Covenant may be a flawed character, but an epic hero nonetheless. I have to admit that the first of the Thomas covenant series books were stressful, irritating and sometimes unbearable - but to me these feeling signify a good story telling where the writers character can cultivate you so much to extract these emotions from you. I persevered with the books and fell very much in love with the series.
With every book I grew to love the land and was entranced with the way Donaldson gave us, as the reader, complex issues and feelings towards the anti-hero Thomas Covenant. The books are full of dark contradictions but its Donaldson's ability to stretch his readers understanding and emotions that has made him, in my opinion, one of the best fantasy writers the world has scene. My only advice to new readers is to persevere with the books as it will very much be worth the love and respect you gain for Donaldson and his characters.
You echo my own sentiments exactly Mackenzie. It's been a struggle at times but hugely rewarding. My perspective on Steven Donaldson's books, particularly on this the first of his Thomas Covenant novels is inextricably linked to the time at which I began reading them.
At that point I was in a state not unlike Thomas Covenant. Due to having a disability myself I have had certainly my own experiences of feeling like an outcast, and furthermore due to extra personal circumstances at that point, my life was in a time of extreme darkness and loneliness, indeed I could take Thomas Covenant's oft repeated "don't touch me! Therefore, I was unusually prone to sympathize with covenant, the scene in which he at the bank is told to stay at home and not enter the bank is remarkably similar to a circumstance I've experienced myself.
However, the more the book continued, the more I felt a growing dislike of covenant. That he would disbelieve in the fantastic land in which he found himself, much less become it's saviour is something I can accept, however even basic civility or decency seem impossible to covenant, much of the time it seems that he refuses to speak to people half way politely without subscribing to some sort of mental deal requiring massive amounts of anguish on his part.
Flawed characters I can live with, but ones who are, as the previous reviewer put it only one step away from becoming completely evil themselves, a step Covenant takes on more than a few occasions are quite another matter. Combine this with the fact that everyone in The Land is hell bent on being nice to covenant no matter how much of a scumbag he is, and you have something which is frankly painful to read.
Tragic circumstances make people bad.
Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson
That leprosy, or any other life tragedy has consequences is a fact I know well myself, and a good author will show this in their work, Witness the wounded Frodo at the end of Lord of the Rings or harry potter's moments of anger and feelings of loss at having no parents, still more when others close to him die. In Thomas covenant however, Donaldson presents us with a man who has undoubtedly suffered, but who shows nothing of the supposedly good man he once was. Even at times in which covenant himself is supposed to be "feeling better" the best he achieves is a croaking, gallows humour and a cynical, sullen refusal to be his usual unpleasant self.
By the end of the book I wasn't just feeling irritated at Covenant, but partly thinking that the man dam well deserved! Everyone else feels so much a caricature of tragic circumstances or lordly duty, that the hypothesis that the land is all part of covenants deranged imagination seems all the more likely. What particularly does not aide with this is that while his descriptive writing and world building are exceptional, Donaldson's actual ability to portray emotions in his characters and the way they interact has the subtlety of a pickaxe.
Being told for instance that a character is humorous only served to frustrate my experience, because I never found him to be the least bit funny in what he said. Reading any sort of dialogue or interaction in Donaldson's writing is in fact a painful process, in which the reader is told at great length what the characters are feeling while the characters themselves spout either monosyllables or runs of vaguely archaic sounding English that come across more like an eleven year old trying to imitate Shakespeare than any sort of realistic language which people use on an everyday basis, it's quite hard to imagine anyone in the land asking for a coffee or just saying good morning without a massive emotional subtext.
As a last negative point, Donaldson also falls into the trap into which Terry brooks, Raymond Feist and various other fantasy authors have fallen regarding magic. Despite some detailed and complex explanations of everyone studying "lore" the majority of the magic in the books, particularly the hero's own power comes out as blasts of varying coloured fire. Measuring characters by their capacity to imitate human flame throwers always to me rings hollow in a system of magic, and never feels either satisfying or coherent, particularly when as inevitably happens , the hero magically discovers the method to increase his or her own flame output and save the day.
For a man who has crafted a world so carefully, this aspect was extremely disappointing, particularly since it implies that overcoming emotional conflicts basically just results in larger sized fireballs, which, given the anguish of the principle character , feels a distinct anticlimax. One of the key lessons in Tolkien is that where magic is concerned, less is often more, indeed in Lord of the rings I often got the idea that characters like Gandalf, Galadriel or Saruman didn't need!
This is just the sort of power which, with his strengths of writing would've served well in Donaldson's work, yet he resorts to the far cruder and less obvious method of flame hurling. All this being said however, Donaldson's book has much to recommend it. Outside of characterization, his descriptive writing has a beauty and flow all of its own with a deep sense of poetry and rhythm.
The land and it's creatures are drawn in truly staggering detail, which also emphasises the destructive nature of the evil at work, seeing how it corrupts and changes otherwise magnificent vistas, or creatures of beauty and strength, even the usual cannon fodder of Wargs and ork like beings have far more rich descriptions to enhance their unpleasantness than is usual.
Despite his over emphasis on fire as the only destructive magical power, Donaldson also shows some very unique societies using magic in a very everyday sense, living close to the land and it's wood and stone. I especially here enjoyed the descriptions of Radhammeral stone lore, using pots of glowing sand as light and heated gravel as warmth, and with the ability to shape stone by movements of the fingers. This everyday use of power emphasized the alien nature of the society covenant had entered into, and thus made the land even more distant from that by now familiar semi medieval England that so many fantasy authors resort to.
It is also an aspect of his world building which Donaldson continues through the other books, and provides a welcome intricacy as compared to the somewhat forced nature of his characterization. I also very much enjoyed Donaldson's writings of poems, songs and rhymes in the land. This gives the land a real sense of history and tradition and once again, emphasises that this is a real society into which Covenant has fallen, and one quite different from our own.
A complex and many layered book, with some elements of high beauty, and some distinct and unpleasant flaws.
Generally how well a person might enjoy the book can be said to be a reflection of how well someone can appreciate the one and disregard the other, which is why I have given a dead centre writing of five. It is true that perseverance will be rewarded, but it is also true that a reader must persevere through a lot for that reward, especially when it comes to the less than heroic protagonist. This series is not for everyone.
It is by turns beautiful and grim, inspiring and depressing. Echoes of The Lord of the Rings but overall even darker. And Covenant is a very difficult man to root for but I think this was a master stroke as it shows what one of us would really be like if we were transported to a magical, almost utopian land. It would show our pettiness, our grasping to material wealth, our complete disregard for nature and the planet. If Steven Erikson's Malazan books worked for you then I am confident you will appreciate this book and the series now standing at 10 books as a whole.
A must for fantasy fans. I have read these books multiple times over the years. Although I concede that they may be a bit difficult for some people, these books stand amongst the best fantasy works of all times.
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant;
- To Our Health: The Role of IT in Healthcare.
- You Cant do Wrong Right.
- The President’s Daughter (Sean Dillon Series, Book 6).
- The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson!
Be warned, if you are looking for a sunny and bland book where the heroes are easy to understand and the story is pre-digested for you then these books are not for you. However, if you enjoy challenging literature that is both complex and satisfying, these books are definitely for you. Though the ten 9 books published so far eagerly awaiting the last one I have at times laughed, cried, been exasperated with the characters, fallen in love with them, hated them, been exalted an exhausted but never been bored.
These books will run through your emotions and capture your imagination like few others can even if you have read them multiple times. I am thankful I was introduced to them by my brother who gifted me Lord Foul's Bane many years ago. These books have enriched my life and sustained me though dark periods in my life. I have an immense appreciation for Mr. Donaldson and even though I understand that all good things must come to an end, my only regret about this series is that there are only 10 books that give me the opportunity to visit The Land.
Thomas Covenant got me hooked on the genre. From the first pages of "unclean" you get dragged along in a story built on self doubt and unbelief. Donaldson gives us a difficult task, and at times a chore, to follow a character who is so extremely flawed.
- The Orestes Plays (Hackett Classics).
- Your audiobook is waiting…!
- Gollancz Acquires the First & Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant!;
- The Mischievians: with audio recording.
- Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson book review.
You get frustrated and even angry at Covenant, but the story itself and the description of the land is wonderful. I would not tell anybody you must read this series, but I suggest you sit down, take some deep breaths, and give it a try. The rewards are truly there for all to see. Read it twice over the years,will read it again one day. It's different.
Funny thing could never get into Lord of the Rings. Chasing the last book now, will it ever end?? I realy loved this book and the whole series. Donaldson's series are totaly diferene first because Thomas Covenant escapes the stereotype of the hero good guy who has no doubt. He is a normal person who have fear, doubts, he makes mistakes and suffer for it. I really loved it.
This is one of those series of books that I think of fondly from my youth that comes to mind when I think of fantasy books the other important set of work for me was Brook's Shannara material. I thoroughly enjoyed these books and remember anticipating each new release. But I also remember being disappointed in the last book or two in the overall series. After 20 years, I plan to re-read this and see what I think of it nowadays. I love fantasty books and started this book due to great reviews but stopped halfway. Too slow-paced and the hero was unlikeable. Did not want to waste anymore time on it when there are thousands of other fantasy books to read.
Seems the reason this book is supposed to be unique is because the hero suffers from leprosy; however, that is not a good enough reason to continue on with the book. Never really figured out why people like these Thomas Covenant books so much. It was a struggle to merely finish the book, the naming system in the book is a joke Seriously, the bad guy's name is 'Lord Foul' , and all the characters are one dimensional cardboard cutouts, with the except of Covenant himself.
Covenant spends more time being useless All powerful ring--rarely ever used than as an "anti-hero", but the only thing that even makes this book semi-interesting is the fact that you're never quite sure if good really will triumph over evil. A real tough read, but truly worth the journey. Once I realised that the real hero of the story is the Land itself I became totally immersed in the world that Donaldson creates.
Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson book review
I read all six books of the same series A fantasy that works on more than one level - an exploration of the psyche and the psychological conflicts of a man who suffers leprosy - either a new world is drawn or the inner world is exposed - fantastic. I really didn't like it, struck me as "oh poor, poor me"all the way through it. I hate that in real life, unbearable in a book series though. Shocked to see so many people rate it so highly - clearly its not annoying to most folk.