It’s hard to know exactly where to start here, which seems to be how Stephen R Donaldson felt when he decided to take one more trip to the well for The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The Runes of the Earth is filled with the retelling of tales any fan of the earlier books already know-and surely no one would pick this up and start reading here-so why all the backstory?
The Runes of the Earth is a pretty bad book on countless levels. It follows in the tradition of the Second Chronicles-give the readers something broken-by allowing long years to have passed and endless changes to take place in both the real world and the Land. Most interesting is the fact Linden has a son-Covenant’s?!?-well, no. Her “son” turns out to be one of the mindless zombies controlled by Lord Foul in the Second Chronicles. Yeah, what could go wrong there?
We spend an interminable four chapters or so watching Linden in the real world-where she is still living in Thomas Covenant’s hometown and still taking care of his ex-wife, Joan. Enter Roger Covenant, clearly demon possessed and walking embodiment of evil. But only Linden has any hint at why he is possessed and by whom. One drawn out thing leads to another drawn out thing and Linden, Roger, Joan, Linden’s Son, and the evil local Sheriff are all killed. I love a happy ending!
But wait, there’s more. . .
Thomas Covenant was killed in the Second Chronicles, and that didn’t stop him from traipsing around the whole Earth. So being dead is not a big deal in The Land and Linden finds herself on top of Kevin’s Watch once more. By this point Kevin’s Watch feels like Marty McFly waking up with his Mother mopping his tired brow-it’s gotten a bit old.
The Last Chronicles is filled with powers and beings that were mentioned in passing, if at all, but now turn out to be vastly more important than we thought. And this is the biggest single problem with the Last Chronicles-a horde of villains, a horde of followers, and Linden Avery The Whiner.
What made Thomas Covenant a perfect anti-hero was that he didn’t want to help the Land, didn’t care about the Land, and didn’t really believe that the Land existed anyway. Linden Avery never had this problem, she always believed in the Land and wanted to cure all the evil that she found there. Like Hile Troy before her, Linden Avery had no problem using Wild Magic-and yet once she returns to the Land she finds that using Covenant’s ring is not as easy as it used to be.
The use of power has always been an odd bit of business here. The Lords had to go to school for twenty years to learn how to use the Staff and Sword, but Hile Troy, Covenant, and Linden are instantly forces to be reckoned with. Troy and Covenant so much so that they become a part of the very reality of the Land-even after their mortal lives have ended. So it is a bit jarring when Donaldson decides that Linden can’t use her powers the way she used to. Really? And do we have to start off with a Quest for the Staff of Law-again?
As with Covenant before her, Linden finds the denizens of the Land queuing up to kiss her feet and offer her their undying love and devotion. In return she accepts their service because, hey, she’s Linden Avery! You’d better bow down before her!
Linden’s gaggle of followers are made up of a bunch of Ranyhyn, three or four Ramen to take care of them, a pack of urviles, a couple of waynhim, one Stonedowner, one Master, two demigods, and a partridge in a pear tree. Along the way we are told the names of the foes that await Linden-a laundry list of names that are mostly unfamiliar and left unexplained as The Runes of The Earth drags itself to an end.
The closing lines of The Runes of The Earth tell us that Linden’s idiot son and her eons dead lover are riding toward her. This is a false hope, and one more trick that I haven’t forgiven Donaldson for pulling. But we won’t find out about all of that for a few million words.
In the end Stephen R Donaldson has emptied the stage of normal human beings and even normal foes. Raver possessed Giants seem downright silly when compared to the monsters we meet in the Last Chronicles. There is also the added nonsense of time travel. And Linden hears voices-Thomas Covenant and Lord Foul both speak to her at regular intervals. It’s a book where information overload is taken to the extreme and the endless actions becomes boring and nothing that matters ever happens at all. Yeah, the Haruchai are assholes, can we please move on? PLEASE!?!
I found myself hating Linden Avery and her chorus of cheerleaders. I finally understand why Lord Foul wants so badly to get the hell out of the Land.