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Review of the Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson posted 19 January 2005 in ReviewsReview of the Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson by Born of Fantasy, Commoner

By Ainulindale (me)



Runes of the Earth is the first installment of a planned 4 book cycle entitled The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant that marks Stephen R. Donaldson return to both the “The Land” and the classic fantasy series that marked him as one of the genre’s very elite.
This novels picks up 10 years after Thomas Covenant’s death at the conclusion of the Second Chronicles. The focal character of the novel is one that is familiar to Donaldson fans, Linden Avery. At the onset of the novel, she is confronted by Roger Covenant (Thomas’s son), who kidnaps his mother from the medical center Linden is currently administering. In a series of events Roger kidnaps both his mother and Linden’s adopted son Jerimiah and escapes to “The Land”, where Linden also travels back to bearing the all important white-gold ring of Thomas Covenant.
Linden finds herself in a familiar land albeit centuries have passed since her last visit. During the course of these centuries she find that the past has been suppressed, along with the use of Earth Power by the familiar and once friendly Hauchai who now have deemed themselves Masters. Linden quickly learns that Lord Foul has her son, and along with Roger Covenant and his mother is once again threatening the integrity of the “Land” and befriends a half-mad character named Anele, who she learns was the former possessor of the Staff of Law, the very staff that Linden once possessed and used to cure the land on her prior visit to the Land. Learning from Anele that he lost the Staff centuries ago, Linden embarks to retrieve it, along with trying to gather aid to find her son.
Along the way Donaldson shows us that he has not lost his touch, exhibiting his mastery in depth and characterization, depicting Linden in the same way that made Thomas Covenant one of the most fully realized and dimensional characters in our genre. Fans can look forward to familiar, albeit time effected Haruchai, the glorious Ranyhm steeds, the ruthless ur-Viles, as well as introducing a fascinating character Esmer a being of awe inspiring and terrible power who due to his “balanced” nature not only aids Linden when no one else possibly can, but also is the cause of her gravest danger. Fans of Donaldson will feel right at home with this novel in terms of his trademark pacing, wonderful depiction of surroundings, and his ability to make us feel the emotions his characters. When one adds all these positives, to what is at the end of the novel one of the most tantalizing cliff-hanger’s I have ever read in any fantasy novel, you have simply what one expects from a master storyteller like Mr. Donaldson.
In my opinion The Runes of the Earth is not a viable starting point for fans being introduced to Donaldson’s work, but rather a poignant reminder for them to read the the preceding series to fully be able to enjoy in what in my opinion is Donaldson’s triumphant return to fantasy, a worthy addition to a series that is one of the true crowning achievements in the genre. My final grade for the Runes of the earth is a well-deserved 8.5.


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