Fatal Revenant: This is awesome!

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Stephen R Donaldson Fatal Revenant The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The UnbelieverFatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

Donaldson raises the stakes so high in Fatal Revenant that it was difficult, at times, to see how he was going to pull it off. I’ll be honest: I doubted that he could do it, and I’m a true, dedicated (not obsessive, thank you) fan. However, after turning the final page of Fatal Revenant and sadly setting the book aside, I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that my ability to express my emotions and thoughts had been significantly diminished. Rational cogitation evaded me entirely, and I felt like the teenager I was when I first stumbled on Stephen R Donaldson in the early 1980s (gulp). All that ran through my mind, in a continuous loop, for about five minutes, was “Dude! This is awesome!” And it was. It is. I hold Donaldson to a higher standard than most writers, because he’s earned it. Not only did he meet meet my already inflated expectations, he by far exceeded them. To say that I’m anxiously awaiting the third book, Against All Things Ending, is like saying that as a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, I really want them to win a World Series. (Against All Things Ending will likely arrive first…*sigh*)

At the end of The Runes of the Earth, Linden Avery discerned six figures riding to Revelstone. “One was Jeremiah; her son beyond question… The other stranger was unmistakably Thomas Covenant.” If you’re a fan, you’ve been waiting three years to find out how or why Jeremiah seemingly regained control of his mind, and why Covenant is corporeal (he’s supposed to be dead, after all). Donaldson will answer your questions, and the answers will stagger and satisfy you, and leave you gasping for more. In typical Donaldson fashion — and something he’s been getting better and better at over the years — the answers, or solutions to the problems, aren’t what they seem. Nothing is. Hellfire <wink> — Covenant, alive? Jeremiah, talkative and energetic? Surely this is impossible.

The book opens with Linden facing a corporeal Covenant, and a responsive Jeremiah. Read the first few chapters carefully. Don’t speed through them in a mad desperate dash to start the marathon run to the finish, because if you do, several events leading up to the ending, and the ending itself (Donaldson has become, I daresay, the master of the cliffhanger) might not make a bit of sense to you. For that matter, the entire book should be read carefully. After finishing this book I see more and more why Donaldson thought that he needed to take time away and work on other projects before coming back to this. Most fantasies — his First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant included — are fairly straightforward in their presentation. That’s why The First Chronicles had such a broad appeal. They most certainly were not simple — when you scratched the surface, there was surprising depth — but you could, at thirteen years of age, read the books and fully enjoy them without looking into the vast abyss of nuance Donaldson wrote with. While I don’t want to say that young readers should be wary of these books, they have layers and layers of subtlety and subtext. I expected Donaldson to write a book that made me think, but I wasn’t expecting to be addled and befuddled, and I just want to say THANK YOU to SRD for writing a book that that caused so much cerebration.

Linden needs answers. The Demondim are at Revelstone’s gate. The Mahdoubt is nowhere to be found. Covenant and Jeremiah are too foreign for her to trust completely, and so Esmer is her only resource. His duality often prohibits him from speaking clearly, and his aid often creates more problems than it solves. The book starts out with a simple (yeah, right) quest, and her companions are two who should bring more delight to her than any: Covenant and Jeremiah. But they do not, because she cannot physically touch them, something she longs to do, for reasons I’ll let Donaldson dramatize. But imagine Linden’s grief. After ten years in the “real world,” and several audacious days in the Land (The Runes of the Earth), Covenant and Jeremiah stand before her, restored. The only man she ever loved, and her son.
Essentially, this book is about the choices she makes. Perhaps she was dubbed “The Chosen” for more reasons than we know.

The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant began with Donaldson setting the pieces on the board with great care. Since the First Chronicles, Donaldson’s writing has at times reminded me of a chess master. He is meticulous in the placement of his pieces. When I finished reading The Real Story: The Gap Into Conflict, the first book of his five-book space opera, The Gap Series, I couldn’t see how he was going to get five books out of it,  yet he did, and the universe that he unveiled to his grateful readers was breathtaking in its conceptual amplitude. It was like being inside the tiniest Russian doll, and escaping, to find that there’s a larger doll, then a larger doll, etc., and finally you escape and you’re in, well, Russia. Maybe not as exciting as warm and inviting as Hawaii, but you get the idea.

Donaldson’s characters aren’t always likeable. (Covenant’s first act in The Land in Lord Foul’s Bane was to rape a girl and there’s a fan group who call themselves THOOLAH, The Holy Order of Linden Avery Haters.) But that’s kind of the point. Would you rather be reading about morally altruistic characters like Richard and Kahlan from Goodkind’s universe? I prefer my characters to not only have grey spots on their morality gauge, I like them to be real. Whine all you want about Linden’s whining (regarding her son), but find me a mother that wouldn’t be doing and thinking and struggling exactly as she is. Good luck. (I mean no offense to THOOLAH members, or Goodkind fans.)

Donaldson picks and chooses words carefully, and nowhere do we see his wordsmithing at play more than in the Covenant series. Some readers might find that his books require too much work to get through. But, if you do the extra work required, you’re more often than not rewarded. Sometimes you’ll find hidden humor, sometimes added depth. In my experience, it’s rare to find a word that he absolutely shouldn’t have used, or that he should have replaced with a simpler synonym, because the word he chose is precise. Not all synonyms mean the same thing.

A sentence that I was initially frustrated with became beautiful when I went one step beyond looking the words up and thought about how they were used, where they were used, and then, of course, why. Some fine folks at Kevin’s Watch were most helpful in this. That particular sentence appears on page 229 of the American hardcover edition: “‘You can hear me,’ she pronounced, speaking now in lambent chrysoprase and jacinth rather than saffron blots.”
I won’t tell you what I found, because doing so would be giving away a REAL gem in the book, but I’m pointing it out to make sure that YOU do the work I was initially too lazy to do. It will help you appreciate the scene. I promise.

When I saw the cover art for Fatal Revenant — a figure of a wizardly-looking chap bearded and robed in snowy white — I cringed. It was bad enough that Del Rey tried to cash in on the success of The Lord of the Rings movies by releasing mass market paperback editions of The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant with pastel covers displaying a yellow gold wedding ring. (They hoped that the new readers of fantasy that the LOTR movies gave birth to would see a gold ring while perusing the shelves at their local bookstore, and think, Hey! I need to read this Tolkien knock-off — which it most certainly is not.) The problem there is that our buddy Tom wore a white gold wedding ring, and it is the nature of the alloy of white gold that formed the paradox of “white wild magic gold” in The Land. Now we are treated to what looks to me, and probably every fan of fantasy extant, Gandalf the White or, as depicted in the films, perhaps the figure more closely resembles Saruman. Let me reassure you that neither Gandalf nor Saruman appear in this or any other Covenant book. Who is it then? I’m not saying, but even a casual reader of the Covenant series should be able to make a good guess.

Happy Reading. Donaldson himself said that we would be going on a ride. I am more anxious, now, given how high he has raised the stakes, to see the third book than I was this one. The time until Against All Things Ending gets released will go very slowly.


Todd Burger FanLit thanks Todd Burger for this guest review. Todd is a businessman from Chicago. He fell in love with fantasy after watching The Wizard of Oz in second grade. The next day, he scurried to the library but found the book already checked out. However, the librarian lifted his spirits by showing him thirteen more Oz books by L. Frank Baum. In third grade, his mother imposed a ban on “those Oz books,” which had become an obsession. Forced to diversify, he tried to check out Huckleberry Finn, but his teacher opposed the idea. When he presented her with a Dr. Seuss book for approval, he quickly found himself cleaning erasers for being “full of too much sass.” Once, he charmed a substitute teacher into approving Huck Finn, and when his duplicity was discovered, he came to know eraser dust intimately. Soon, Todd started reading everything he could find.


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One comment

  1. Gerrungefuttock Burblescrote /

    I have just started Fatal Revenant and boy what a struggle.
    I started the Covenant series many years ago but have reached
    an age where my patience has run out. I’ve never come across
    so many gobbledigook words used by an author before, it borders on the pretentious. I certainly never required a dictionary to hand when reading Tolkien as a 10 year old! I have however decided to continue but substitute the nonsense words with made up words of my own, the effect is truly hurgleguam and much more kerambable to read that I now laugh my gurnalls off! I’ve turned it into a comic.

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