Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Against All Things Ending

Against All Things Ending, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Paperback: 575 pages (uncorrected proof ARC)
Publisher: Putnam, ©2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-15678-6
Copy: provided by Putnam

Blurb: Thomas Covenant is alive again, restored to his mortal body by the unimaginable combined force of his own white gold ring, Linden Avery's Staff of Law, and the ancient dagger called High Lord Loric's krill. His resurrection is Linden's defiant act of love, despite warnings from mortals and immortals that unleashing this much power would destroy the world. She brought his spirit back from its prison in the Arch of Time, and revived his slain body, so that Covenant lies whole on the cool grass, and the world seems at peace. But the truth is inescapable: The thunderclap of power has awakened the Worm of the World's End, and all of them, and the Land itself, are forfeit to its devouring. If they have any chance to save the Land, it will come from unlikely sources - including the mysterious boy Jeremiah, Linden's adopted son, whose secrets are only beginning to come to light.

While this review won't be seeing the light of day until the release date of Against All Things Ending, it must be composed now (i.e. 8/14/2010), lest all that swirls in my mind be lost in the interim.

Any of Donaldson's multiple Chronicles of Thomas Covenant can be characterised as being garbed in the viscera of human emotion. The tale brings the reader into such intimate acquaintance with loss, sorrow, rage, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-condemnation and, ultimately, despair, that the sensation of drowning amidst one's own stunned silence prevails. The same is true with Against All Things Ending.

Donaldson's use of archaic terms throughout the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are well known. Aside from driving the reader to the dictionary, the terms used also provide a meaning unattainable with more modern equivalents. Donaldson also employs a dynamic use of simile. In fact, the only element to Donaldson's style that has ever failed to satisfy, and it is a recurring one, is excessive description during periods of travel which undermines the overall sense of the novel's pace.

The tale unfolds through five main, and sequential, acts. In labelling them, according to their setting, they are: Andelain, Gravin Threndor (Mount Thunder), the Spoiled Plains (where the group splits), Muirwin Delenoth (a region south of Kurash Qwellinir, i.e. the Shattered Hills, which ring Foul's Creche - Avery's party) and Ridjeck Thome (the proper name for Foul's Creche - Covenant's party). Those who love and defend the Land are confronted by numerous enemies and an impending apocalypse. Throughout this tale, lives are lost, choices are made and consequences are borne, willingly or not.

Throughout, Linden Avery and Thomas Covenant are their typical selves. Surely, there has been some dislike of the two characters over time. However, it seems most likely that the antipathy for the characters stems from the characters' penchant for: 1) unintentional destruction and damage, 2) subsequent self-doubt and loathing and, 3) the emotional or mental paralysis suffered by the character, consequently. Such circumstances can be disheartening and drive one to look away when descried in another. Perhaps because it brings on a disturbing sense of discomfort - reminding us of similar events we have suffered. No sane person wants to go there ever again.

And, so, there are many who criticize Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant as being rather bleak. The works are are not intrinsically so as the author has demonstrated throughout why nothing is "too bleak." Ranyhyn are still Ranyhyn - noble. Giants are still Giants - cheerful and faithful. Haruchai are still Haruchai - ready and able. For all of the dreariness a reader may encounter in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the author does provide, in extremely subtle ways, salvific relief.

By way of example, Linden Avery has a conversation with Stave, a Haruchai by birth and former Master. Linden asks why the Masters distrust her as though she were a second Kevin Landwaster. She asks what is so similar between the two of them. Stave responds by saying, "If." Linden asks for elaboration and gets it - in spades.
"If, Chosen. That you share with High Lord Kevin Landwaster, who is now forgiven by his sires. If.

Summoned to a parley with or concerning the Demondim, if he had not sent his friends and fellow Lords in his stead. Concerned and grieving for your son, if you had heeded Anele's desire for the Sunstone. You believe that you might have acted otherwise, and that you are culpable for your failure to do so. Thus you open your heart to despair, as High Lord Kevin did also."
Stave continues,
"Chosen, you have rightly charged the Masters with arrogance. They have deemed themselves wise enough, and worthy, to prejudge the use which the folk of the Land would make of their knowledge. After his own fashion, Kevin Landwaster was similarly arrogant. In his damning if, he neglected to consider that his friends and fellow Lords selected their own path. He commanded none of these to assume his place. Indeed, many among the Council valued his wisdom when he declined to hazard his own vast lore and the Staff of Law in a perilous vesture [perhaps author meant 'venture']. Yet those voices he did not hear. Arrogating to himself responsibility for the fate of those who fell, he demeaned them - and failed to perceive Corruption clearly. Faulting himself for error rather than Corruption for treachery, he was self-misled to the Ritual of Desecration, and could not turn aside.

So it is with you."
In an attempt to drive the point home, inexorably, Stave concludes his comparison of Linden Avery to Kevin Landwaster:
...you demean all who stand with you by believing that there can be no other fault than yours, and that no fault of yours can be condoned. Doing so, 'You tread paths prepared for you by Fangthane's malice,' as Manethrall Mahrtiir has said. Thus you emulate High Lord Kevin.

In your present state, Chosen, Desecration lies ahead of you. It does not crowd at your back.
Avery, as is her wont, has assumed "the weight of the world" upon herself. Stave explains that Avery has, at her side, Ranyhyn, Giants and Haruchai that are ready, willing and able. Stave asserts that it is futile, and the road to despair, for Avery to assume total responsibility for defending the Land and battling it's enemies. It is in this way, that Stave provides 'salvific relief' - by emphasizing that no one need necessarily be alone with their burdens.

Since the 1980's, I have read and enjoyed the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Within, there lies a deep, rich and well disguised symbolism that is extremely relevant to the conduct and endurance of an individual life. They are stories that offer the reader maimed and loathsome lepers, both literally and figuratively, which demonstrate the virtues of perseverance and resolve, while disdaining apathy, self-abasement and despair. It boldly and confidently delivers the message that nothing, and no one, is irredeemable or unforgivable.

Against All Things Ending, as with any other Chronicle of Thomas Covenant, does more than merely entertain. It is a story which explores the width, breadth and depth of the concept of free-will, especially how to recognize it's pitfalls and gracefully accept it's consequences.

Must Read

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review: The Grave Thief, by Tom Lloyd

The Grave Thief, by Tom Lloyd
Format: Paperback, 490 pages
Publisher: Pyr, ©2009
ISBN: 978-1-59102-780-5
Series: The Twilight Reign - Book 3
Copy: out of pocket


Scree has been wiped from the face of the Land in a brutal demonstration of intent. While those responsible scatter to work on the next step in their plan, the stakes are raised - all the way to the heavens - as the Gods themselves enter the fray. Returning home to a nation divided by fantaicism, Lord Isak is haunted both by the consequences of his actions in Scree and by visions of his own impending death. As the full extent of Azaer's schemes becomes clearer, he realizes prophecy and zealotry must play their part in his battle plans if there is to be any chance of surviving the coming years. As a white-eye, Isak has had to embrace the darker parts of his own soul, but now the savage religious fervor sweeping his nation must also be accepted and turned to purpose, in the name of survival. With the battle lines vague and allegiances uncertain, the time for heartless decisions and ruthless action has come. Two figures oppose Isak and his allies: the greatest warrior in history, who dreams of empire and Godhood, and a newborn baby whose dreams have no limit.

In this third installment to The Twilight Reign series, Lloyd has hit full stride. Each major element of his story crafting has distinctly tightened up.

Previously, the cavalier approach to dialogue and/or character interaction kept the reader at arm's length when reading through more dramatic stretches of story. It did not 'read' consistently with the rest of the tale. The Grave Thief is more adept at drawing the reader into the dramatic, with credibility, than the previous two books were. Otherwise, Lloyd's style remains the same - which is more than adequate.

While there are no new characters of note, the characters within the story each take on a level of gravity, or relevance, not previously possessed. To be sure, principle characters to the story have not diminished in their relevance, but the more peripheral characters have each noticably developed significant depth and relevance to the story on the whole.

Following the collapse of the city of Scree, in The Twilight Herald, all contending factions are drawn to the twists of fate in the Circle City. A city of merchants and commerce, it is, largely, devoid of the militant strength to defend itself in the face of the moves and counter moves of the Vukotic family, Lord Styrax of the Menin nation, the shadow - Azaer, King Emin's Brotherhood, the Farlan nation - led by Lord Isak - and the gods themselves.

While The Grave Thief does not answer as many questions as hoped for, it certainly did induce a great deal of anticipation regarding the next book in the series (thankfully, it came out 2 days after completing the read of this one). To say that The Grave Thief ended on a cliff hanger would be an extreme understatement. As a recommendation, I would suggest having book four - The Ragged Man - on hand prior to finishing The Grave Thief.

In summary, Lloyd and his series continue to improve on a good thing with each successive installment.

Highly Recommended