Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Waking The Dead
The laws of nature have been torn asunder as the dead walk again in Fatal Revenant, the 8th installment of the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever legacy. The series, begun in the 1970's, has gathered an astounding following through two trilogies. Now, Stephen R. Donaldson has picked up the story again, beginning the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant with The Runes of the Earth in 2004 and continuing on with Fatal Revenant. This final Chronicles, a series of four books, will (with any luck) wrap up the long and harrowing saga of Thomas Covenant versus the forces of Despite. Not hip to the story yet? Let me try to catch you up.
Thomas Covenant, a leper, outcast and pariah in our own world, has become the savior of The Land, a world of amazing power and beauty that is constantly besieged by the powers of Lord Foul the Despiser. At the expense of many good lives, including his own, Covenant successfully defends The Land from Lord Foul on two separate occasions bringing to bear the unlimited power of his white gold ring, a material that in The Land holds power outside the limits of nature. In his death, Covenant becomes part of the structure of Time, locking his immortal enemy Lord Foul to The Land forever.
The Last Chronicles pick up in our world where the Second Chronicles left off. Covenant's friend and former personal doctor Linden Avery, who was brought to The Land with Covenant in the second trilogy, is pulled back to The Land after her adopted son, Covenant's psychotic ex-wife, and Covenant's estranged son, who is hell bent on hurting Linden. Linden finds herself back in the land, but a substantial amount of time has passed, and The Land is not exactly as she remembered it, and she knows that the evil Lord Foul has her son.
Fatal Revenant begins with Covenant having apparently rescued Linden's son, and escaped death in the bargain. Covenant takes Linden on a journey through time to accomplish some obscure and un-named goal, which Linden believes will get her closer to defeating Lord Foul and getting her son safely back to their world. (Covenant is part of Time, after all.) As it turns out, the dead may walk again but Covenant is not all that he seems. Linden is forced to make dire decisions that ultimately push her and the custodians of The Land to the brink of war with the forces of Despite.
Ok, I can hear all of the groans now. Another geeky set of books with giants and wizards, magical creatures, a powerful ring, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. Well, I won't lie, these books have all of those things. What make the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant so incredible and so much more worth reading than your average Dragon Lance novel is Donaldson's ability to show his characters internal struggles between their own despair and their need for hope. Many comparisons have been drawn to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, primarily due to the epic scale of these stories. (And, of course, the all powerful ring.) While Tolkien's stories are essentially morality plays, the triumph of good over evil, Donaldson focuses on the conflicts and struggles of his characters to find the strength to overcome their own human frailty and become something greater than they ever thought possible.
So, if this is your first glimpse into the world of Thomas Covenant, start at the beginning and find a copy of Lord Foul's Bane. If you have traveled to The Land before and are eager to see where the final chapter leads, take a look at Runes of the Earth and follow it with Fatal Revenant. If you are worried about having time to catch up, have no fear; the third book in the series, Against All Things Ending, won't be published until 2010, and the final installment, tentatively titled The Last Dark, won't hit shelves until 2013. It's gonna be a long wait.