The Omen Machine: a review

The end of a series is often tragic – the characters that have become an integral part of one’s mind and the soul are no more. For me, it’s like dealing with death; with the realisation that the people and events that have become part of my imagination will become a distant memory, an unavoidably forgotten – sometimes acknowledged – part of my psyche.

The great thing about literature is that it’s always up for a re-read but, when it comes to series, re-reading is not quite the same as a new story and changed or developed characters. I want to know what happens…

…what  happens after Jagang’s destruction, Richard and Kahlan’s reunion and Cara’s wedding?

Luckily Terry Goodkind is much obliged. The top selling author’s fourteenth novel, The Omen Machine, is the first in a new series about Richard and Kahlan – OH HAPPY DAY! And readers are not left wondering or filling in blanks; events in the book take place directly after the end of Confessor.

The plot centres on the seemingly accidental discovery of a mysterious machine that has rested underground for aeons. The machine awakens to begin issuing a series of increasingly alarming, if minor, omens. The omens turn out to be astonishingly accurate, and ever more ominous. Whilst Richard and his cronies deliberate on how to destroy the sinister device, prophecy begins to take over the mind and will of the D’Haran people, with disastrous effect and deadly consequence.

Here’s the bad news; the novel lacks depth. Not so HAPPY DAY! Shorter than most of Goodkind’s previous work, it’s the plot that drives the The Omen Machine… at the sacrifice of character development. The emotional connection is missing. And it’s not just because it’s been a couple of years since the last novel; it’s difficult to relate to the characters because the novel leaves very little time for them to relate to one another. The beginning of the novel is slow going but once the story has had a chance to unravel, immersion in the puzzle of the Omen Machine is not an option. But readers want to connect with the characters not just the story and certainly not only with an omen-spewing machine. It lacks… just ‘lacks’.

That said; one of the best things about Goodkind’s writing is that it pulls no punches. His context is bold and his descriptions are graphic. The Omen Machine introduces some delicious new badass ‘badies’ who are simply sensational– the Hedge Maid known as Jit is just horrific and Hannis Arc, who is set up as the forthcoming series’ primary antagonist, is spine-chilling. One can only look forward to what torturous schemes Richard’s new nemeses have in store for D’Hara and its leader.

Also to be glad about; the fantasy genre is great vehicle for social commentary and the ‘Sword of Truth’ series made many an astute observation that The Omen Machine continues. A religious subtext, clear in Goodkind’s previous series, rushes to the fore in the author’s latest offering. Who is this ‘Creator’ and what does He or It want and expect? Richard’s mores and values are put to the test as reason faces an onslaught from the emerging god of prophecy, which furthers the debate of previous Goodkind texts; how much are our choices affected by society and circumstance? Richard no longer has to fight to prove the superiority of Reason – eleven novels have done that – but what happens when Reason appears not to be the best modus operandi? Goodkind’s fantastical translation and discussion of objectivist ethics always makes for fascinating reading.

What I haven’t quite worked out is whether Goodkind actually has more to day about his characters or is the The Omen Machine gratuitous in its nature? Is the novel an attempt to revive something that is better off in slumber? What has Goodkind yet to divulge? So many questions and such vague assumptions… it’s unsatisfactory.

As a fan, you might be disappointed in The Omen Machine but there is more to come and it might be awesome? Don’t give up!