There are plenty of reviews of Donaldson's first and second Covenant trilogies floating around out there. Here is one I think is pretty good, but that was more of a standard book review. I don't want to summarize the whole story here and talk about its strengths and weaknesses. I'd rather talk about what the books are like and how they compare to other recent epics I'm familiar with.
Of course, the first thing every epic fantasy is compared to is "Lord of the Rings". I've now read both works many times over, including once each within the past couple of years, so I feel pretty well qualified to compare the two. When it comes to use of language, storytelling, craft and sheer greatness, I don't see how you can argue against Tolkien. It's almost unfair to compare anything to Tolkien's magnificent vision (and I know LOTR has its flaws, and it is derivative from various ancient stories, etc., but it is still without question the standard by which all other fantasy epics are judged), but Donaldson holds up pretty well in his own right.
That may be because a more apt comparison than Tolkien may instead be to an American writer, like maybe Stephen King. It's a very limited comparison. King and Donaldson both write gritty, pseudo-realistic stories about humanity's inner struggle, and Donaldson's two series (especially the second) are in some sense closer to horror than pure fantasy. And both write a really gripping page-turner of a story. But it pretty much ends there.
For a lot of people, Donaldson is just repulsive. They can't get past the idea that the hero with whom we are supposed to sympathize (or empathize) rapes a girl before 100 pages have gone by. They hate the idea of all the suffering and anguish heaped on top of one another at every turn, especially in the second Chronicles. They hate that Covenant is just such an ass (once, even the characters in the book chastise Covenant for his pigheaded obtuseness) to everyone around him.
Oh well. Donaldson isn't for everyone. It is a complex story, full of inner struggle, but it is unlike just about anything you've read before. Oh sure, you've got your big battles, your evil bad guys, your final confrontations, etc. There are always going to be elements of any fantasy that have been ripped off from things in the past (whether it is from the Ring Cycle, LOTR, the Odyssey, whatever). But Donaldson throws them at you in a new way with a fresh perspective, and I really appreciate this series.
If you've never read the books or aren't familiar and want a more standard review, follow the link I gave above. If you read much speculative fiction or fantasy, then I would say that lacking this experience, you have a fairly gaping hole in your reading list. It is a significant work and worth the time and energy. Now is a good time to acquiant yourself with it, since Donaldson is just about to start a new series set in the same world (as you can see from his official website).
I'll be there on the first day to follow the story further. I can't wait.Posted by Observer at August 23, 2004 02:26 PM
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