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Onyx reviews: Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson
Fatal Revenant is the second volume in the third and last chronicles
of Thomas Covenant, leper, white gold wielder, ur-Lord and chronic unbeliever,
so called because he refused to believe that the Land and anything that
transpired in it were real. Though these recent installments in Stephen R.
Donaldson's epic fantasy series bear Covenant's name, thus far the story belongs
to Linden Avery, Covenant's erstwhile lover.
Linden's autistic, adopted son, Jeremiah, has been imprisoned by Lord Foul,
the Despiser, the bane of the Land, the place Thomas Covenant and Linden
encounter when they go through the looking glass, so to speak. It is a far
simpler place than the world they leave behind, but it is a place of magic and
power, giants and ogres—all manner of creatures both good and ill.
Linden Avery is a doctor, but she's also a mother, and it is this aspect of
her personality which comes to the fore when Jeremiah is taken from her. She's
like the angry mother bear people are warned about. Anyone getting between her
and her child does so at his peril.
After ages and millennia, Lord Foul is still single minded in his purpose.
All he wants is to shatter the Arch of Time and free himself to wreak havoc on
the Land. He is evil incarnate.
In the time of the third chronicles, the Land is a shadow of its former self.
The once dignified Haruchai are now the unbelievers, skeptical of Linden's
intentions. For hundreds of years, they have been revising history to downplay
the magic of Earthpower, aided by a phenomenon known as Kevin's Dust, which
Unable to rely on her Earthsense, she finds support from unlikely sources,
including from former enemies. At the same time she has acquired a new cadre of
enemies, including the Elohim, the self-absorbed ancient ones, and the Insequent,
rivals of the Elohim, powerful, mysterious creatures in their own right.
Linden wants to save the Land from the bane that has despoiled it, but her
primary goal is to free her son from Lord Foul's grasp. In the closing pages of The
Runes of the Earth, Thomas Covenant—who died saving the Land at the end of
the second chronicles—showed up at the gates of Revelstone during a siege by the
ferocious demondim, who have access to the power of the Illearth Stone thanks to
a caesura—or Fall—one of the rifts in time caused by Covenant's ex-wife Joan's
madness. In his company: Jeremiah, who is cured of his autism.
Though Covenant and Jeremiah stand before, they aren't fully present.
Covenant has somehow bent the Arch of Time to his will, allowing them to be in
two places at once. Covenant is still locked in time, and Jeremiah is still
being tormented by Foul.
Linden hears her son speak for the first time, though she doesn't always care
for what he has to say, or the way he says it. She isn't permitted to touch him
or Covenant, because her Earthpower, manifest in the Staff of Law she wields,
will break the spell and send them away. As always, Covenant is infuriating,
both to Linden and the reader. Covenant has never been an easy character to
like, but this tormented, "reincarnated" version is rude, dismissive
Through the use of Jeremiah's magic, Linden is transported far into the past,
to the time of Lord Berek, when the original "half hand" is just
beginning to understand the power of the Land. Finding Berek isn't their
objective, though—Covenant, Jeremiah and Linden are destined for the rivers of
power flowing beneath Melenkurion Skyweir, where Elena, daughter of Covenant,
once acquired the Power of Command and used it to break the Law of Life. This
return to an ancient time gives Donaldson the opportunity to unravel the origins
of some of the Land's legends, looking at familiar events from a different
Linden, Covenant and Jeremiah are accompanied on this journey by the Theomach,
one of the Insequent, who knows much but says little to aid Linden through a web
of mystery and lies. Everyone's purposes are veiled—even Linden's. Her trek
across the ancient version of the Land is arduous but necessary, though she must
be constantly wary of doing anything that might disturb the Arch of Time.
Many characters readers will be familiar with from the seven previous books
in the complex series return, including the Waynhim, the Viles, the sand
gorgons, and the giants, one of which has a vendetta against Linden. The true
natures of characters like the Mahdoubt are revealed, while enigmas like Anele
After a devastating revelation in the long-ago time, Linden returns to the
present. The second half of Fatal Revenant deals with her efforts to lead
her team to Andelain in search of the Krill of Loric. Linden's Earthpower,
symbolized by the Staff of Law, and the wild power of Covenant's white gold
ring, are anathema to each other, but she needs their combined force if she is
to rescue her son from Lord Foul. The krill, the legendary mystical dagger, will
enable her to unify these two powers. Those who oppose her fear that her hidden
agenda will cause her to unleash destructive power that will exceed that of
Kevin Landwaster, whose despair lay waste to the Land for millennia. Those who
support her are troubled by her self-doubt but facilitate her nonetheless. And
in the end, a cliffhanger will have readers waiting until the next installment
appears to learn whether her determination was right or not.
The Covenant books have never been easy reading. They aren't light fantasy
and they aren't written for a fifth grader. Donaldson's vocabulary is
prodigious. Many of the words he uses seem to be made up but are, in fact, real
(if obscure) English words, which may send many readers to the dictionary. His
syntax is complex. Lengthy passages of dialog are broken into multiple
paragraphs without attribution, which requires sharp wits and focused reading to
keep track of who is saying what.
These mechanical issues aside, it's hard to love Donaldson's protagonists.
Over the years, Thomas Covenant has been cantankerous and contrary to the
extreme. Linden Avery is not much better in terms of being a proactive hero. She
knows what she wants—or at least she thinks she does—but she is often reticent,
secretive, stubborn and diffident. Given the types of entities determined to
thwart her, it's small wonder. Even her supposed allies have the power to send
her reeling through time. She has little power to compare—just a piece of wood
and a wedding ring.
The real testament to Donaldson's storytelling ability is that he makes
readers interested in spite of his protagonists' shortcomings. He has a vision
of the Land that makes it seem real and potent and worth of being saved. He has
picked up the pace somewhat in the second (of four) installment, staging
elaborate battles and pushing his characters through real hazards.
readers around the world are waiting for the third installment in the
final series of a fantasy creation that rivals The Lord of the Rings in scope
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