For those familiar with Terry Goodkind’s massive fantasy series, The Sword of Truth (see [b:Wizard's First Rule|43889|Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1)|Terry Goodkind|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51EKGTS62JL._SL75_.jpg|1323305]), it might have come a bit of a surprise that the author has chosen a slight genre departure for his latest novel. The Law of Nines is best described as a supernatural thriller, and especially the seemingly mundane beginnings of the book are quite a change from the usual fantasy worlds.
There are ties to Goodkind’s other works, though. The protagonist, Alex Rahl, is linked to the universe of The Sword of Truth by his last name, as well as in other ways that become clear as the book progresses. Alex is a struggling painter, at odds with a society that seems to place highest value on superficiality and fleeting ideals.
Parallels can also be found in the novel’s ideology. It is no secret that Goodkind’s works are influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and this is clear in the book’s attitude towards art and the right to freedom and self-determination. This has some genuine appeal in the part where Alex and his mother are constrained both physically and mentally in a psychiatric hospital, but most of the time, it bogs the novel down in a most preachy way, and reduces its characters to ventriloquists’ dummies.
The Law of Nines isn’t the first or the only work of popular fiction to reference Randian philosophy in recent years. The 2007 video game BioShock did so extensively, and in a way that was more fulfilling than that of this book. Where Goodkind is content with simply rehashing ideologies in an upfront manner – with protagonist Rahl resorting to extreme and seemingly uncharacteristic violence to protect himself – BioShock sought (and succeeded in some respects) to problematise Rand’s capitalist philosophy, allowing the player of the game to form his own opinion about the system’s merits and flaws. Sadly enough, The Law of Nines offers little of that, even when a book might appear a better medium for ideological reflection than a science-fiction horror computer game.
In this sense, Goodkind hampers his own agenda, by putting ideas in the foreground, at the cost of characters and story, and it is to the detriment of the value of the book as a work, whether it be philosophy, art, or entertainment. Apparently Goodkind wasn’t able to display the skill or ambition as a writer to pull it off all at once.
Nevertheless, despite these issues The Law of Nines has quite some value as a thriller. If you’re willing to put up with some of the preaching, and are able to stomach heavy loads of violence, torture, and suspense, it can be a gripping book that has some interesting things to say about freedom, autonomy, and how these are at times oppressed by outside forces. I don’t think it will disappoint readers who have grown to love Goodkind’s fantasy works.
[Reviewed for The ABC Blog: < http://www.abc.nl/blog/?p=12281 >]