In 1977, Stephen R. Donaldson saw his first novel, LORD FOUL'S BANE, arrive on bookshelves. Within its pages, readers were introduced to Thomas Covenant. A once successful author, Covenant has been rendered an outcast --- both by his town and by his wife --- after he contracts leprosy. Embittered by his losses of career, marriage, identity and physical form, Covenant finds himself transported to The Land, where he is perceived as the reincarnation of the great hero Berek Halfhand --- an ancient Lord who saved The Land from the doom wrought by Lord Foul the Despiser. Denying his own sanity and the existence of The Land, Covenant nevertheless quests to preserve The Land from the newest onslaught by Lord Foul.
Donaldson would follow the original trilogy with a second trio of books, The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, whereby Thomas is again brought to The Land, but this time he brings someone with him --- Dr. Linden Avery. Four thousand years have passed in The Land, which is afflicted by Sunbane, and the once revered Earthpower is waning under a new assault from Lord Foul. Covenant and Avery find a relationship growing between them, and together they seek to defeat the Despiser once more.
Following those three novels, Donaldson would wait 21 years to return to The Land and bring about the final chapters in the saga of Thomas Covenant. And now, with the release of THE LAST DARK, the conclusion of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is at hand.
As we begin THE LAST DARK, the Worm of the World's End is loose and the doom of The Land is laid. Once the Worm drinks the Earthblood, the Arch of Time will break and Lord Foul will be released. He will then seek to create a prison for the Creator and thus take control of all of the universe.
"Donaldson has devised a compelling final installment that covers the themes of self-despair and overcoming it, of understanding your value, and that great deeds often require great sacrifices. Even in failure."
Linden and her son, Jeremiah, are reunited, but the once mute boy is now alive with excitable speech and ideas, and he claims he can build a construct in which to capture the Worm, thus slowing it down enough for Covenant to devise a plan. And it is a powerful thing to see the reactions of the Giants as they realize that the stars are going out, being devoured by the Worm as it advances in its hunger. In the meantime, Covenant is physically broken after his battle with his ex-wife, Joan, and must set out in an effort to defeat turiya Raver, one of Foul's vile soldiers, before he can find his way back to reunite with Linden.
To discuss any of the specific elements of THE LAST DARK would be a tremendous disservice to the people who have taken up this series and followed along, anxious for the next installment. The events and results of the attempts to save The Land must be experienced with page turns and not spoiled by a well-meaning review. Battles come at a furious pace as the forces of good struggle to preserve The Land, but between the heart-pounding action are moments of deep introspection. It is in these moments when Linden Avery, Jeremiah and Covenant show their growth, understanding and hearts. This is the key to THE LAST DARK.
Donaldson has devised a compelling final installment that covers the themes of self-despair and overcoming it, of understanding your value, and that great deeds often require great sacrifices. Even in failure. "You risk much, as you have ever done," he writes. And the risks here are great, as both the Worm and She Who Must Not Be Named seek to rend The Land. And Donaldson takes epic fantasy as deep as it has ever gone, exploring faith and despair, possession to freedom, and ultimately the very depths of love and loss.
THE LAST DARK is, well, dark. And yet, for its darkness, it is buoyed by the openness of the cast of characters and the depth to which they are explored, and the notion that a sacrifice for that which you love is never too great. Hope will ultimately shine, though perhaps not in the way you imagined. Donaldson weaves a tremendous tale of the death of a world, a world loved by millions of readers, and crafts an ending that will satisfy and surprise.
Closing the book on THE LAST DARK is a sad affair. For 36 years, Donaldson has taken the worlds born of Tolkien and reimagined them, much more so than many of those who have taken up the mantle of fantasy. In the course of 10 novels, he has explored a wide range of psychological ideas, has challenged nearly everyone with his astounding word usage (keep those dictionaries handy for this one!), and made you so dedicated to The Land as an outside observer that in turning that last page, the loss you feel is real.
For that wonder doled out over thousands of pages, and even for that ache upon the end of the tale, Donaldson only deserves our deepest and heartfelt thanks.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on October 17, 2013