Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: The Omen Machine

Title: The Omen Machine
Author: Terry Goodkind
Pages: 525
ISBN: 9780007396757
Series: The Sword of Truth #12
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

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Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels set a new standard for epic storytelling in a fully-realized created world. Now Goodkind returns to that world for a new cycle of tales, focusing on Richard Cypher and Kahlan Amnell.

Hidden deep underground for millennia, discovered by change, the mysterious machine has awakened, to begin issuing a series of ominous and alarmingly accurate omens. As the wizard Zeddicus attempts to destroy the sinister device, it issues a cataclysmic omen involving Richard and Kahlan, foretelling an impending event beyond anyone's ability to prevent it.

With catastrophe imminent, the machine then reveals that it is within its power to withdraw the omen... on fulfillment of an impossible demand.
[Synopsis taken from cover]
I have fond (and some not so fond) memories of the Sword of Truth series. Some books were amazing and others didn’t quite satisfy. I grew attached to the characters and with the turn of that last page of Confessor I was left wondering what would happen next. Richard and Kahlan triumphed, but how will they handle their “happily ever after” life? What happens to the rest of the characters?

The Omen Machine is Terry Goodkind’s attempt at answering at least some of these questions. Billed as “A Richard and Kahlan Novel” it takes place directly after the events of Confessor, and in this case ‘directly’ means a single day. Representatives from across the D’Haran Empire are attending Cara’s wedding celebrations. While Richard and Kahlan are mingling with the people they stop to attend to an ill boy who gives them a dire warning before running off. From that point onwards it seems that prophecy and omens are popping up all over the place and none of them predict anything good…

Reading The Omen Machine was like running into some old friends after not seeing them for ages. They seem familiar, but after some time you realize that they aren’t quite the same as you remembered them. The supporting cast of Zedd, Cara, Nicci and Nathan feel like shadows of their former selves and even Kahlan and Richard are diminished in some way that’s hard to articulate sufficiently without doing a complete re-read of the series.

The plot is pretty simplistic and relies far too much on coincidence to move events along. There are also quite a few inconsistencies and things that are left unexplained. For some reason the entire populace suddenly becomes fixated with following prophecy, something that didn’t even feature in the previous novels and the reason for this sudden fixation is never explained. On top of that people, both gifted and non-gifted, also start to have prophetic visions of their own leading them to kill their families in horrific ways in order to protect them from a horrible fate. These visions are apparently caused by the Omen Machine which is discovered later in the novel, but how and why this happens is left completely unexplored aside from Zedd suddenly and unaccountably stating that the machine is the cause.

The novel also suffers from quite a few instances of bad copy-editing where misplaced or repeated words bring your imagination to a screeching halt in order to decipher the sentences - “There were a good two dozen of the elite of the elite standing guard inside the Garden of Life” (p 299). Goodkind also seems to have developed a nasty habit of repeating the same descriptions or statements every couple of pages. There’s only so many times you need to be told that people are obsessed with prophecy; that the Mord-Sith were wearing red leather or how the Omen Machine inscribes metal strips before it gets annoying. At some places it’s almost the exact same phrase barring a change or two:
“… what had to be thousands of strips of cloth, string and thin vines all hanging from the ceiling, all holding objects tied to their ends, everything from coins to shells to rotting lizards” (p 342).
“Kahlan passed through rooms with hundreds of strips of cloth hanging from the ceiling, each holding an object of some sort, everything from coins to the remains of small animals” (p 491).
This repetition got on my nerves and at times I wished that he would just get on with the story already.

There is a shining light though in the form of the truly creepy antagonist Jit, a Hedge Maid with occult powers, a penchant for drinking human blood and a weird sense of interior decorating (weaving people into walls!). The other villain (who shall remain unnamed to prevent a possible spoiler) is far less scary and his appearance feels like a clich├ęd caricature of what an evil character should look like.
“The whites of the man’s eyes were not white. Not at all. They had been tattooed a bright blood red” (p 348).
“Every bit [of his flesh] was covered with tattooed symbols. Not simply covered, but layered over countless times so that the skin looked something other than human” (p 349).
The ending relies on one of those moments where Richard manages to pull a solution out of thin air to save the day. I still can’t figure out how he managed to decipher the last prophecy the machine gave him without having access to information that’s only revealed long after the fact. If you can look past this discrepancy the ending is satisfying in a way, but it leaves much unresolved. I’m sure we’ll be seeing another “Richard and Kahlan” novel sometime in the future. [Some Internet sleuthing seems to indicate that The Omen Machine is the first book in a new trilogy, but I can’t seem to find any definite confirmation of that fact].

Another major discrepancy I have to mention is that the synopsis used on the cover and in the promotional material doesn’t fit with the actual events of the story. The last paragraph, “With catastrophe imminent, the machine then reveals that it is within its power to withdraw the omen… on fulfillment of an impossible demand” just never happens. Since this is a serious hook to draw readers to the book I don’t know why it was included. Perhaps it was part of the story that got cut during editing and the synopsis never got corrected? One thing is certain, it’s seriously misleading and left me feeling cheated.

The Verdict:
It was great to see all the familiar characters back in action, but The Omen Machine doesn’t feel quite up to the standards of Terry Goodkind’s other Sword of Truth novels, especially not the early works. The plot hinges on far too many coincidences and fantastical leaps in logic which are never quite explained to satisfaction. Though flawed The Omen Machine is still an enjoyable read for the most part, but I expected so much more from it based on what proved to be a misleading synopsis.

The Rating: 5.5/10 (Average)

The Third Kingdom, the sequel to the Omen Machine, is scheduled to be released in August 2013.

Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for providing the review copy.

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderfully well-handled review KJ.

    I loved the first few books in The Sword of Truth series, but haven't really kept up with the series past the fourth book, which was one of those slightly disappointing ones.

    I am left completely gobsmacked at the examples you give of lazy writing and poor editing. Goodkind should be better than that. I'm glad you got some enjoyment from reading The Omen Machine, but it sounds like Goodkind has a lot to make up for if he turns this into a trilogy.

    The Word Fiend