Review: The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R Donaldson

The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R Donaldson

After a long hiatus from The Land, Donaldson returns with what is being billed as “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”. It promises to be the first book of a four book series. Be warned, this review assumes that the reader is familiar with the two previous Thomas Covenant trilogies.

I approached this novel with some skepticism and trepidation. I thought that the ending of the second trilogy wrapped things up very nicely. Arch of Time protected, bad dude defeated. It made a very nice package. Why would Donaldson want to rip it open? I hoped that it was for the sake of a tale that needed to be told.

This novel is as good as the previous Covenant offerings. It entails the return of Linden Avery to The Land. It is at times tedious, but that gives us a chance to catch our breath before it ramps back up to a breakneck pace. Donaldson is good at building tension, releasing, and building it back up again. The best analogy I can draw is that his writing washes over you like waves rising up on an ocean beach.

His writing is as strong as ever. One of the things that drew me to Donaldson’s work was the command of the English language that he has. I have listened to people complain that he only uses “big words” so that he can show off his vocabulary. I have to disagree. Yes, he uses uncommon words, but in every instance they are the correct word to convey the proper meaning of what he is telling the reader. I guess it could be distracting to some readers to have to pause and look up a word that they are not familiar with. For me, it is a fun thing. At this stage of my life I enjoy learning new things, even if it is only a word or two. I enjoy the way Donaldson writes, and the words that he chooses. For example the sentence, “His native reticence defied her discernment” is more personal to the characters involved and conveys so much more than if he had used the words “She could not tell what he was thinking.”

This introduction back into the world of Thomas Covenant is everything I hoped it could be. Familiar characters, familiar races, familiar locations all help to get us immersed back into The Land. But it is not a simplistic rehashing of familiar stories. There are changes to the characters, races and locations that give us the feeling that everything familiar is somehow strange and new.

Oh, and I swear that it is simply coincidence that the second book in the series is being released in seven days.

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2 Responses

  1. I gave up on the Covenant stuff early on … at the point where the protagonist commits rape in the first book. I decided then and there that I wanted bad horrible things to happen to the protagonist, and I didn;t want to follow his triumphs through six books. So I stopped reading.

    I do, however, like some of Donaldson’s short fiction.

    — Steve

  2. Covenant is indeed a very flawed human. One of the things I liked about the books is that because he is flawed, there was always the possibility that he would do the wrong thing, yet again. That rape is something he atones for throughout the entire second trilogy. I don’t think he ever could do enough to make amends on that score. That plot thread was mentioned in The Runes of the Earth as well. The theme “no good comes from evil actions” is very strong in this first book. I am drawn to anti-heroes because in many respects they seem more real than typical heroes.

    Considering only the reason you state for not finishing the first Covenant book, I would strongly suggest you not read Donaldson’s “Gap Into” series. Angus Thermopile is perhaps the most despicable character ever created. And nearly all of the characters are seriously flawed and twisted. Not a true hero in the bunch.

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