Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson

January 9, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

Given that I wasn’t hugely impressed with the first Thomas Covenant trilogy you might be wondering why I read the sequel trilogy. Well, because I was on a trip and that’s what I had brought, that’s why. So much for that.

In any case, this is more of the same. In fact, it is too much more of the same. The fatal flaws from the first trilogy are back in force: perfunctory quest plot, flimsy world-building, and worst of all, a massive emphasis on the exploration of the psyches of people who are far too traumatized for me to relate to them. Yes, people, since in this trilogy Thomas Covenant has a female partner who has also undergone a series of soap operaish melodramatic tragedies and been terribly scarred.

This time, though, the books suffer in a big way from fantasy inflation. I think when they were published the big honking door stop as fantasy masterwork must have been taking hold. There’s one book…maybe one and a half books…worth of story here, but it is brutally overwritten. Meanwhile, the plot coupon quest has some arbitrary events happen to stretch it out. I’m sure that Donaldson and perhaps his fans could enumerate Important Changes that occurred in the main characters as a result of these events that were crucial for the ending to take place, but I cared so little about those characters I didn’t follow closely enough. It’s not just that they are having boring angst, but so many pages and pages of boring angst! I had to skim. Sue me.

The books salvage, just barely, a three star rating because I found the concept of the Sunbane (introduced in the first book to great effect and then ignored thereafter in favor of standard fantasy locales) to be remarkable. Because of that I thought the first book threatened to be the best of any of the six Covenant books, but what follows was so dull it didn’t amount to anything.

If you liked the original Thomas Covenant series then by all means read this one. If you didn’t like the original Covenant books, avoid. If you haven’t read the books at all, I’d advise against it. There’s too much mediocre series fantasy out there to settle for something this arduous to read.

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