Against All Things Ending (review)

Finally, several months after receiving Stephen R. Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending, I’ve read it. I first felt I had to read, and I chose to review, the first two books in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Runes of the Earth and Fatal Revenant.

But having done so, it’s a little hard to decide what to say about this third book. It’s more of the same, isn’t it? It doesn’t help that it’s the third book of the tetrology. This means pretty much all the plot elements have been set in motion and pretty much none of them get resolved. It’s 570-ish pages of connective stuff.

I noted that the first book seemed to have rather little happening and a lot of reacting to what was happening, and that rather more action occurred in the second book. Book three seems to me to fall in between, though of course that’s subjective. Certainly our heroes get themselves into and out of several perilous situations. Yet a lot of pages are devoted to talking, feeling, and thinking about those situations. It feels ponderous, and it feels like some of the momentum of book two is dissipated in book three.

To do a little spoiling — not too much, especially for those who’ve read the first two books — at the end of The Runes of the Earth Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah Avery turn up, but in Fatal Revenant we learn Thomas is a fake and Jeremiah is under another creature’s control. At the end of Fatal Revenant Thomas Covenant turns up again. For real? Yes, for real, it turns out, and he’s a central figure along with Linden Avery throughout Against All Things Ending. Linden has brought him back from the dead — but broken, and in bringing him back she’s set the end of the world in motion. Not good, especially considering what else they have to deal with: Jeremiah and his controlling croyel, Roger Covenant and his cavewights, the Sandgorgons, the skest, Joan Covenant, the mad Elohim Kastenessen, She Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Foul himself — have I left anyone out? Probably. Donaldson has piled on enough bad guys for four or five epic fantasies.

I spoke of the Harrow in my review of the second book: “[he] seemingly pops up out of nowhere and for no evident reason other than that Donaldson seems to have decided Linden didn’t have enough problems to deal with. I get the feeling Donaldson has a pivotal part for the Harrow in mind, but so far he seems more an ad hoc additional bad guy.” The Harrow does indeed play a major role in the first portion of Fatal Revenant… then he gets tossed away. “Is that it?” was my reaction; “Is that all you brought this character into the story to do?” The Harrow is one of several characters we meet of the people known as the Insequent, people comparable in power and to the Elohim but curiously unknown in the Land — unmentioned in the previous two trilogies. As of the end of the third book we have started to get a picture of the Insequent, but only started, and I have no clear idea how really they fit into the big picture. A big, nagging loose end, so far.

I guess the emerging theme here is Linden’s growing sense of inadequacy against all she faces, and her guilt over the losses suffered along the way. That’s probably an altogether too-simplified condensation of thousands of words of Linden’s self-examination but it’ll do. “Can good be accomplished by evil means?” is a question repeatedly asked here, and a final answer has yet to be made.

The first three books came out at intervals of about three years, so I guess it’ll be 2013 or so before we get the conclusion. I’ll plan on reading it, but I guess my expectations won’t be very high; from what I’ve seen so far, this series is likely to fall well short of Donaldson’s best.

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