The Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson

Having read (recently) the Gap Series (back-to-back) and the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (in school, about 100 years ago), I was looking forward to diving into this series, “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”. Mr. Donaldson’s world building is complex. And though he includes what I wish every author would include (a “What Has Come Before” section before each of his books) it was difficult to pick up the story, even though this is the first book in a new series. Thus, this post will be longer than usual, notes for when I read the next three books in this (planned) four book series.

In this book, Dr. Linden Avery is the main character. She is running a mental institute which was started via funding from locals who recognized the tragedy from the earlier books (people sticking their hands into fire to summon Lord Foul the Despiser) and the lack of a facility in the area to treat such folks. Joan, Thomas Covenantís estranged wife, is a patient in the facility. Linden has also adopted Jeremiah, one of the children from the tragedy who cannot communicate, and has one hand maimed from the fire similar to Covenantís Ďhalf-handí.

Joan and Covenantís son, Roger, comes to retrieve his mother from Lindenís care. Joan has been beating herself in the head with the hand the wears her white gold wedding band (itís match is worn on a necklace around Lindenís neck) and has been unresponsive, but comes out of it when Roger. Roger wants her released into his care and wants his fatherís white gold ring. Linden with give up neither. Roger breaks into the facility that evening, killing guards, taking Joan and a hostage. As Linden races back to the facility, Roger kidnaps Jeremiah and his nanny. Linden realizes the Despiser is behind it, and follows the trail of bodies to the same place where she and Covenant were transported before. Law enforcement surrounds them and begins shooting, hitting Linden and Roger as they are once more transported to The Land.

Linden finds many changes in the years since she has been to the Land. The Land is covered in a haze called ĎKevinís Dirtí which shields the people (including Linden) from Earthpower. The Haruchai, staunch allies of Covenantís, are now called the Masters, and prevent the use of Earthpower to Ďprotect the Landí. The Land is also affected by ĎFallsí, which are waves of chaos like thunderstorms that harm everything in their path. Linden meets Anele, who appears crazy but turns out to be the son of Sunder and HollianÖhe had the Staff of Law but has lost it and is now mad, alternately possessed by the Despiser and a voice which seems to be the dead Thomas Covenant. The Masters hold Anele captive at Mithil Stonedown, has his Earthpower works even under the haze of Kevinís Dirt.

Linden, Anele and a Stonedowner named Liand escape, and are saved in a fight with some beastscalled kresh by the Ramen, some ur-viles and Stave, the Haruchai sent to bring them back. The Ramen take care of magical horses called the Ranyhyn. They take the group to their place of Gathering (called the Verge of Wandering?) where they meet Esmer, a powerful immortal, part Haruchai, part seawife, who promptly kicks Staveís butt; and they meet the Ranyhyn, who surprise everyone by bowing before Linden and Stave (prompting Esmer not to kill Stave).

Linden learns a bit of lore and history from Stave, the Ramen and Esmer, and decides that she will take a party into one of the Falls, and try to travel backwards in time to retrieve the staff of Law which Anele lost. After a horserite (more magic, more lore imparted), they do so, find the staff of Law, protected by Waynhim (more Demondim), retrieve it and are then set upon by real Demondim powered somehow by the Illearth Stone Linden thought destroyed several books ago. With the Staff and Covenants ring, she is able to transport the entire battle back to the time they came from, and they race to Revelstone, where they are besieged.

There are some surprises at the end which I will not reveal.

This novel is quite long, with lots of descriptive language and background that made it slow going. I enjoyed reading the Gap Series because of the pacing; this novel I enjoyed less so for the same reason. I will continue the series mainly because I enjoy the world building, and the theme of the Covenant series, which seems to be that to despair is to lose all, but to truly know yourself will empower you to fight despair.

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