The Omen Machine, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio.
In 2007, Terry Goodkind released Confessor, the last part of a terrific three-book arc that wrapped up the epic 11-novel Sword of Truth series. At that point, he indicated that he wanted to move away from fantasy and into modern-day novels. This he did with the thriller The Law of Nines, released in 2009. And although it did take place in modern times, there are many “easter eggs” for fans of the Sword of Truth books, and the novel is indeed in some way connected to the previous saga.
For whatever reason, Goodkind has returned to his fantasy roots with his latest novel, The Omen Machine. It is referred to on the cover as a “Richard and Kahlan novel.” The fact that it is not branded as as a “Sword of Truth” novel specifically does speak to the differences that this book has from its predecessors.
First the similarities. Without spoiling prior novels, this does take place shortly after the events of Confessor, and involves many of the surviving cast of characters from that and prior novels. The writing style is classic Goodkind: lots of descriptions, some speechifying, and his objectivist philosophy woven into the narrative.
They story of the novel is this: the people of one of the lands under Richard & Kahlan’s rule believe that prophecy should be used to directly guide people’s lives, while Richard and Kahlan believe differently about the role of prophecy, based on their experiences and understanding of how the gift works. A series of tragic prophecies delivered to ungifted people quickly come to pass, and the discovery of a heretofore unknown machine, hidden cunningly inside the Palace, that delivers the same omens, brings nothing but confusion and distress upon our heroes. Is this a new manifestation of the gift? Are people somehow being manipulated via this machine to bring forth predictions? Are these even real prophecy at all, or are these dark predictions being used as covers for murder and treachery?
On to the difference between this work and prior Richard and Kahlan stories. As interesting as the questions raised by this plot are, the tale operates on a much less grand scale. It is also surprisingly short. The Sword of Truth series consisted of 600-700 page doorstops, while this one checks in at around 400 pages. This is average length, perhaps slightly above average for say a modern thriller, but is much shorter than most epic fantasies. Perhaps that is the most striking difference – it is a fantasy novel, certainly, but not an epic fantasy. The geography of the novel, the timeframe of the novel, the stakes for the character, the literal size of the novel – all much smaller than one expects from a fantasy work, certainly from a fantasy work penned by Terry Goodkind. But I imagine it was these types of changes that prompted the branding decision in referring to this simply as a “Richard and Kahlan” novel. To talk in terms that are used more often in movies and comic books, this novel can be considered a “soft reboot” of the series, a good “jumping on” point for readers who find the combined 7,000 pages of the Sword of Truth epic intimidating.
This is not to say that these changes make the book unenjoyable. As a matter of fact, I thought it quite good, certainly more appealing to me than Goodkind’s attempt to go mainstream, The Law of Nines. There is something to the shorter form that moves the plot along at a good pace, while not skimping on the character moments and interactions that are fan favorites. The villain of the work was interesting, and a type of magic was at work here that we haven’t seen before in this world. That was good to see. There are indications of a villain behind the villain, pulling the strings, which certainly does lay the groundwork for this to be the kickoff of another series of novels for Goodkind set in the worlds of D’hara and the Midlands.