41zwvtAmaMLNormally, this is the point in the review where I’d be digging up my previous reviews and getting an idea of what I thought of the last few books in the Sword of Truth series[1] and what the tone of the pieces were. However, as I’ve been telling anyone who will listen, I’m currently off the grid. And since I didn’t make the entire contents of available to myself offline before I left, well, you can see that I have no choice but to wing it.

Okay, then. Plot summary first, I guess. Phantom continues Richard Rahl’s search for his wife Kahlan, erased from everyone’s memories and perception via the Chainfire spell. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, the seemingly infinite army of the Imperial Order is nearing Richard’s army, which has no realistic chance to do more than momentarily slow their inexorable advance on the last free capital on the continent. He’s already lost his sword, and now someone is in the shadows, poised to steal the last advantage he has left. And I maintain that all of this could be pretty cool, tension-driven fantasy drama, if only it weren’t interspersed with the repetitive objectivist lesson plans disguised as storyline.

The Phantom in question is still supposed to be Kahlan, as you’d expect, though Goodkind shoehorns in a few other phantom references in other parts of the plot. (A bit clumsily, to be honest; if he’d used synonyms every now and then, it would have felt a lot less hammery, at least.) But the real phantoms of the book are the various strawmen against whom he’s arguing. It’s all fine and good to think that religion dulls people, that a focus on an unproven next world beyond death can be actively harmful to providing the best possible life for oneself, one’s neighbors, and one’s progeny. There’s an interesting debate there, and it can work even if you’re an author providing both sides of that argument. But it can’t work if your authorial position is that the logical conclusion of a religious focus is a communistic dystopia in which all beauty and knowledge is despised for taking peoples’ attention away from the afterlife and in which people can be easily brainwashed into believing that the wanton rape and murder of friends and enemies alike can be an expression of solidarity in collectively marching toward that goal beyond the veil. It’s not just that painting the opposite side as ravening beasts incapable of all rationality is insulting and ultimately detrimental to any persuasion, although it is those things too. It’s that it renders the entire counter-argument suspect, if the opposition needs to be placed in such an unattractive box for the authorial mouthpieces to be able to effectively debate their cause.

[1] Yes. Still. There’s a bright side, though, in that the next book is the final one, and I will at last be free!

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