Reading order for the Sword of Truth / Legend of the Seeker books
The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind comprises 12 epic fantasy novels (so far), and one prequel. The series was adapted for TV as Legend of the Seeker, which was cancelled after 2 seasons.
The books take place in a richly detailed fantasy world and follow a handful of main characters; though some of the books work well on their own the story does progress from one to the next so it's best to read in the intended order.
Apart from the prequel novella and the first novel in the series, the books are organised into 4 main groups. Each group follows a particular storyline. The Sword of Truth reading order is as follows, click the book title to jump to the plot summary:
Invasion of the Imperial Order
The Old World
Please note: Spoiler alerts below this point!
Debt of Bones is a novella dealing with the history of the world in which the main series takes place, how and why the boundaries were created. It was written years after the first book in the main series, and is not in any way required to understand what's going on in the other books, so whether to read this first or last is a personal choice.
The first book sees the meeting of Richard and Kahlan, the main characters of the series, and the naming of Richard as "The Seeker".
Helped by Richard's friend Zedd he and Kahlan embark on a quest to defeat the evil Darken Rahl who has brought down the boundary between D'Hara and the Midlands and declared war. Richard and Kahlan, of course, fall in love on the way.
Richard and Kahlan plan to be married, but the celebrations are soon interrupted. Three Sisters of the Light arrive, intending to take Richard back with them to the Old World where he will be trained as a wizard.
With Richard gone, Kahlan travels home to Aydindril. Along the way she and her companions discover a sacked city and an army on the march, and Kahlan is forced to take control of an army to halt the progress of what is discovered to be an army of the Imperial Order.
Elsewhere it is discovered that the veil between the world of the living and the underworld has been torn, and the Stone of Tears is now in the world of the living. Prophecy suggests that Richard is the only one able to close the veil using this Stone of Tears, and stop the Keeper escaping from the Underworld.
Since the barrier between the Old and New World was brought down by Richard in Stone of Tears, the New World is under threat from the armies of the Imperial Order who wish to enslave all of humanity.
The only option Richard sees is to accept his heritage and use his inherited power to unite all of the Midlands under the D'Haran banner, creating an army that can withstand the invasion of the Imperial Order.
Meanwhile the Blood of the Fold, a group dedicated to eliminating magic users from the world, kidnap Kahlan and Adie and take them to the Old World. Richard must find a way to travel from Aydindril to the Old World and rescue them from the Palace of the Prophets, while Aydindril itself comes under attack from the Blood of the Fold.
After an encounter with a dark wizard, Cara is seriously ill. When Nadine, a herbalist from Richard's previous home, fails to help Cara, his half-brother Drefan arrives and manages a cure.
A Sister of the Dark, acting on orders from Emperor Jagang of the Imperial Order, enters the Temple of the Winds and unleashes a devastating plague on the Midlands. With their people dying around them, the only way Kahlan can help Richard enter the Temple of the Winds and find a solution is by betraying him utterly.
Soul of the Fire carries on the story begun at the end of the previous book, with Kahlan having set the Chimes free to save Richard's life. The Chimes could destroy all magic, thus destroying the world. Richard and Kahlan are finally married, but have no time to enjoy it before setting out on a mission to stop this new threat.
As well as the Chimes, the Imperial Order also continue to encroach on the Midlands. Richard and Kahlan learn that the people of Anderith, who possess a very powerful weapon, are on the verge of being convinced to join with the Imperial Order. Believing they can be swayed by argument alone, Richard attempts to convince the people of the real threat behind the Imperial Order.
The ultimate goal of the Imperial Order has become clear, they aspire to a world in which the majority are willingly enslaved and working for the betterment of the few, with no chance of improvement for themselves.
Richard and Cara have taken Kahlan back to Westland, where Richard builds a home and nurses Kahlan back to health after the beating she suffered at the end of Soul of the Fire. Richard has given up his quest to unite the Midlands after his failure in Anderith, believing that if he leads the armies of the New World against the Imperial Order they will lose and be forever doomed to slavery.
Just as Kahlan is finally recovering, disaster strikes in the form of Sister of the Dark Nicci, who uses her magic to part Richard and Kahlan seemingly for good. Richard travels with Nicci to the Old World, where he experiences the horrors of Imperial Order rule firsthand, while Kahlan and Cara must help the New World stand against the invasion.
Jennsen is an ungifted child of Darken Rahl, and most of her life has been spent on the run. When her mother is brutally murdered, she meets a stranger who convinces her that she must join the side of the Imperial Order and take the fight to the current Lord Rahl if she is ever to be free.
Oba is also an ungifted child of Darken Rahl, but has suffered under an abusive mother for all his life. After killing a sorceress while running an errand, he becomes enthralled by the Keeper of the Underworld and eventually kidnaps Kahlan.
Richard, Oba and Jennsen are manipulated by the Keeper into meeting at the Pillars of Creation, where Jennsen must decide which side she is on once and for all.
Richard and Kahlan are travelling back to the New World, but are once again sidetracked. A representative of the Bandakar Empire, currently being invaded by the Imperial Order, demands Richards help and secures it by poisoning him. Since the antidote is in the Bandakar Empire, Richard has no choice but to travel there.
It is soon discovered that the Bandakar are a race of "pristinely ungifted" people, banished behind a magical barrier because of their percieved threat to the rest of humanity. They believe so strongly in avoiding violence that the majority of the populace have bowed down before the invading army of the Imperial Order. The handful of escapees accompanying Richard expect him to take back their land through violence, to avoid sinking to such depths themselves.
Over the course of the book Richard and Kahlan convince some of the Bandakar that they must think of themselves, and fight to protect what is theirs. Unfortunately Jagang has not sent just anyone to subjugate the Empire, but rather a Slide, a monster who can "slide" into the body of an animal by stealing souls and who has been watching Richard every step of the way.
Richard is seriously injured during a nighttime raid on the camp where he and Kahlan were sleeping, and to save his life Nicci must use her subtractive magic. When he wakes to find Kahlan missing, Richard is horrified to realise that only he seems to remember her. Cara and Nicci worry that Richard is suffering delusions, imagining this "Kahlan" as a result of the subtractive magic used to heal his wound, but Richard is adamant and determined to find his wife.
During his search Richard visits Shota, who informs him that Jagang has sent a beast after him. The beast will find Richard whenever he uses his gift, and is unstoppable.
In the meantime, we find out that four Sisters of the Dark have invoked the Chainfire spell on Kahlan, essentially erasing her from the world. Not knowing who she is, and helpless to make contact with anyone, Kahlan is taken to the People's Palace where the Sisters use her to steal the boxes of Orden from the Garden of Life. In order to carry the boxes, Kahlan is forced to leave behind the carved wooden figure Richard made for her in Faith of the Fallen, although due to the Chainfire spell she doesn't actually remember the significance of the item.
Richard, Cara and Nicci travel through the Sliph to a place called the Deep Nothing, where a girl guides them to a book explaining about the Chainfire spell. Finally, Richard realises this is what has happened to his beloved Kahlan.
Upon returning to the People's Palace they discover the missing boxes of Orden and the wooden figure left in their place. With this new evidence of Kahlan's existence Richard is finally proven right, and by the end of the book although Kahlan has not been rescued, Richard's sanity is at least no longer in doubt.
With Kahlan still missing, Richard and the others continue to search for her although only Richard himself has any real memory of her. After an encounter with Jagang's beast while using his gift to save Nicci from a corrupted spell, the group realise that not only that spell but in fact all magic was corrupted while the Chimes were previously free (Soul of the Fire).
Kahlan is still travelling with the Sisters of the Dark, and discovers that despite the nature of the spell placed upon her some people are still able to see and remember her. This is further evidence for Richard's theory that the spell was corrupted.
Although Richard's priority is to rescue Kahlan, Shota convinces him not to neglect his duty to D'Hara. They are after all at war with the Imperial Order, and his army is awaiting his command, expecting their Lord Rahl to lead them to victory. Instead, Richard orders that the army be broken up into smaller regiments and sent to the Old World, to disrupt the enemy supply lines and terrorize their supporting citizens, thus forcing the Imperial Order to deal with that rather than push further into the New World.
The Sisters of the Dark are captured by Jagang, as is Kahlan. Richard is once again attacked by Jagang's beast and then separated from his gift by a spell, leaving him stranded in the wilds. After being captured by the Imperial Order and while being taken to the conjurer of the spell, Richard attempts an escape and kills many Imperial Order soldiers. Impressed, their commander decides to keep Richard as a slave and use his skills in the game of Ja'La dh Jin.
The soldiers are reuinted with the main army of the Imperial Order, and Richard is now a captive in the main camp. There, he catches sight of Kahlan, and his hope is restored.
Richard and Kahlan are captive in the main camp of the Imperial Order. Jagang has discovered a secret way for his troops to enter the People's Palace, which they use to capture Nicci, and things are looking grim.
Richard is being kept prisoner for his skills in Ja'La and leads his team to many victories, eventually beating Emperor Jagang's team themselves. Jagang rules that the win is invalid, causing a riot among the army and allowing Richard to escape. Kahlan is also "rescued" during the riot, by Samuel who is currently in possession of the Sword of Truth. During a struggle with Samuel, Kahlan touches the sword and the memory of her power as a Confessor is restored. She uses her power and escapes.
Rachel, meanwhile, has been lured from the Wizard's Keep all the way back to Tamarang, where she once again meets Violet. Shota helps Rachel to undo the spell separating Richard from his power, and his gift is restored. Richard travels into the Underworld to restore memories of Kahlan to the world, but is once again attacked by the beast. Nathan, back at the People's Palace, assumes Richard was lost to the Underworld and assumes responsibility as Lord Rahl, allowing Jagang to once again take Nicci as a condition of peaceful surrender.
Richard and Kahlan are finally reunited on the road, but Richard has been instructed not to tell her about their love otherwise her memories can never be fully restored. Once back at the People's Palace, Richard allows Jagang's Sisters of the Dark to open the boxes of Orden, knowing that their plan will backfire. Jagang himself surrenders willingly to Nicci, expecting to be martyred, but is instead killed unceremoniously.
Richard then uses the magic of Orden himself to create a new world free of magic, the thing the Imperial Order supposedly want, and send their troops there. Now both factions can live as they choose.
The Imperial Order may be gone, but Kahlan is already in love with Richard, thus potentially destroying any chance of her regaining her full memory.
Richard and Kahlan have always attempted to live their lives without bowing to prophecy, but when seemingly random residents of the People's Palace start to speak in prophecy it can no longer be ignored.
With prophecy apparently coming true, representatives of various lands and the residents of the Palace demand action. They accuse Richard and Kahlan of keeping their knowledge of prophecy to themselves, thereby preventing people from trying to avoid their fate. In vain, Richard attempts to convince people they are better off making their choices on their own.
After a particular prophecy comes true when the roof of the Garden of Life collapses, Richard discovers a machine long-buried under the Palace. It soon becomes apparent this machine is giving prophecy, the same prophecies spoken by people elsewhere in the palace.
While hysteria in the Palace mounts, and faith in Richard's rule is diminished, Kahlan is also falling ill. She is eventually lured out of the palace and into the lair of a Hedge Maid, and Richard must find out where she is before it's too late.