Dan

Stephen R Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever

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Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R Donaldson is the first book in the first trilogy of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever. Somehow I failed to read these books when they first came out, even though I was reading a lot of fantasy at that time. And I do wish I'd read them then, when I was in high school, because they now seem somewhat cliched. And my expectations of the prose itself have risen. This book wasn't really poorly written so much as overwritten, with rather purple and clunky prose. And far too much space was taken up with long, formal speeches of welcome or goodbye. 

The basic story is that Thomas Covenant is a leper, and he's lost everything he loved because of that leprosy. Because of this he has retreated into himself and his rage. Then he is suddenly whisked into an alternative reality where he is tasked with delivering a message from Lord Foul to the Council of Lords. He also, in this world, bears a strong resemblance to a deceased hero of this world, Berek Halfhand, and possesses a ring of white gold, a powerful magic in the Land. But he refuses to believe, hence the Unbeliever, in the reality of this world, and is an extremely reluctant, and rather arseholish, participant in its affairs. 
I didn't dislike this book so much as I was bored by many of its pages. But by the end I had become involved with the story, and was interested in many of the secondary characters, although I never lost the feeling of wanting to smack Covenant upside the head. I'll read the second book, but if I have to force myself through it, as I often had to with book 1, I'm not sure I'll venture into book three. 

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The Illearth War by Stephen R Donaldson is the second book in the original trilogy. In it we find Thomas Covenant summoned back to the land some 40 years later, although only a few months have elapsed in our world. Lord Foul has gotten up an enormous army of misbegotten creatures and marches on Lord's Keep. And his summoner is Covenant's daughter, Elena, the High Lord, and bastard child of his rape of Lena during the first summoning, who has not only forgiven Covenant, unlike her Grandfather and her de facto stepfather-figure, who mistrust and despise the Unbeliever, but evinces a great deal of fondness for his sorry ass. Enough so that while Hile Troy, (a blind strategic genius who has also been summoned from our world, albeit accidentally in an attempt to bring Covenant over), Warmark or general of their troops, and his army go off to battle Lord Foul, and another deputation of Lords and soldiers and Bloodguard, (a race of ninja like warriors who have sworn a Vow to protect the Land [which vow renders them ageless and without need for sleep]) go in an attempt to aid a race of Giants, she asks Covenant to accompany her in a search for powerful magic which she hopes to use against Lord Foul. And, of course, since these are not happy books, nothing goes according to plan, and much of it is disastrous. 

There is more explanation in this book of why Covenant acts the way he does. And while I never came to like him, or to even have much sympathy for him, this greater understanding of his psyche allowed me to accept him. But many parts of this book were tedious and overwritten, and I'd have liked it better if it had been 250 pages rather than 514. That said, I did come to care more for the overall story which, while far to serious, depressing, overblown,  and frustrating to be entertaining, was compelling enough to keep me reading. And this novel benefitted greatly from much of it being told from the perspective of Hile Troy, a much more sympathetic and interesting, if not necessarily likable,character.

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14 minutes ago, lunababymoonchild said:

The question is : are you going to read the third one in the trilogy?

Yes. In fact I finished it last night. Which is when I realized I hadn't posted on book 2. I'll post on the third book soon. 

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2 hours ago, Dan said:

Yes. In fact I finished it last night. Which is when I realized I hadn't posted on book 2. I'll post on the third book soon. 

 

Thank you

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The Power that Preserves is the last book in the original trilogy, and, to my mind, the best one, although it is still tedious and repetitive in places, and way overlong. 

In this one Covenant is again summoned to the Land in hope that the wild magic of his white gold can defeat Lord Foul and his minions. Because things are looking bleak for the People of the Land! Foul has mustered another enormous army of horrid creatures, led by another Raver possessed Giant, has stormed across the Land laying waste to everything in sight, and is attacking Revelstone itself, Lord's Keep. And this time Covenant is summoned by Triock, Lena's fiancé before Covenant raped and impregnated her, the de facto stepfather to High Lord Elena,  a man who has tried to kill Covenant before, but whose desperation in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity and threat has led him to call on the man he hates the most. 
And Covenant himself has changed, and has decided, even in the face of his Unbelief in the reality of that world, that he must help the cause, and confront Lord Foul himself, if only to escape these delusions by confronting their origin. Covenant becomes almost sympathetic in this novel, wracked by guilt and enduring enormous pain, suffering and hardship.(Although one of the things that continued to irritate me in this book was Donaldson's propensity for making difficult but doable conditions life threatening, and insanely hazardous conditions survivable. If you go unshod in snow you get frostbite, and if you pass out in the snow you freeze to death. There is no real way around those things. Willpower is not the issue at hand). And the fact that he is finally trying to make some amends, is actually almost friendly to people, and is taking responsibility for his part in these situations, trying to justify the sacrifices others have made on his part, make it possible to care about him,to root for him, even outside of the desire to see Lord Foul vanquished. 
I had a laundry list of things I was going to complain about about these novels, but it really just boils down to something which is frequently off putting to me about fantasy novels; a tendency towards romantic and emotional explication of nature, rather than a scientific one based on biology and ecology. Once you anthropomorphize rock, then it's really outside my wheelhouse. 
But I have to admit that the end of this novel, as needlessly interminable as the journey to get there seemed to me, very nearly justifies the time I spent reading this. Donaldson wanders about for 1400 pages, over writing and overextending the plot lines, but when he decided to wrap it up he was brilliant! Much of the choice of Covenant, and the ideology of these books, was very well encapsulated in the final 40 pages. It all made sense, and was very satisfying to boot. If only he had done that after say 800 pages, then this would have merited all of the praise I have heard about it. But, if you make it this far, you will be rewarded for you efforts! 
 
Edited by Dan
Clarification

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