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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘The Omen Machine’ has mixed reviews despite big hype

Published: April 5, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

In 2007, Terry Goodkind ended his best-selling “The Sword of Truth” series with the novel “Confessor,” the last of a set of three books that worked to pull together the numerous loose ends and tangents opened by the sheer bulk of the books preceding it. With his 11-book series at last completed, Goodkind moved on from the epic high-fantasy that characterized “The Sword of Truth” into new genres. This year, however, Goodkind has returned to his original epic with a 12th addition, setting up a whole new story as a starting place for potential new readers unwilling to go back into the early books of the series, called “The Omen Machine.”

“The Omen Machine” is the latest story of Richard and Kahlan, the two protagonists that have been Goodkind’s brainchildren for what now amounts to 12 books. Though their story had gained closure following “Confessor,” this new book opens new questions for them to explore. For those of us who had grown attached to these characters, “The Omen Machine” immediately seems a welcome return to familiar favorites. Goodkind’s writing is highly escapist, drawing the reader into the novel and forming strong emotional attachment to his characters. More of these familiar faces was highly anticipated and appreciated.
Despite the happy return to an old favorite, “The Omen Machine” is not as wonderful as fans had expected.

Many have observed that Goodkind’s writing went downhill as the series dragged on into its later novels. Though he eventually managed to bring together his loose ends, the logic was often stretched. “The Omen Machine” had great potential as a way to reboot an ailing series, giving new villains to the same beloved heroes, an easy formula for success, as it mixes new excitement with long-standing emotional investment.

Unfortunately, this formula did not work out in favor of “The Omen Machine.” Though a return to such beloved characters was certainly welcome, particularly after the failure of the series’ television adaptation after only two seasons, it at times felt rather forced. No matter how much fans hoped and pleaded for this return to “The Sword of Truth,” it must at this point be admitted that the story of Richard and Kahlan is over. No matter how much we have loved them, it is time to put them to rest.

“The Omen Machine” feels frustratingly forced, simply an attempt to abuse fan loyalty in search of further profit. The writing is very immersive, which has always been Goodkind’s greatest asset, but less so than the novel’s predecessors. Furthermore, while the early novels told the story of Richard and Kahlan’s rise from desolation to save their homelands, “The Omen Machine” opens with them in the lap of luxury: not exactly the tale that originally made “The Sword of Truth” series so compelling.

Furthermore, the reader becomes frustrated, as characters failed to learn anything from their previous actions. Despite doubts time and time again in earlier books, and the fact that Richard has grown to be a powerful figure in both politics and the magic of his realm, the other characters still distrust him. They continue to treat him like the lost puppy he was when they first met. Richard, in this novel, is no lost puppy: He is the most powerful figure around, a man who has proven himself repeatedly, and yet his fellows still shrug him off. It makes the first half of the book rather redundant, as they struggle with a thousand different solutions before finally letting Richard take control of the situation. This makes it feel like “The Omen Machine,” which is a very different story from that which was first told, is being forced into a formulaic box in which it does not quite fit.

Setting aside this major flaw, “The Omen Machine” is actually an enjoyable read. After such a long hiatus from the series, for the old fan immersing oneself in this story actually feels a bit like going home. Ideally, however, as a fresh start telling a new story, “The Omen Machine” should be much more inviting to new readers. Without the pre-standing attachment to the characters and immersion in the universe, it doesn’t have much to offer. It comes across as a sort of conventional and perhaps even sub-par tale of a high-fantasy king already in power and satisfied. Richard now must struggle to protect his home, but on its own this struggle falls flat.

For old fans of the series, “The Omen Machine” is an enjoyable read, bringing back familiar favorites with the same intense immersion that Terry Goodkind so skillfully creates. Even then, it is not a book of particularly high quality. Nonetheless it is ultimately still enjoyable to read. For new readers who may see “The Omen Machine” as a good chance to get into the series without reading the 11 preceding books, however, it would be far wiser simply to go back to the beginning of the series. “The Omen Machine” is not worthy as an introduction to the sprawling world and beloved characters of Terry Goodkind when such better novels already exist.