Against All Things Ending: The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson must be one of the lengthy titles of a book I’ve read in a while. In keeping perhaps with the loquacious nature of the author himself. Not that Donaldson is prone to excessively long novels, given that the last book I read weighed in at over 1,000 pages in hardback, it’s nice to read one thats perhaps only two thirds of that in length.
Having said that, at 120 pages in, the characters have done little other than wander round a bit and have a chat. Of course that’s a facetious comment, as much as the “Clench Game” is but it’s something I like about Donaldson in a perverse way. The first book of his I read was The Mirror of His Dreams in 1986. I was 11 and a very precocious reader. It was my third step into fantasy, preceded by some Dragonlance and started with the Hobbit. Talk about a step in at the deep end but while I waited for Donaldson to write A Man Rides Through, I devoured both Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and lamented the fact he said he wouldn’t write a third series, even though it was fairly obvious that the final volume was pretty final. This Mordants Need pair of books, of which The Mirror of His Dreams is the first, involve an inordinate amount of talking and plotting. Most of the activities take place in a few rooms of a large castle that feels like it inspired an awful lot of subsequent castles in modern fantasy. True, there is some action, and I’ve still yet to read a better series of sword fights than Artagel’s battles with Gart the High Kings Monomach, but the essence of the story is almost akin to John Le Carre’s Smiley’s People, which from memory involved an elderly spy sitting in a loft reading a lot of field reports in an attempt to spot some inconsistencies that would lead to the unmasking of a double agent. It is about people and the situations they are in. How the people react to one another is key to how things progress, so the dialogue is very important.
I’m probably the last person in the world who can objectively read a Donaldson fantasy book and give an opinion on it but I am enjoying Against All Things Ending rather a lot. The preceding volumes in this new series have irritated me by turn; Kevin’s Dirt is a form of the Sunbane, it’s nothing original, the Insequent are so puissant (to pilfer one of Donaldson’s favourite words) that it beggars belief that they made no appearance in the first 6 books that comprise the original two trilogies and don’t get me started on the likes of Esmer or Anele or I might get a little bit foamy at the mouth.
Still, for all the inherent weaknesses of the evolution of the Land this time round, the frankly embarrassing name that assigned to the previously dead Covenant (Timewarden? it sounds like something from a corny 1970’s sci-fi show!) and what seems like a greatest hits tour of the Lands past that takes in Berek Halfhand, Viles, Ur-Viles and Caerrol Wildwood amongst others, this volume has me quite excited so far. The ante has been upped a lot, and I get the feeling the characters are at a precipice that might lead to quite unexpected results.
Full review once I’ve finished it no doubt.