"Linden had made him mortal again. His mere flesh and bone refused to hold his power and knowledge, his span of comprehension. With every beat of his forgotten heart, intimations of eternity were expelled. They oozed from his new skin like sweat, and were lost."
AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING picks up right where FATAL REVENANT left off. Linden Avery has used High Lord Loric's Krill and the Staff of Law to bring Thomas Covenant back to life, releasing him from his prison within the Arch of Time. Though his body is restored, his mind is essentially dismantled while being ripped free of the Arch. The hope Linden held that his return would be a step toward salvation is nearly lost as he is not the fiery, passionate man she remembered him as being. He is not capable of leading a charge against Lord Foul and saving the Land. As if that were not enough of a downside, a greater problem now looms: the great surge of power needed to bring Covenant back to life has succeeded in awakening the Worm of the World's End. It devours anything and everything in its path and will ultimately unmake the Land.
Across the Land the company travels, visiting spots quite familiar to long-time readers of the series. They split forces at the Spoiled Plains, with Linden Avery and her contingent engaged in Muirwin Delenoth while Covenant leads a group into the very heart of Foul's Creche. Enemies and seemingly unavoidable apocalypse converge from all directions, and along the way there will be those who fall, and choices made that bear terrible consequences. The first portion of the book deals solely with Linden and her desperate attempt to save her son, Jeremiah. Along the way, and through heartbreak, revelations will come to surface about Jeremiah, Lord Foul, the Elohim, and a great many other things readers have wanted and waited to know more of.
Stephen R. Donaldson's strengths as a storyteller continue to shine in this penultimate installment of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. As with every other volume (and virtually every other work of his), it’s replete with fantastic visual descriptions. The Land is as real in your mind as it is for Covenant and for Linden. While Donaldson is sometimes criticized for the long descriptive passages or even with the word choices that make having a dictionary handy a good idea, it is worth noting that these things are conscious decisions of the author. It is a stylistic device specific for this series of books. At times, it slows down the pace of the novel, but the upside is that you are treated to some brilliance in visual storytelling and world-building.
Another of the great achievements that continue here is the notion that heroes are not perfect and that, unlike a lot of fantasies built on game mechanics, there are also no easy answers. Covenant and Linden, in particular, are deeply flawed souls. Linden bears the weight of the entire world on her shoulders, from bringing back Covenant, to saving Jeremiah, to trying to find a way to stop Lord Foul and prevent the extinction of all life and Time. Both she and Covenant are full of self-doubt and guilt, and their decisions sometimes bring about destruction, albeit unintentional. They are emotionally scarred, and while they can be despised for some of their decisions, it does make them seem all the more human and thus are more relatable.
Linden has her self-loathing and her guilt confronted by Stave, a former Master, who explains to her that she is seeming more and more to be on the path of Kevin Landwaster, an historical Lord who broke the land ages before. "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." He goes on to add, "[Y]ou 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." It is a fantastic scene, and one that is perfect at laying open Linden and exposing her to the folly and the unnecessary burdens of self-blame.
Like all the books in this series, AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING is an amalgamation of fear, apathy and despair with hope, perseverance, and the idea that no matter how low one may have fallen, there is no statute of limitations on redemption. And without divulging any of the events, the final quarter of the book is a two-fisted assault of emotion that will leave readers more than eager to see the unfolding events in the concluding volume, THE LAST DARK.
Stephen R. Donaldson is a masterful fantasist. It is said that this series is not for everyone, and that may be true to the extent that if you're looking for a quick, page-flipping cookie-cutter read, this is most definitely not it. But if you’re looking for world-class writing and a story the mines the emotional landscape of those who populate a sensational world brought to life with vivid description, then this is your kind of work. For those who have come on the ride thus far, sit back and enjoy.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on December 22, 2010