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Onyx reviews: The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

After more than 35 years, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are at last at an end. The four books that comprise the Final Chronicles alone have taken the author more than a decade to complete, bringing the total to 10 (although Donaldson apparently always wanted the First and Second Chronicles to be broken into four books instead of three).

In The Last Dark, all the evils that Thomas Covenant, his lover Linden Avery and her adoptive son Jeremiah have faced come home to roost. It's the final curtain call for the Skurj, the Sandgorgons, the Feroce, the lurker of the Sarengrave, the Demondim spawn, Kastenessen and the blight of Kevin's Dirt that threatens to extinguish all Earthpower, Covenant's son Roger, the remaining Ravers, She Who Must Not Be Named, Cavewights by the score, the Worm of the World's End and Lord Foul, who Covenant has faced and defeated twice in the past.

At the beginning of the novel, the team remains fragmented geographically. Before it ends, everyone will reunite before splitting up once again to handle the various crises facing the Land. The most conspicuous of these is the Worm, who is concentrating on the Elohim en route to consuming everything else. As the Elohim are lost, the stars begin to blink out. Feeding on sources of Earthpower, the Worm will eventually destroy the already weakened Arch of Time and release Lord Foul to rule in the chaos that exists after the world ends.

Covenant, Linden and Jeremiah aren't alone in these battles, though. They have the Humbled (Haruchai who have maimed themselves to resemble Covenant), a group of giants and the ever faithful Ranyhyn and the Ramen. Also, over the course of the book, Covenant and the others discover useful magical talents they didn't know they possessed. Covenant finds a way to convey himself and his followers large distances in a very short time, and Linden comes up with a dangerous and radical way of obtaining knowledge of ancient lore necessary to guarantee the Land's future. For his part, freed of the croyel and Infelice, Jeremiah comes into his own. He's no longer the autistic or possessed boy that Linden has known. It's like she's getting to meet the real him for the first time, and he has powers, too, that prove helpful in their battles. An unexpected source introduces him to the greatest of these powers at a crucial time.

If the main characters lacked a sense of urgency about the Land's impending doom in the previous book, Against All Things Ending, that's gone now. They are under the gun and have very little time to dispense with the various threats facing the world that has become their reality. Their followers don't always understand their choices, and often counsel alternate actions, but these flawed, human beings generally have an accurate sense of what needs to be done, even if they can't explain it. Not every foe must be vanquished. Covenant makes an unexpected alliance with a dangerous creature, thereby slowing the Worm's progress, and Linden's reckless confrontation with another powerful, destructive entity has an unexpected outcome. 

Their battle takes them far and wide to many locations in the Land that will be familiar from previous books in the series, and ultimately to Mount Thunder, Lord Foul's demesne. Foul is expecting them, but—as Covenant often advises—they are capable of surprising the evil Lord by doing the unexpected.

There isn't much breathing room in The Last Dark. The heroes have no sooner dealt with one batch of enemies when something else shows up. They also have to battle the elements, darkness, and a lack of water and food. Linden's healing powers are stretched to their limit as grievous injuries are inflicted upon their fellowship.

New allies show up from time to time (occasionally without much explanation for why they arrived when they did)—so many, in fact, that they become simply a list of disposable names. Redshirts, in Star Trek parlance, or figurative cannon fodder. Someone has to die in these confrontations, so better it should be characters with whom readers have no attachment. That's not to say that everyone survives. Battles of this magnitude require sacrifice, and familiar characters will stand tall and die trying. 

Eventually Covenant, Linden and Jeremiah stop flagellating themselves with uncertainty and doubt, rising to the occasion and wielding the powers everyone else told them they've always had. It is rewarding to see them cast aside the self-loathing and self-doubt that has plagued them throughout the series. Covenant still has leprosy, but he now sees it as a boon rather than a bane, and he allows Linden to heal him from time to time, something he would never have permitted in the past. And he says what's on his mind instead of suppressing words that would facilitate understanding and soothe hurt feelings, whereas in the past his modus operandi was to bite his tongue. He is the anti-hero become heroic by the end, no longer worthy of the appellation "Unbeliever." Quite simply, he has gotten over himself.

The series ends on a high note. There's a sense that all's right with the Land, finally. Despite has been expunged and healing can begin for all.

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