Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

Fatal Revenant
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Book 2
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Copyright 2007

Stephen R. Donaldson misses not a beat in picking up his story where he left on in book one, Runes of the Earth. Linden and her party are in besieged Revelstone, trapped by a large contingent of Demondim wielding the power of the once lost Illearth Stone. Thomas Covenant and her son, Jeremiah, are riding to the doors of Revelstone.

Covenant and Jeremiah arrive at Revelstone and are allowed in. Linden, delighted at the arrival of her beloved and her son goes to embrace them. Covenant says she can’t touch them. Covenant has become part of the Arch of Time and he is bending time to allow him to be with her. In doing so, he has brought her son with him although his corporal being is still trapped with Lord Foul.

Linden climbs to the top of Revelstone to bathe in the waters of Glimmermere, hoping that its waters, rich with earth power will provide an anodyne for her dilemma over the siege of Revelstone and the return of Thomas Covenant who is not himself. Covenant has told her that he plans to use his place in the Arch of Time to travel back 10,000 years to partake of the Earthblood – waters that flow beneath Melenkurion Skywier, the highest peak in the Land. It was there, many millennia before, that High Lord Elena drank of those waters and acquired the power of command that sundered the law of death and nearly destroyed the Land.

While at Glimmermre, she is visited by Esmer, the enigmatic being who is the grandson of Kastenessen and the son of the Bloodguard Cail and the Merewife of the sea that bewitched him. Esmer tells her that Kastennesen, formerly one of the Elohim whose lives transcend the needs of the Land, has his own plans to destroy the Arch of Time. Esmer, who has both helped and betrayed Linden, tells her that she must be the first to drink of the Earthblood.

Linden returns to the gates of Revelstone where the Demondim are massing for an assault. They are channeling the Illearth Stone through a caesure – a storm that is a time anomaly – created by Covenant’s ex-wife, Joan – who is mindlessly wielding the power of her own White Gold wedding band. Using the Staff of Law she found in the Land’s past by using a similar caesure, she closes the caesure and cuts off the Demondim’s access to the evil artifact.

She meets with Covenant and Jeremiah and Covenant tells her that he plans to leave today to transport them to Melenkurion Skywier where he will gain the power of command to end Kastennesen and Lord Foul’s assault on the Arch of Time.

Linden notices some subtle changes in Thomas Covenant. While he was always gruff, self pitying, and generally negative, he was always compassionate and abhorred violence and killing. Now, he’s coarse, uncaring, and dispassionate about most things except gaining power. He has also hinted that he’d like to have his white gold wedding ring back. Linden demurs.

Linden joins Covenant and Jeremiah as they prepare to make the trip in time. Covenant whispers the words and they are transported not to Melenkurion Skywier, but to a snowy field, hundreds of leagues from Melenkurion Skywier. They were waylaid by one of the Insequent – a race of beings similar to the Elohim in that their lives transcend time and their powers exceed those of the Land. He is the Theomach and makes no apologies for having altered their plans. They will journey to Melenkurion Skywier on foot, he tells them as he joins the party – much to Covenant’s chagrin.

They start across the Land as it was 10,000 years ago. The party happen upon a camp of warriors commanded by none other than Berek Heartthrew – also known as Berek Halfhand – Lord Father of the Land and founder of the Council of Lords. Berek and his men are engaged in a great battle with the forces of the King who would rule the Land as an autocrat.

Linden senses pain and suffering all around her as tents are filled with the wounded and dying. Her first instinct is to heal, but Theomarch warns her to do so judiciously so that she does not alter the course of history. Using her medical training as well as earthpower, Linden aides and heals many of Berek’s wounded soldiers, earning his trust. The Theomach reveals to Berek and to Linden the knowledge of the seven words of power. Theomach tells Linden he will remain with Berek, perhaps to assure that history goes as it should. He sends Linden on with Covenant and Jeremiah, who carries with him a relic of his former life, a small metal race car.

Covenant and Jeremiah attempt the bending of time again to teleport to Melenkurion Skywier, leaving Linden alone. She encounters the ancient race known as the Viles. These Viles will be corrupted by Lord Foul to become Demondim and will eventually creating the self loathing race known as ur-viles who will bedevil the Lords and Thomas Covenant in the first trilogy with their powerful lore and merciless attacks. She tries to forewarn them of their corruption, but before she can do so, Covenant and Jeremiah arrives. Their arrival draws the Forestal, Caer Wildwood who hates all walking beings who he deems responsible for the massacre of trees since the dawn of time. The Forestal proceeds to slaughter the Viles. Linden, Covenant, and Jeremiah escape and head for Melenkurion Skywier.

The party finally arrives in the large cavern beneath the high peak. Remembering Esmer’s words to her, Linden drinks deeply of the Blood of the Earth and gains the power of command. Suspecting that Covenant is not who he claims he is, she commands that the truth of her companions be revealed to her. Covenant is instantly revealed to be Roger Covenant, Thomas Covenant’s son who so desperately wants to get his hands on his mother’s white gold wedding band to aid Lord Foul. She also sees the truth of her son. He bears a bullet wound he received when Roger Covenant shot it out with the sheriff and his deputies back in their world. Linden now knows that her son has probably sustained a fatal bullet wound, just as she and Roger did in that shootout.

Roger and Linden battle it out with the power at their disposal and the cavern is rent. Roger and Jeremiah flee and Linden is transported out of the cavern via the Black River, depositing her alone in the forest known as Garroting Deep, alone and 10,000 years displaced from her own time.

She begins to wander in despair. She sees a campfire off in the distance and makes for it. There, she finds the maid from Revelstone, the woman who calls herself the Mahdoubt. The Mahdoubt reveals that she, too, is one of the Insequent. She tells Linden that the Insequent are a race of advanced, highly independent beings who guard their names and their purposes closely. Linden wins her loyalty by removing a small piece of flannel and sewing it into the Mahdoubt’s piecemeal cloak. In turn, the Mahdoubt speaks on Linden’s behalf to the Forestal who inscribes the Staff of Law with runes to add to its power. She then returns Linden to her proper time and place.

Upon her return to Revelstone, she learns that the Demondim have been waylaid by a single man who now camps outside the gates of Revelstone. The Haruchai who guard Revelstone have not approached him. Linden sets out to find out who this powerful being is.

She confronts him and he reveals that he is also of the Insequent. He bears the title, The Harrow. He wants Linden’s staff and White Gold and attempts to take it from her. The Mahdoubt arrives to confront Linden’s foe and forces him into a promise to make no more attempts to take what is not his. He agrees, but tells Linden that she will soon give up those things to him because he can take her to her son.

Having seen her son and knowing his peril, Linden’s single purpose is to get to him. To do so, she decides, she needs more power. She informs her companions that she intends to go to Andelain where Thomas Covenant received guidance from his dead friends after the law of death was broken and where her friend Hollian was resurrected when the Forestal, Caer Caveral died so that she might live. There, she hopes to find the Krill, the sword that allowed Thomas Covenant to channel his power over the White Gold.

Linden sets off with her friends. She is accompanied by the Stonedowner, Liand, who befriended her when she was imprisoned in Mithil Stonedown upon her arrival in the Land; Stave, the former Master and Haruchai who renounced the Masters to stand with Linden in her quest; The Maithrall of the Ramen and two of her kin who tend the great horses of the Land known as Rhanyhyn; three of the Haruchai who bear the title, The Humbled for having half of their right hands removed to resemble Thomas Covenant; and Anele, the deranged son of Hollian and Sunder, the two stonedowners to whom the new staff of law and future of the land was entrusted at the end of the second trilogy.

The party enters a deep forest known as Salva Gildenbourne which surrounds Andelain. The forest is dense and not easily traversed. As they travel, they are attacked by a Skurj, a serpent like creature created by Kastenessen to inflict harm upon the inhabitants of the land. The battle is going against them when a giant arrives. Linden remembers with fondness the giants who aided her and Covenant in their quest for the One Tree. However, this giant attacks her.

Linden is sure it is all over for her and her party, beset by a powerful magical creature in the Skurj and a crazed giant. Just as it seems all hope is lost, a large party of female giants arrives on the scene. They dispatch the Skurj and imprison the rogue giant.

The giants tell Linden the sad tale of Longwrath, the grandson of the First of the Search who aided Thomas Covenant and Linden eons before. He went insane shortly after reaching adulthood, always scheming to leave home and search out a mysterious “her,” constantly exclaiming, “Kill her! Are you insane?” Their purpose was to discover the source of Longwrath’s madness which they now know is focused on Linden Avery. They agree to join the quest, hoping to learn more about Longwrath’s ailment.

As the party nears Andelain, they are attacked again. This time at least a dozen of the powerful Skurj are pursuing them. With the giants and the Haruchai doing battle with the Skurj, Linden and her companions make it to Andelain where the Skurj cannot follow.

Upon their arrival in Andelain, the party encounters the benevolent Wraiths – creatures of pure energy that resemble floating balls of flame. They guide her to the resting place of the Krill. When Linden arrives, the Harrow of the Insequent and Infelice of the Elohim – she who drove Thomas Covenant deep into his own mind to keep him from using his White Gold during the quest for the One Tree – arrive to try to convince Linden that her desire will be her ruin and the ruin of the land.

Linden beseeches her dead and the breaker of the law of death, the former high lord Elena – daughter of Thomas Covenant; the breaker of the law of life, Caer Caveral; and Thomas Covenant whose power over the White Gold. None will offer her counsel. The Harrow offers to take her to her son if she will give up the White Gold and staff of law. The Humbled try to overpower her. Linden’s purpose is singular and not to be thwarted.

She grasps the Krill. She now has the power to wield the staff of law and the white gold which destroys law. Using this new power, she summons Thomas Covenant to her aid. When he arrives, the Elohim, terrified, tells her that by this act, she has awakened the Worm of World’s End – the most powerful creature in the world, capable of destroying the Arch of Time and the universe with it.

There ends the second installment of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

This was by far the longest of any of Donaldson’s books – 590 pages of tiny font. While it was long, it was compelling and move the story forward.

Linden Avery has been transformed as a character. She is no longer the self doubting, mousy follower of others who can seldom make up her own mind. With the singular desire to save her adopted son from the clutches of Lord Foul, she is now purposeful, active, and decisive.

This transformation, which Donaldson carries out quickly, but plausibly, makes the story much more compelling. In previous reviews of Donaldson’s work, I have complained about the contemplative nature of his characters who, between bouts of self loathing and deprecation, analyze and second guess every move for page after page. That is not the case in Fatal Revenant. Linden Avery sets her sight on a goal, overcomes obstacles, and achieves them which makes for much more interesting reading.

Donaldson has also introduced some ambiguity to this story which was not present in the first two trilogies where the enemies, the friends, the goals, and the potential consequences were known to the reader from the outset. Lord Foul is the constant and Linden’s primary concern because he has her son.

We know Roger Covenant is evil and serves Lord Foul’s purpose. But we don’t know to what end.

Kastenessen attacks the world out of spite with no clear target or reason. We don’t know his ends.

Somewhere, out there, Joan Covenant, in her madness wields power almost equal to that of Linden Avery. She is a wild card because she acts without ends or purpose. But her deeds always spell trouble for Linden and her friends.

The character, Anele was mostly a spectator in this book. But with his knowledge of the Land’s history after the fall of the Sunbane and his close connection to Thomas Covenant, Lord Foul, and the staff of law, the reader knows that he is going to emerge as a major player in the story to come.

The Worm of World’s End has been unleashed. We got a taste of its power at the end of The One Tree. It can devour the earth and time itself. We do not know enough, nor does Linden Avery, to know how it may be countered.

Of all the books dedicated to telling the story of the White Gold, this is Donaldson’s most exciting and compelling. Characters acted. The story moved. New elements were introduced. Mysteries remained unsolved. I look forward to taking in the next book!

No comments:

Post a Comment