The Omen Machine is the thirteenth installment in Terry Goodkind’s persistently popular Sword of Truth series and marks the author’s return to the fantasy genre after a short-lived stint with contemporary fiction. While no doubt many fans have been eagerly anticipating the continued adventures of Goodkind’s signature characters, Richard and Kahlan, the reality is far from ideal. Unfortunately, the novel reads like rather rushed and repetitive amateur fantasy at the best of times and one cannot help being left with a niggling suspicion that Goodkind merely wrote this book to fulfill a contract, investing only minimal effort in the endeavor.
The Omen Machine picks up almost immediately from where the previous book, Confessor, left off. The war is finally over and Richard and Kahlan now rule over D’Hara from the People’s palace. The city is full of well-wishers who have come to celebrate the nuptials of Mord-Sith Cara and General Benjamin. However, what should be a time of celebration takes a horrifying turn for the worse due to a series of strange and disturbingly accurate prophecies and the discovery of the ancient machine that seemingly gives rise to them. While Richard and his confidants attempt to discover the mechanism and purpose of the machine, civil unrest brews as the people of D’Hara demand answers that their rulers cannot provide. Yet our protagonists’ troubles don’t end there; eventually the Omen Machine issues another omen, which, if fulfilled, may see Richard and Kahlan torn apart forever.
Repetitive and condescending
Despite weighing in at over 500 pages, the plot of the novel is rather simple; some might say overly simple. While a straightforward plot is not necessarily a bad thing, The Omen Machine contains a phenomenal amount of seemingly unnecessary padding that does nothing to contribute to the story. Relatively basic descriptions of people or places are often drawn out into multiple sentences, each containing slightly reworded variants on the same concept. This repetition becomes even more noticeable when the same key phrases constantly reappear throughout the novel, sometimes to the point of appearing at least once on almost every page. At one stage, I was almost convinced that the entire book was an ill-conceived personal joke or a badly disguised experiment by Goodkind to determine how many times he could work the words ‘red leather’ into each chapter. Personally, I found the constant repetition very wearing and consider it one of the main factors that contributed to my lack of enjoyment of the novel.
Stilted dialogue and profoundly unintelligent characters
The dialogue is just as repetitive as the description and frequently feels unbelievable and forced. The characters reiterate the same points over and over in a single conversation just in case the reader missed something that might be important later. For instance, we are treated to a chapter-long discussion on how to order the books in one of the castle’s libraries, which culminates in the characters deciding to leave each book exactly where they found it. Later in the novel, lo and behold, the position of one particular book turns out to be relevant to the story.
This, along with some rather nonsensical actions, contributes to Goodkind’s characters coming across as almost inconceivably unintelligent. Some of the most obvious examples of this stupidity include an instance where the Omen Machine issues forth a prophecy regarding Kahlan which Richard finds extremely personally upsetting. Instead of acting to prevent the prophecy’s fulfillment, Richard gets angry and attempts to cleave the machine in two with his sword; as we all know, violence is the answer to every problem. Yet this doesn’t work, so he recruits various other accomplices to come and try their hand at destroying the machine. Eventually, some time later, they realize that this course of action is not achieving anything and Richard finally goes to check on Kahlan, who has been left alone sleeping this whole time. Imagine his surprise to find that the prophecy has been fulfilled and that she is nowhere to be found!
Another memorable example occurs early in the book when Cara and Benjamin admit that they had a strange feeling they were being watched by some malevolent disembodied presence on their wedding night. Their excuse for their inaction was that they were ‘otherwise occupied’. Forgive me if I’m being a prude, but is that not even more reason to investigate? Or are we supposed to believe that spectral voyeurs are an accepted aspect of D’Haran life?
Just in case you missed the point
Goodkind has never been accused of being too subtle in conveying his point and the way he does so throughout this novel may seem a little overdone and somewhat condescending. For instance, we learn that prophecy is bad and that such knowledge is disastrous in the hands of the masses, as they lack the intelligence to view it objectively. Instead, it must be left to the select few who supposedly know how to deal with it—in this case, Richard and Kahlan. He proceeds to hammer this point home by depicting those who oppose this view as ridiculously irresponsible and having them die rather horrible deaths. In case this still wasn’t enough to convince us, we are provided with various instances in which loving parents proceed to gruesomely murder their own children after receiving prophetic visions of their deaths. Apparently, this is their way of acting to prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled.
Some small comforts
On a more positive note, one of the antagonists, a ‘Hedge Maid’ called Jit, is actually quite creepy and disturbing. This is possibly due to the fact that we do not really see much of her until the very end of the book so there is not as much time for the horror to be dispelled by repetitive description.
Readers may also be pleased, or disappointed, to hear that The Omen Machine contains none of the sadomasochistic sex that featured in some of the previous novels, and that there is a less dominant focus on the Objectivist values that permeate Goodkind’s other works.
Why should you read this book?
I believe that every book has something to offer its reader, even if it is just to help us determine what we do or don’t enjoy or agree with, and as a result I would never flat out tell someone not to read a particular book. However, there are countless other novels I would suggest over this one. Personally, I probably wouldn’t have finished the novel had I not promised to review it, and I found it such a tedious read that it took me well over a month to finish. In good faith I could only recommend The Omen Machine to the most dedicated Goodkind completionists, fans of Robert Newcombe, or those who genuinely enjoy being force-fed conservative values. The unresolved ending would seem to to indicate that the series will continue, so we can only hope that the following installments show a vast improvement on this one.