Phantom by Terry Goodkind

What is there left to say about Terry Goodkind and The Sword of Truth saga that hasn't been said before? At times, he has been nothing less than brilliant. Wizard's First Rule and Stone of Tears are classics of epic fantasy. They were fresh, they were original, and they were challenging. The 'Seeker of Truth' . . . the 'Mother Confessor . . . the 'Mord-Sith' . . . daring, creative, fascinating concepts, with believable characters behind them. The philosophical moralizing was heavy-handed at times, yes, but still a welcome change from the typically 'spiritual' distinction between good and evil.

After that, the series began slipping downhill. Goodkind admitted that he was more interested in exploring his philosophies than in following the plotting of an epic fantasy - and boy did it show. Action gave way to talk, and talk gave way to . . . well, more talk. What was once original became boringly repetitive. Ironically, it was a book that hardly featured Richard or Kahlan at all that recaptured my interest.

Pillars of Creation was not what I expected after 6 volumes, and I couldn't have been more pleased. There was still more talk than action, but Lauren breathed new life into a stale series. Too bad Naked Empire couldn't sustain it. That brings us to Chainfire. I generally loathe it when characters are stripped of their powers/identities, just to create tension and restart a sagging plot. It rarely works for me, and this was no different. Richard and Kahlan are great people, but it's hard to get excited when there's no seeking of truth and no explosive confessions. Not only that, but the plot felt . . . recycled. After all, we'd already dealt with the Boxes of Orden in the first 2 books of the series.

The only reason I picked up Phantom is because I'm curious to see how Goodkind plans to wrap everything up in this, the 2nd volume of the 'final' trilogy. Things don't start out well. Over 200 pages of talking, of saying the same thing over and over again, of bashing us upside the head with the obvious. I was about ready to give up when, suddenly, we rediscover the lost art of the plot. Not to spoil anything for those who haven't read it, but there are some really interesting developments in this book. After building up the armies of the Order to the point where they truly are unstoppable, Goodkind deftly sidesteps the issue of confronting them with Richard's shocking advice to the D'Haran troops - and it absolutely works for the reader.

We get a confrontation between Jagang and the Sisters of the Dark that beautifully resolves so many nagging questions, and sets the stage for a new conflict. Richard learns a lot more about himself and his role in the grand scheme of things, and all the myriad plot pieces finally begin coming together. The ending is a shocker, and something I never expected to see. For the first time in a long time I am looking forward to the next book of the series. If Goodkind delivers on even half of what he seems to be promising, it will be well worth the wait.