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Against All Things Ending: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson
Cover Artist: John Jude Palencar
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441020812
Date: 06 September 2011 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Linden Avery is once more in the Land, that place of impossible health, magic and life. She is searching for her son Jeremiah, whom she learns is in the thrall of a cruel vampiric thing allied with Thomas Covenant's psychotic son Roger. Desperate for help, she has done the most devastating thing possible: using the Staff of Law and white gold's wild magic, she has ripped Thomas Covenant out of the Arch of Time and restored him to life. And thus begins the end of the world...

In Against All Things Ending, third in the four-part Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen R. Donaldson sustains and builds upon the themes of this multi-book finale.

Linden has followed Jeremiah into the Land to rescue him from the plots of Lord Foul, who has sought escape from the world since its very creation. Although she has recovered the Staff of Law and holds Covenant's ring, she cannot reach Jeremiah without the help of the Harrow--a mystic who covets her talisman. Unfortunately, the Harrow's offer of help may be all that Linden has; Covenant is reborn but he is not whole, nor able to be of much help to Linden. Worse, the power unleashed in bringing him back has awoken the Worm of the Worlds End, which will devour all and break the Arch of Time, thus setting Lord Foul free.

She is compelled to accept the bargain, which means that her circle of friends--Covenant, the rock-wise Anele, Liand (a Stonedownor), Stave (a former Master of Revelstone), a handful of the horse-tending Ramen and even a party of Giants--must go with her to see the adventure through. Even the Haruchai warriors sent to oppose her must go. The Harrow brings them to one of the deep places of the Earth, where Anele learns some horrifying news about the Worm's ultimate goal--and how little time they have.

Sped by the urgency of the world's imminent ending, the small group must brave great dangers in recovering Jeremiah, then making plans to avert catastrophe. Unfortunately, their rescue mission goes horribly awry; they are caught in the hands of a mortal enemy and face more than one insurmountable threat.

It will take everything Linden Avery and Thomas Covenant have to find a way out of this doom, despite having great magic and even greater friends on their side. Escaping a cascade of death-traps will not make their ultimate objective more attainable, either. Bitter truths and hard choices confront them at every turn, but the survival of the Land is at stake more than ever before, and Lord Foul is poised to take the prize at last.

There are extremely few writers I would consider inimitable. Donaldson is definitely one. His stories are thick with meaning that is not obvious, even in reflection, and his characters are at their most opaque when they are searching inside themselves. They do not lack for power--indeed, they are overwhelmed by it--but that is exactly their problem; if they cut loose with the power they hold, Foul wins, because their power can break the Arch of Time and set him free (which is his ultimate goal). At the same time, they face dangers that cannot be overcome by physical might alone. They must be careful in how they exert the force they command.

More than that, however, the use of power is tempered by both responsibility (which is a burden and a duty to the heroes) and fear. Donaldson harnesses the emotional and moral lives of his characters as few others do, exploring contradictions such as having so much power than one is effectively powerless; that freedom to choose one's fate affects the entire world, but that freedom is limited by one's knowledge and the choices that others have already made; and how the impossible is made possible by love and necessity.. And if that sounds confusing--well, the book and series are like that.

As a result, the book (and author) demand much of the reader. It is not sufficient to skim through this book; indeed, it almost requires more than one reading to absorb Donaldson's complex, many-layered prose. But the end result is well worth it, delivering a deep and engaging tale unlike anything on the bookshelves.

Covenant has grown and changed, his character now much like an Old Testament fire-and-brimstone prophet (to which he is compared more than once), while Linden Avery is more of a New Testament figure of healing and redemption. They make for a powerful team, the more because of their devotion to each other, even as their perspectives and needs draw them in different directions.

The treacherous Esmer is perhaps one of Donaldson's most challenging characters, as he swings like a pendulum between betrayal and atonement. He is tormented by his desire to be good, even as his nature conspires against him. Similarly, Roger Covenant has been twisted into a hateful psychopath, who uses Jeremiah to achieve his own selfish ends. Together with Joan, Covenant's mad and vengeful wife, Thomas Covenant's family is inflicting more harm on the Land than even Lord Foul.

The stakes are growing, for the Land and the heroes therein. It is the time when Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery stand on the edge of victory or defeat, with wild magic and the Earthpower maybe able to deflect the end of the world. It may be a challenging read, but it is a deeply rewarding one.

Highly recommended.

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