The Illearth War by Stephen R Donaldson

In Book Two of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever we find our hero back at home in the Real World.  He’s a bit bummed out about his first adventure in The Land and remains an unhappy and lonely leper.  Then he gets a phone call from his ex-wife Joan, before he can say a word, he feels himself being summoned back to the Land.  He trips and bounces his head of a coffee table and leave reality once again.

Thomas Covenant has been summoned to Revelstone, where he stands in front of the Council of Lords and is told that 40 years have passed.  There are new Lords and a new Warmark of the Warward.   Covenant finds that his old friends from the Quest for the Staff of Law aren’t quite as old as they should be.  It seems that Earth Power keeps you young.

The Illearth War introduces two major characters, High Lord Elena and Warmark Hile Troy.  Hile Troy is interesting because he also comes from the real world and Elena is interesting because she is Covenant daughter and she has the hots for him.  The Illearth War lavishes most of it’s attention on one or the other of these two doom figures, we watch as they both make plans against Lord Foul, only to see those plans fall to ruin and despair.

Sorrow and heartache are the notes most often struck here.  In Lord Foul’s Bane we have a brief glimpse of the Land as it should be.  People live in peace and share knowledge and work for the restoration of the Land after High Lord Kevin’s Desecration.  But even this glimpse is of a diminished Land, a world whose wondrous glory days are a full thousand years in the past and already the stuff of legend.

In the Illearth War sorrow is piled upon sorrow as one horrid revelation follows another.  As one meaningless death follows another.  As all the great plans and hopes of our heroes lead to despair.  Lord Foul doesn’t even make a cameo in the Illearth War.  Our powerful foes are a couple of blood thirsty Ravers who took over the bodies of Giants.  Victory, when it finally comes, costs too much to feel like victory.

I liked The Illearth War, but I did find a couple of things a bit odd.  Amok, the Seventh Ward of High Lord Kevin’s Lore, leads High Lord Elena and Thomas Covenant off on a Quest.  Amok foreshadows all of the places and people that we will met in the Second Chronicles.   He speaks of his endless travels over the past thousand years and his encounters with the Elohim, Sand Gorgons, The Dancers of the Sea, and how he teased brave Kelenbhra-banal in his grave.  Amok is an enigma in many ways and easily the most annoying of all of Donaldson’s inventions.

Amok is the Way and The Door to the Power of Command, and it seems that Kevin didn’t really want anyone to ever use this power, or that he only wanted one person to use it.  Amok dies as soon as he leads the High Lord and Thomas Covenant to the Blood of The Earth-thus closing the way and locking the door forever.  Kind of short sighted of Kevin, don’t you think?  After all, a second use of the Blood might have fixed the evil done by Elena.

Then there is the problem of the Giants.  Amok travels the whole of the world freely and easily, returning to the Land when he is needed.  He was created by High Lord Kevin and we can assume that Amok does not have powers greater than Kevin and the other Old Lords.  We know from the Second Chronicles that Berek went to the other side of the world to take a branch from The One Tree.  So why didn’t Amok, or Kevin, stop by Home and tell the Giants where to find their lost kindred of the Land?

As with Lord Foul’s Bane, all kinds of evils for the future are set into motion as Thomas Covenant returns home.  He still thinks it’s all a dream, but he still suffers sorrow from the loss of his loved ones in the Land.

Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

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3 comments on “The Illearth War by Stephen R Donaldson
  1. NONE says:

    I love that cover too.

    In regards to “He speaks of his endless travels over the past thousand years and his encounters with the Elohim, Sand Gorgons,” I think SRD was just making stuff up on the fly, and didn’t have any plan. But when he did the other novels, he decided to use those dropped words as cores of ideas. Just my guess.

    I find I had forgotten about Amok in the few years since I re-read the books. As an enigmatic character, he is so easily outclassed, in my view, by both Nom (fantasy fiction’s own Tasmanian Devil) and Vain.

  2. NONE says:

    I don’t know if you are planning to dig into these books one by one, but if you are, anyway, I will check back from time to time.

  3. DESCARTES says:

    Just dipping in a bit here and there. Kind of working through the books as I await the release of The Last Dark.

    I think Donaldson was just tossing stuff out as well, but I was always intrigued by how these places and people showed up.

    Amok was one of my favorite characters in the Illearth War. Vain and Nom were much more important and had much larger rolls than Amok.

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