong element of ‘clash of civilizations’ in The Sword of Truth series, but that is more or less a given in most fantasy epics begun in the 1990′s. Still, it’s entertaining, and while perhaps not in the same class as say, George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, it certainly matches up well against The Wheel of Time, or Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar saga. Worth a try at least. Then decide for yourself.

*The books are, in order: Wizard’s First Rule, Stone of Tears, Blood of the Fold, Temple of the Winds, Soul of the Fire, Faith of the Fallen, Pillars of Creation, Naked Empire, Chainfire, Phantom, and finally Confessor. There is a prequel as well now, The First Confessor.

Samir Krishnamurti

Samir Krishnamurti

Research Director at Global Security Centre, India
"Bibliophilia, or more realistically Bookaholism runs in my genetic make-up. I've grown up being read to, reading, and surrounded by books."

From Bangalore but based primarily in New Delhi, India, Samir has variously been and continues to be a professional musician, a pub quiz host, a political campaign aide, and a student of the guitar, as well as history and international relations. He is currently Research Director for the Global Security Centre in India. He is also a freelance editor and research consultant, having worked for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Public Health Foundation of India, and a McKinsey-IBM KPO, as well as Random House and Oxford University Press. He can be contacted at samirkrishnamurti@gmail.com
Samir Krishnamurti

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