When we last saw our alleged hero, who is also insane, emotionally dead and devoid of any survival instincts, he had noticed a dress. The dress is on a woman, because she's wearing it. The dress and its occupant are being followed by a bunch of cut-rate ninjas dressed like Robin Hood.
Also, there's a dress.
Richard basically sits there trying his hardest to wuss out so he won't have to go defend the Designated Love Interest from danger. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
He couldn't be sure the four men really were stalking the woman, at least not until it was too late.
If they WEREN'T, wouldn't they be walking behind her normally rather than skulking out of her sight?
What business was it of his anyway? And besides, he didn't even have his knife with him. What chance did one man with no weapon have against four?
Depends on whether he's a Designated Hero or not. If he's not, then zero chance.
Honestly, I don't mind it when characters show some sensible fear in a book when they're faced with terrible odds. But here's the thing: We already know that Richard has pretty much no survival instincts or common sense, plus he chases after red UFOs, so why the hell is he suddenly the soul of caution?
He watched the woman making her way along the path. He watched the men follow.
.... and then they all fell off a cliff.
What chance did the woman have?
Probably a better one than the dude who thinks putting a herbal band-aid on his MOVING THORN will fix EVERYTHING.
Anyway, Richard makes the predictable choice and starts thinking about all the paths and how he plans to ask the dress with the woman inside if those weird guys skulking after her are just her buddies. So then he makes a Sneaky Ninja Plan about how he can jump out, grab the woman, and take her on the right leg of a fork off into open ledges and toward Hartland. The men, being nameless evil minions, will wander off in the wrong direction because... Richard is smart!
There are so, so many things wrong with this.
- If there's a fork - a fork being a path that splits in half - usually people won't disregard one half of it.
- Apparently Richard thinks that when you are trailing someone, you will fail to notice when some random dude jumps out and drags them away. Fail.
- There are several Robin Hood ninjas, therefore his "I'll evade them by going on the RIGHT fork!" plan falls apart. They could easily split up, with one group going left and one going right.
- This is sounding a lot like a Monty Python skit.
- Who wants to head towards LEDGES when you're being chased?
So he goes running off with his Clever Brainy Plan Wot Is Clever!
Old pine trees lined the path, leaving a soft mat of needles to cushion his footfalls.
Shouldn't they be gross, slimy and squishy if it rained last night? Whoops, forgot. In GenericMedievalLand, water falls UP.
He couldn't be sure how far he had gone; the forest offered no view for a fix, and he didn't remember exactly where the cutoff was.
Worst. Woodland Guide. Ever. Why is this guy a professional again? Did his family simply give him a job that involved a minimum of sharp implements upon which to carelessly impale himself on?
He tried to think of what he would say to the woman when he finally reached her.
"You're the prettiest girl in first grade. Wanna go steady?"
She might think he was with her pursuers, or be frightened by him, or not believe him.
... because of course, acting like a helpless scared wittle kitty cat is the only way Teh Womenfolk ever act. Pass the bucket.
Anyway, Richard is basically racing around like the proverbial beheaded chicken, trying to find this mystery fork. I can't help but wonder if the voices in his head are the ones who told him about it. And despite whining that it wasn't any of his business about a page ago, now suddenly he's freaking out about what will happen to the dress... er, the girl if he doesn't run faster.
Finally, he finds the stupid fork. It's not much of a fork, clearly. And then he sits there worrying about how stupid he'll look if it turns out that it's just some farm-girl and her brothers playing Robin-Hood Ninjas in the woods. Because... I guess people around there do that kind of thing.
But, because his hand hurts and he saw something flying overhead, Richard magically knows that Bad Things are happening, and that the woman is not a girl. Congratulations, Richard - you now are aware of puberty.
No - he shook his head - this was no game, he knew what he had seen. It was no game. They were stalking her.
So how come he was getting all insecure and doubty about two seconds again?
Waves of heat rolled from his body.
Run! He's about to explode!
Bent over at the waist with his hands braced on his knees, he took a few deep breaths before straightening to his full height.
Of course we don't know what his full height is. In fact Goodkind hasn't told us much of ANYTHING about how Richard looks. Is he tall? Short? Fat? Thin? Built like a tank? A beanpole? What color is his hair? His skin? What distinguishing characteristics does he have? Does he have Obama ears, a cleft chin, mismatched eyes, scars, birthmarks... anything at all?
As it stands, he pretty much comes across as exactly what his name implies - a cipher. He's like a male Bella Swan, but admittedly more active.
Her brown hair was full, lush, and long, complementing the contours of her body. She was tall, almost as tall as he, and about the same age.
So she has long brown hair, and is of totally indeterminate height and age. Because, dammit, we don't know how tall or old Richard is - he could be a century-old hobbit for all we know.
The dress she wore was like none he had ever seen: almost white, cut square at the neck, interrupted only by a small, tan leather waist pouch. The weave of the fabric was fine and smooth, almost glistening, and bore none of the lace or frills he was used to seeing, no prints or colors to distract from the way it caressed her form. The dress was elegant in its simplicity. She halted, and long graceful folds regally trailing her gathered about her legs.
... so, it's a nice dress. We officially now know more about the dress's appearance than we do about the Designated Hero's. Or the person wearing the dress.
- What does "almost white" mean? Is it like being a little pregnant?
- So the neckline... is interrupted by a waist pouch. Either she's got some plunging cleavage there, or the waistline is up at her boobs.
- The dress is glistening. Why is it glistening? Fine weaves don't make things glisten.
- Richard is pretty horny for a guy riding in to the rescue. He seems to be paying a LOT of attention to how the dress looks on her body and legs.
- Since when would a woodland guide see women in lots of lace and frills?! HE'S A GUY WHO SPENDS MOST OF HIS TIME IN THE WOODS.
- Designated Love Interest hasn't even opened her mouth yet, and we already know she's a blithering moron. Not only has she not noticed the Robin Hood Ninjas a few feet behind her, but she's wearing a vaguely white dress that TRAILS. In the woods. With the dirt, and the mud, and the dead leaves, and the animal poop.
- And yet, Designated Love Interest's WHITE DRESS WITH THE SQUARE NECK AND GINORMOUS CLEAVAGE isn't dirty. What the hell is it made out of? I preferred the TV show when she was racing around with dirty sleeves and hem.
Richard approached and stopped three strides away so as not to appear a threat.
... because when a random man comes lunging out of the woods at you, he's not a threat unless he's within three paces away. Right.
Her eyebrows had the graceful arch of a raptor's wings in flight.
So her eyebrows are thick and feathery?
Her green eyes came unafraid to his.
That sounds painful. I don't care how unafraid you are, pressing your eyeballs together would HURT.
And because building up an actual romantic relationship might actually result in character development, Goodkind decides to dispense with all that by having the characters fall in INSTANT TWILIGHTY WUV.
The connection was so intense that it threatened to drain his sense of self. He felt that he had always known her, that she had always been a part of him, . that her needs were his needs.
... right, because true love is something that hits you like a brick in the skull, is predestined and immediately takes away your individual identity. Count me out, okay?
And aside from making Troo Wuv sound incredibly unappealing, this is just plain lazy writing. It's possible to have love interests start off the story platonically and fall in love gradually over the course of at least one book. But apparently Goodkind doesn't wanna do anything that complex or nuanced, or maybe he just doesn't have a clue.
And you know what the worst part is? They spent several chapters glued together, talking constantly and getting to know each other. Romantic attraction would be a totally plausible outcome of the way these characters interact through this book... but that apparently doesn't happen. No, they fall in love immediately, and all those scenes are just to hammer it between our eyes that THEY ARE SO TOTALLY IN LOVE SO THERE!
She held him with her gaze as surely as a grip of iron would, searching his eyes as if searching his soul, seeking an answer to something.
Presumably waiting to see if he's gonna whip out a knife and attack her, or if he's just a dumb cluck who wandered in at the worst possible time.
I am here to help you, he said in his mind. He meant it more than any thought he had ever had.
... and then she ran away screaming, because he neglected to say that thought out loud.
In her eyes he saw something that attracted him more than anything else. Intelligence. He saw it flaring there, burning in her, and through it all he felt an overriding sense of her integrity. Richard felt safe.
Got that, kiddies? Not only can you tell how smart a person is just by their appearance, but you can also tell whether they're a good person or not. So if someone SEEMS nice to you, it means they must be a wonderful person. You can tell just by looking. Trust everybody who acts nice or looks pretty
Anyone else disturbed yet?
A warning flashed in his mind, making him remember why he was there, that time was dear.
Was the warning set off by the voices in his head?
Anyway, he starts bumbling through an explanation about how he saw her and there were men following her - although his first explanation makes him sound vaguely like a peeping tom. But then she's horrified when she hears that she's being followed by four men. Clearly, four is a very scary number.
"Do you choose to help me?" Except for her color, her exquisite features gave no hint as to her emotions.
It's kind of a weird question to ask. Not "will you help me?" or "I need your help," but making it sound like a question from a "choose your own adventure book."
Do you choose to help the undescribed women wearing the square-necked white trailing dress that makes her look totally hot?
If you help her, go to page 157. If you don't, go to page 240.
Before his mind could form a thought, he heard himself say, "Yes."
Wow, he's a real genius. For all he knows, this woman is a con artist or a murderer or a thief, and the guys following her could be the good guys... but he's agreeing to help her without even thinking about it. But wait! She's a hot woman and he knows from looking at her that she's honest.
This is another thing that the TV show did better, having Richard only intervene when she was ATTACKED, not when she was just being followed. He just stood off to the side and did nothing while she was being followed.
Anyway, Designated White Dress exhibits slightly more brains than Richard by asking what will happen if the Robin Hood ninjas fail to wander off in the other direction. Richard insists that he can hide their tracks, which you can obviously do at a minute's notice right after it rains.
Oh, and Robin Hood Ninjas are very, very dangerous. Emphasis on "very."
The way she spoke the word made him have to force himself to breathe again.
Damn, I was hoping he would drop dead of oxygen deprivation. He certainly doesn't seem to have much oxygen going to his tiny brain, because he comes up with a brilliant scheme that only a two-year-old would be impressed by.
Richard ran his fingers through his hair. "Well, the small trail is narrow and sheer. They won't be able to surround us."
Yeah. Instead, they'll be able to knock them off it. Yo, Richard, "narrow and sheer" is about the worst possible conditions when you're being attacked by Designated Evil Minions, because it means you have no place to escape to and no room to maneuver. The only way it could be worse is if it were slippery and directly over the Giant Random Spikes of Doom.
Anyway, he and the dress go running through the woods. Since Goodkind obviously doesn't know how tracks would be concealed, he just says that Richard did it. Richard also seems to be paying a weird amount of attention to how the dress moves; it's starting to sound like he wishes he were wearing it.
Apparently Richard and Designated White Dress are lucky that the Designated Evil Minions are as stupid as they are, because they're traveling through a very confined space with restricted visibility... so basically they're in a TERRIBLE position. You would think that a woodland guide would have a vague idea that such a place is a bad location, but nooooooo....
She went swiftly without any encouragement from him.
Imagine that! The little wimmin can actually move fast without a man ordering them about.
Anyway, they go wandering along very thoroughly described places in the woods, and it actually sounds fairly nice. It's too bad that Goodkind isn't writing a guidebook to... what is this world of his called? Does he ever name it?
They weren't being followed; the men were nowhere to be seen, and were probably miles down Hawkers Trail by now. The farther from the boundary and the closer to town they got, the better he felt. His plan had worked.
... or maybe the worst wood guide in the world is being tracked by the Designated Evil Minions... and just hasn't noticed yet. They've been walking for just a short time, and for all they know the baddies have backtracked and are now coming after them.
Anyway, Richard starts wussing out because he's tired and his hand hurts, but the White Dress with the woman inside keeps walking. Apparently they spend all morning walking around the woods, and clearly Richard is not as alarmed as he should be because he spends a lot of time staring at the clouds. No, seriously.
Zedd was a cloud reader, and if Richard failed to report his sighting he would have to endure an hour-long lecture on the significance of clouds. Zedd was probably watching it this very moment, fretting over whether or not Richard was paying attention.
So, we have some small indication of Zedd's identity. Wanna bet Zedd is a wizard? Not only is he a cloud-reader (meaning he has Mysterious Mystical Knowledge, which always is connected to lots of other Mysterious Magical Crap) but he's an old man and he mentors the Designated Hero. If he isn't a wizard, he's definitely a Jedi. Or a martial arts master.
The path took them to the south face of small Blunt Mountain,
... you know, I hate artificially exotic fantasy names as much as the next person. But would it kill this guy to write in a few names?
And as a further sign that Richard is a blithering idiot, he and White Dress go trotting along the trail OVER A CLIFF FACE. Yes. No escape, no room, and no cover - why doesn't he just paint the side of the mountain with LOOK HERE FOR WOMAN IN WHITE DRESS AND VILLAGE IDIOT?
Richard saw brown, dying trees standing out against the carpet of green. Up closer to the boundary the dead trees were thick. It was the vine, he realized.
... so he sees dead trees near a barrier that cuts the entire land in half, but his first assumption is that a crazy vine must have killed ALL those trees. Where did he get THAT idea from?
And even if it IS the vine killing the trees... who cares? Parasites do that all the time. Why is this one different, aside from having eyes, teeth and wiggling thorns that burrow into your flesh?
As he turned back, she froze in midstride, the folds of her dress swirling around her legs.
... which of course Richard notices.
But oh look, our oh-so-brilliant woodland guide's plan failed. Miserably. Two of the Robin Hood Ninjas are stranding ahead of them; they are also apparently giants, because Richard is sooooooo huge and big, but they're WAAAAAYYY bigger than him.
Clearly Goodkind is not thinking this out, because while an unusually large man - say, 6'4" with lots of muscles - will not be the largest in the world. A person who is "much bigger" than such a man would be enormous (eight feet and built like a tank?), and would probably have difficulty moving and maneuvering. Not the sort of people you would send on a sensitive sneaky mission. Definitely not ninja material.
Richard's mind raced, trying to conceive of how the men could have gotten ahead of them.
Here's an idea - they're smarter than you, they predicted what you'd do or heard you prattling out loud about it, and they figured out a way to cut you off. Honestly, this is starting to give me a case of Eragonic deja vu, another fantasy book where the heroes are morons and the villains are competent.
Anyway, Richard, the dress and the woman are preparing to run away when two other enormous dudes appear from behind them and block their attempts to run away. Then one of them says, "We found a witch, may we burn her?" and Richard says that she's only a witch if she's made of wood and weighs the same as a duck.
Richard wheeled back to the first two. They calmly pushed their hoods back. Each had thick blond hair and a thick neck; their faces were rugged, handsome.
... wait, they all look just the same? Are they brothers, clones or did Goodkind just not want to bother writing in descriptions for Designated Evil Minions?
"You may pass, boy. Our business is with the girl." The man's voice was deep, almost friendly. Nonetheless, the threat was as sharp as a blade.
A threat to whom? They don't seem to be threatening Richard here.
He removed his leather gloves and tucked them in his belt as he spoke, not bothering to look at Richard. He obviously didn't consider Richard an obstacle.
Well, that's not surprising. They already know that Richard is a blithering idiot who is also a lot smaller than they are, is unarmed, and they outnumber him. Why would they consider him an obstacle?
Goodkind then pauses to tell us how awesome and great Richard is.... which, incidentally, won't last very long. It applies to the Richard in the TV series, but not the books. Seriously, soon he'll be killing people in a "righteous rage" and saying that it serves them right for opposing him.
Richard had never been in a situation like this before. He never allowed himself to lose his temper, and could usually turn scowls to smiles with his easy manner.
Show, don't tell. What little we've seen of him is fairly dull and not the sort of charming person who could make your mood do a 180.
If talk didn't work, he was quick enough and strong enough to stop threats before anyone was hurt,
... so if anyone voices threats, even ones that have nothing to do with him, he physically intimidates them until they do what he wants? That sounds suspiciously like bullying.
Richard glanced to her green eyes and saw the visage of a proud woman beseeching his help.
That doesn't sound very much like a proud woman, honestly. Wouldn't a proud woman be staring down the Designated Evil Minions, not going "oh pleez oh pleez big strong man save me!"?
The Designated Evil Minions are considerately and conveniently standing there waiting rather than, y'know, attacking. So the two Designated Heroes have a little chitchat about what they're gonna do, apparently not caring that the Designated Evil Minions can literally hear every word they say.
"May the good spirits be with us," she said.
Whoever they are. I don't think we ever find out.
Anyway, Richard tries to be all strong and brave in front of the Designated Evil Minions which is pretty dumb because they've all got swords. So he just stands there flinching and doing nothing for a minute, then suddenly turns into Kung Fu Richard, instantly kicking an ARMED MAN off the path and down the cliff. Ah, so that's why Goodkind wrote in this stupid cliffside path.
The leader of the group them throws Richard sideways and almost knocks him out - but because he's a Stu, he is magically able to leap up, grab the guy, and spin him. With a concussion and very little air. Cuz he's Speshul.
He's then saved when the last other thug stabs and knocks his leader off the cliff. The woman looks tired but somehow hasn't been hurt, so Richard just plops down next to her and says absolutely nothing - basically after a day of weird shit, he's getting all freaked out because of a thunderclap non-noise.
Anyway, White Dress chick finally gets around to asking his name, and starts flattering him cuz he's the Stu.
"There are not many who would have stood with me."
He's super-speshul, remember!
He found her voice as attractive as the rest of her. It matched the spark of intelligence in her eyes.
So not only can you tell how smart a person is by looking at them, but by their voice?
"You are a very rare person, Richard Cypher."
Oh what crap. These people have known each other for like five minutes, and already they're fawning about how speshul the other is. And for someone with weird people chasing after her, she's awfully trusting.
So White Dress Chick introduces herself as Kahlan Amnell, which pretty much dispenses of the "glaringly ordinary names" thing that the author had going on. Except she does it in a very awkward way: "I am Kahlan. My family name is Amnell."
Uh, are naming conventions supposed to be radically different in different parts of this country? Apparently names are arranged in the same order on both sides of the boundary - so presumably having Kahlan introduce herself in such a clunky way is to emphasize that This Is FantasyLand!
"You too are a very rare person, Kahlan Amnell. There are not many who would have stood as you did."
Yeah, Richard wants to get laid. If cornered on a narrow path by four giant thugs, most people would stand and fight because that's all they could do. But instead he's heaping on the praise in Goodkind's typical stilted dialogue..
She did not blush, but smiled again. It was an odd sort of smile, a special smile, not showing any teeth. Her lips were pressed together, as one would do when taking another into one's confidence. Her eyes sparkled. It was a smile of sharing.
Goodkind fails body language. When a person keeps their lips pressed together and doesn't show teeth, it usually means that they're forcing a smile to be polite. There's nothing trusting or sharing about just stretching your mouth a little, and contrary to his claims, that is NOT how people smile when they trust someone.
So it doesn't sound like she's gazing adoringly at Richard with a "special sharing smile," it sounds like she's thinking, "Oh crap, when can I get rid of the village idiot?"
So Richard sits there thinking about all the weird magical stuff that she's done, and starts talking to her like a beer buddy. Kahlan is shocked because he called her a friend, and she never ever had one before.
"Well, Kahlan, my friend, can you tell me how it is that we are alive and those four men are not?"
She looked at him, in surprise. "Do you mean that?"
"Mean what?" She hesitated. " `Friend.' "
Please, not this "I'll be your first ever friend!" crapola. How healthy is it that the Designated Love Interest never even had a buddy before, and her first friend ever is a guy who wants into her white fine-woven square-necked pants? Call me odd, but that sounds pretty damn contrived.
Richard shrugged. "Sure. You just said I stood with you. That's the kind of thing a friend does, isn't it?" He gave her a smile.
So if he saw a woman in trouble whom he didn't like, he'd just leave her to get killed? Nice.
Then Kahlan starts moping about how she never had a friend before, boohoo, except maybe her sister. Her sister is implied to be dead, so she can focus all her attention on the Stu.
He felt the pain in her voice. "Well, you have one now," he said in his most cheerful tone. "After all, we just went through something pretty frightening together. We helped each other, and we survived."
... is Goodkind trying to write a children's novel about friendship, togetherness and helping each other? Because it's starting to sound an awful lot like that. All we needs are some Muppets and a musical number about the power of love and friendship, and the brain-melting banality will officially be complete.
Having established that he's Kahlan's first ever friend (and thus has a great chance of getting laid), Richard then stares off at the woods and thinks about Evil Vine and how it's killing whole sections of the forest. Apparently he's decided that the only possible explanation is that the vine is creeping all across the forest and killing trees - this despite the fact that he's only actually SEEN one tree being killed by the Evil Vine. From that, he jumps to the conclusion that all the trees are being attacked by GIANT EVIL VINE. That's a biiiiiiig assumption.
The boundary was death. It was said that to go into the boundary was not only to die but to forfeit your soul.
... and we STILL don't know what the hell the boundary is. Seriously, what is it?
The boundary wardens made sure people stayed away.
Then obviously the border wardens are as inept as Richard, because he went prancing around near the boundary and nobody even showed up. And as we later find out, Kahlan and the thugs came trotting from the other side of the boundary.... and nobody noticed.
Anyway, Richard asks about how come they're still alive, and Kahlan proves that she's a rotten liar by just bullcrapping about how she thinks the good spirits protected them. Even Richard isn't stupid enough to buy that answer.
Everyone had secrets; he certainly had his own. In fact, with his father's murder and. with today's events he felt those secrets stirring unpleasantly in the back of his mind.
Wha? What secrets have we heard about him having? Okay, his dad died under suspicious circumstances and he found a vine.... not exactly a dark and murky past, huh?
"Kahlan," he said, trying to make his voice sound reassuring, "being a friend means you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to, and I'll still be your friend."
Seriously, I'm expecting a Sesame Street song about what friendship is all about to kick in anytime now. Please, make the horrible music go away.
Richard realizes that he's late for his brother's party and speech, so he decides to drag Kahlan home and have his brother give her some bodyguards. Since it's established that his brother is a Designated Douchebag, I'm sure he'll do something rotten instead.
Richard smiled. "Never had a friend give you a hand up before?"
"Come on, friendly friend of the one who is your friend! Lonely girls are always the easiest to.... uh, I mean, women walking along will get in trouble with big thuggish men!"
Anyway, all this agressive friendship crap is even making Kahlan uncomfortable, especially since Richard is acting like they've been buddies for years instead of having just learned each other's names. And Richard finally gets around to asking who the four guys who tried to kill them were.
"They are called a quad. They are, well, they are like assassins. They are sent to kill . . ." She caught herself again. "They kill people."
Yes, Kahlan. Usually assassins kill people. That's why they're called assassins. It's sort of in the job description. Try to keep up.
So Kahlan basically tells Richard that she doesn't want a lot of people knowing about her because she wouldn't be safe otherwise. Richard for some reason is shocked and befuddled by this, despite the fact that he just helped her fight off a bunch of thugs. Does he think those thugs just randomly stalk and attack (across a long distance) any woman?
And he finally gets around to asking her where the quad came from. Drumroll, for this is surely a VERY SIGNIFICANT MOMENT. Turns out she comes from... the Midlands. Which is on the other side of the boundary. Which would be more impressive if we knew what the hell the boundary is.
Richard's skin went cold, and prickles bumped up along his arms in a wave that rolled up to the back of his neck, making the fine hairs there stand stiffly out. An anger deep within him awakened and his secrets stirred.
- Why is he ANGRY?
- It would make sense if he were shocked or confused, but when confronted by a shocking claim from someone he insists he trusts, he suddenly gets angry.
- In the past day, Richard got bitten by an Evil Vine and got buzzed by a mysterious flying creature, and his father was killed by magic which is the WHOLE REASON he's out here. Yet somehow he goes into total denial about the possibility of someone going across the boundary.
- Do secrets usually stir? Where are the secrets located, and what makes them move?
- Seriously, are "secrets" being used as a euphemism for something else?
She had to be lying. No one could cross the boundary.
No one could go into or come out of the Midlands. The boundary had sealed it away since before he was born.
The Midlands was a land of magic
Just a little choppier, and this would be ideal for William Shatner to narrate in a Priceline commercial.
And Richard is really demonstrating that he has the intellectual flexibility of a brain-damaged sheep. If a boundary was erected, there's no reason that someone can't get through it - it's like building a very high, thick stone wall and then being shocked when someone is able to use a jackhammer to bust through it. Work hard enough and investigate enough, and you can find a way through virtually anything.
What's more, the last line kind of undermines everything else in the statement - so the people of the Midlands have magic, and there's a boundary sealing them off. So... maybe someone could USE magic to get through the boundary, huh? Nah, can't possibly be.