Saturday, June 16, 2012

Against All Things Ending By Stephen R. Donaldson

The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Book Three
Against All Things Ending
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Copyright 2011

Against All Things Ending opens with Thomas Covenant, resurrected from the dead, standing before Linden Avery and her friends. But he’s not himself. His mind is awhirl with random thoughts and memories of his own and of the Land’s – many of which were acquired when he became part of the Arch of Time. He has acquired a new title of Timewarden. Far from being able to aid Linden in her decision making, the man is barely coherent.

Shortly after Covenant is resurrected, The Harrow arrives on the scene and renews his offer to Linden to take her to where her son is being held in exchange for the Staff of Law and the White Gold. He intends to use them to confront the Worm of World’s End, set loose by Linden’s alteration of the Arch of Time.

Her experiment with Covenant has failed. She has no one to advise her or help her. She ascents to the Harrow’s agreement. Before it can be consummated, Infelice of the Elohim arrives and argues the case of the Elohim against it. Then they are joined by another of the Insequent. The Ardent – a corpulent being of great power – says his people have sent him to assure that the Harrow strikes a fair deal with Linden and sticks to it.

While they barter and argue, Covenant struggles with his memories. He grabs the Krill. It’s ability to focus and channel magic has a restorative effect on his brain and his thoughts become cogent again. But because the Krill channels Wild Magic, Joan is able to attack him directly with the white gold – and there’s nobody Joan wants to attack more than her ex-husband.

With the deal struck and The Ardent there to assure The Harrow’s compliance, The Harrow transports the entire group to the remote location where Jeremiah is being held – the Lost Deep located at Landsdrop near Foul’s Creche. This former warren of the lost race of Viles is warded by narrow bridge and a door sealed by runes. The Harrow’s plan to acquire the lore of the Viles is apparently thwarted because he cannot open the door.

Whilst the Insequent and others try to decipher the runes, Anele, who loves stone for stone has memories lost on the transient nature of soil and wood, reads the oldest stone in the Land. It tells him that the Worm of World’s End will ultimately drink of the Earthblood to bring about the end of the Arch of Time.

Linden is able to open the door to the Vile’s lair by using the runes inscribed on the Staff of Law by the Forestal in the Garrotting Deep. Once inside the wondrous underground palace of the Viles, Linden learns the source of Kevin’s Dirt – the “pollution” that blocks earth sense in the Land. It is a demoness with the moniker “She Who Must Not Be Named.” This demoness is a combination of tormented souls of women spurned – Kastenessen’s mortal lover, Diasommer who once loved A-Jeroth before he evolved into Lord Foul, and others. They must be careful not to awaken this guardian.

The Harrow leads them to where Jeremiah is being held. He plans to take Jeremiah and leave before The Ardent or anyone else can stop him. His plot is foiled when he finds that Jeremiah is held by a parasitical creature called a Croyel who has attached itself to his neck and controls him. They pair are protected from The Harrow’s magic by one of Jeremiah’s constructs. The Croyel summons a Skest that the party must battle while fearing the arrival of the tortured and malevolent lady spurned.

Linden deconstructs Jeremiah’s construct which had been shielding his location from Roger Covenant. Roger arrives and father and son face off for the first time. Covenant wields the Krill. Roger first dispatches the Harrow, killing him and makes a grab for the white gold wedding band and the Staff of Law.

Just as Thomas Covenant prepares to do battle with his son, Joan, sensing her ex-husband through the Krill, attacks him with her white gold. Covenant’s fingers are badly burned as he wields the weapon. Linden takes up the Staff of Law and the white gold wedding band and joins Covenant in the battle against Roger, badly wounding him and forcing him to flee. With the battle over, Covenant releases the Krill. His fingers are burned beyond use.

Meanwhile, She Who Must Not Be Named has arrived. She is a fiery demon without soul or remorse. She hates all living beings – especially those who have loved or been loved. She has her eyes set on the party when Covenant comes forth to challenge her. First, he tries to reason with the deity. Then, to divert her attention, he summons the soul of his deceased daughter, Elena who is compelled to join She Who Must Not Be Named because she has been spurned in life and in death by her father whom she wanted to take as her lover.

The Ardent transports the group out of the deep cavern to a location at Landsdrop. There, the Bloodguard Stave keeps the Croyel at bay by holding the Krill to its throat. They cannot kill it without killing Jeremiah, but Stave is able to keep it from harming the child and using Jeremiah and his power to harm the party.

Linden is stunned into a state of catatonia by the carnage and death around her and the hopelessness of her position. She can’t save the land and she can’t save her son. Covenant is able to release her from her mentally frozen state, but rejects her overtures of love.

The company is stuck at the bottom of Landsdrop. In an deus ex machina move, The Ardent, who died beneath the mountain with the Harrow, shows up with generous quantities of food and water for the company. Linden, desperate to save her son, tries combining the might of the Staff of Law and the White Gold to kill the Croyel. All she accomplishes is to attract Joan’s attention. Joan, sensing the white gold, sends caesures down upon the party.

The Stonedowner, Liand, decides to make the attempt using the Orcrest. He is overpowered and killed by Kastenessen who is channeled through Anele, who has ventured from the rock that shields him from Kastenessen and Lord Foul.

Roger regroups and attacks the company with an army of Cavewights. As the Giants and the Humbled Haruchai do battle with the Cavewights, Esmer arrives for one more betrayal of Linden. However, he is pursued by ur-viles who actually manage to capture him and place manacles that leave him powerless.

Meanwhile, Anele leaves the safety of stone one more time to take up the Orcrest, fallen from Liand’s hand, and uses it to kill the Croyel. Jeremiah is now free of the controlling succubus that was attached to his neck.

Linden lets loose with a torrent of power from the Staff of Law – which emits now only black energy – and slaughters dozens of cavewights. With the army disposed of and Roger once again fleeing from the scene, attention turns to Esmer – who has aided and betrayed Linden and her friends so many times. He begs her for the release of death. A blow from the Krill will do it. Linden wants to kill the half-Haruchai/half Merewife, but she can’t bring herself to coldblooded murder. Stave has no such compunctions and kills Esmer with one swift blow. He reveals the recently slain Humbled, Galt, was his son, estranged from him after Stave repudiated the Masters.

Covenant and two of the Humbled slip away from the party unnoticed. Covenant plans to find Joan and end her torment. They travel toward the eastern shore of the Land. There, they encounter a race known as the Feroce who serve the Lurker of Sarangrave who attacked Covenant and his giant friend eons before as they journeyed to Foul’s Creche. They speak on behalf of their master, saying the Lurker wants an alliance with Covenant because they have a common enemy in the Worm of World’s End. Covenant accepts the bargain.

Covenant and his Haruchai are attacked by Skest. The Feroce hold them off while Covenant and the Bloodguard enter a caesure where Thomas Covenant finally meets his ex-wife face to face. He tries to reason with her. Failing that, he tries to kill her but can’t because of the power she wields in her white gold. Recalling her love of horses, Covenant summons the princely Ranyhyn whose majesty captures Joan’s attention. With her focus diverted, Covenant drives home the Krill into Joan’s chest. She dies and the raver that possessed her flees. Thomas Covenant takes up his wife’s white gold.

Meanwhile, Linden and the company pursue Covenant. Linden, once again the mousy, self-pitying failure, eschews her leadership role in the party and allows the Ranyhyn to guide them to wherever they think she and her friends can be of the most service. They come upon a pit full of ancient bones from a long forgotten battle.

Once there, the still mindless Jeremiah begins another of his constructs, using the ancient craft of Marrowmeld to forge bones into shapes. He is building a cage. As he commences his construction, Infelice arrives and explains to Linden Jeremiah’s role in the end of the world. Lord Foul needs Jeremiah to construct a cage for the Creator. When the Arch of Time falls, the Creator will be trapped and Lord Foul will be free to rule the universe.

Infelice offers the protection of the Elohim for Jeremiah if he will cease his construction. Linden rejects the offer, wanting Jeremiah to accomplish what he’s set out to do. Linden carries with her the metal toy car her son left her. He tosses it to her and it becomes the final piece in the construct. With its completion, Infelice is trapped. Jeremiah, having accomplished his purpose, is free of the snare that has held his mind for more than a decade. He and Linden rush into each other’s arms.

The book ends with Thomas Covenant, the Ranyhyn, and the Bloodguard fleeing from the tsunami that precedes the arrival of the Worm of World’s End in the Land.

I loved this book and I hated this book! At times, reading it felt like a grudge match with the author who loaded it with so much contemplation, self pity and self loathing. At times, action would stop for more than 100 pages while actions and events were discussed, analyzed, and debated. It made for tortuous reading! There were times I wanted to give up. And it takes a lot for me to give up on a book -- especially one in a series I've been reading for 26 years!

However, Donaldson does point his story toward a conclusion. After more than 30 years since the publication of the first novel, we know Lord Foul’s ultimate goal. We know that the ultimate battles with the Worm of World’s End and with Lord Foul are coming. Jeremiah, having completed Lord Foul’s bidding is now free and we will certainly learn much from him in the final volume. Joan, at the periphery of the story since the second novel, is finally brought to closure.

All of this is good. What is bad is Donaldson reverting back to form with the endless contemplation and self-pity in Linden. She is supposed to be a hero. Sometimes heroes have self doubt. Sometimes heroes lapse into a state of self pity. A perfect hero is a poorly written hero. But to allow her to wallow in it for dozens and dozens of pages without interruption undermines her character. I really wanted one of the giants or Bloodguard to slap her across the face and tell her to quit being such a ninny!

Some of this can be laid at Donaldson’s feet. Much of it is bad editing. Writing this sort of prose is not bad. It can help the author develop a mindset for his character that allows him to develop his or her actions appropriately. A good editor would have recognized that the book was weighted down with too much contemplation and excised much of it. Donaldson was a victim of bad editing.

There's also several instances of deus ex machina. The aformentioned arrival of The Ardent's "spirit" with food for the company on the barren wastes of Land's Drop is just one instance. The most glaring is the insertion of the "Gift of Tongues." Apparently, when the giants of Seasearch arrived on the island abode of the Elohim, they somehow forgot to mention to Covenant that they had struck this ill-fated bargain with the Elohim that would allow them universal understanding of all languages. But with the entrapment of Infelice, they got it and they were able to communicate with the ur-viles.

Just one more book to go in the epic saga of Thomas Covenant! Unfortunately, those who have been reading the books since the publication of Lord Foul’s Bane in 1977 will have to wait until 2013 to find out how it all ends. That is when the final volume of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenent quadrilogy, The Last Dark, is scheduled for publication.

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