Let's quickly recap the setup done in the first book: The kingdom of Mordant on the verge of crumbling and Castle Orison is surrounded by the Alend army. Of course the massive hole in the wall doesn't really help matters much, especially since it is a self inflicted wound created after the Congery's ill advised attempt to summon a champion to help them defend Mordant. Said champion was translated from a futuristic world and upon arrival he promptly used his laser rifle to blast his way out through the castle wall and take off leaving behind a gap that can't be quickly repaired. At that point Mordant's King found that he was left with few supporters as almost everyone has chosen to ally themselves elsewhere, even his own daughters. That's no surprise as the Cadwal army is also marching towards Orison and it will likely arrive while the existing siege is going on so there is no reason to hope for a good outcome. Yet despite all of that setup from the first book this one still manages to get off to a slow start by finding a way to do even more. Sigh.
Stephen R. Donaldson
Mordant is a kingdom where mirrors function as magical devices capable of viewing other worlds and the Imagers that craft them have the power to translate both the objects and people they see in those mirrors into their own world. Imagers spend years expertly crafting their mirrors to achieve many powerful abilities, both good and evil, but one thing they always avoid making is a flat mirror. That is because anyone who sees their own reflection in a flat mirror, or attempts a translation in one, loses their mind. Imagers are also capable of performing auguries by shattering a mirror into pieces. The resulting shards of the mirror reveal glimpses of the future, although the resulting images are often subject to multiple interpretations. The Congery of Mordant has performed just such an augury and from the resulting images the Masters have concluded that a champion must be translated to save their kingdom from destruction. They have also seen that Apt Geraden, an expendable apprentice of little promise, should be the one to perform that translation. When Geraden enters the mirror to perform the translation he returns not with the expected champion but rather with Terisa Morgan, who he plucked right out of her Manhattan apartment building.
Exigencies and despair are two of Stephen R. Donaldson's favorite words and there is no shortage of either in this final entry of the Gap Cycle. The fifth book of the series is the largest of the bunch, and despite some of the typical un-needed bloat found in any Donaldson book, it builds up to a worthy conclusion. Holt Fasner has put the Earth itself in jeopardy with his attempt to unlock Amnion secrets that will allow him to live forever and Warden Dios turns out to be just as culpable for the extreme actions he takes in an attempt to stop him. Both have abused their power in unforgivable ways and those who have been the recipients of that abuse, mainly Angus and Morn, finally arrive back at Earth just in time for a public reckoning.
This one starts slowly as the Machiavellian schemes of Holt Fasner and Warden Dios are flushed out in great detail. However, when the story finally transitions back to the main characters aboard the ship Trumpet things really pick up speed. Fasner and Dios are locked in a battle of plots and schemes that puts the very government of Earth, and their own lives, in great peril. With a new bill being proposed that would move the UMCP (the human police) out from under Holt Fasner and over to the government itself, Fasner is willing to go to any length to stop such an action, including terrorist actions against the government. At the same time, the two of them are also manipulating events as they relate to Trumpet who is on the run from the Amnioni with multiple other ships in pursuit.
Never forget that when Stephen R. Donaldson is the man doing the writing that there is no end to the misery that the universe will dump onto the main characters. It is no surprise when fate (aka Donaldson) conspires to back all three of his main protagonists into a corner at the same location in Forbidden Space, a little outpost known as Billingate. This illegal outpost, where human pirates and Amnion conduct dark dealings, becomes the backdrop for the convergence of Angus, Nick, and Morn and all the vitriol they carry for each other. It is not mere coincidence that this happens because two of the most powerful men in existence, Holt Fasner, head of the United Mining Company, and Warden Dios, head of the UMCP, are plotting against each other and using Morn, Angus, and Nick as unwilling pawns in their struggle.
In the afterword of book 1, author Stephen R. Donaldson commented that he wrote the novella because he wanted to take the classic character triangle of hero, victim, and villain and have his characters switch roles as the story progressed. For book 2, apparently he decided that everyone should be both a victim and a villain and to hell with anyone being a hero. This book picks up right after the events of The Real Story and continues to follow all three lead characters: Morn Hyland, Nick Succorso, and Angus Thermopylae. Angus is in custody for a crime he didn't commit and undergoing torture at the hands of the UMCP. Morn has essentially gone from being a captive on Angus' ship to being a captive on Nick's ship but this time she possesses the control for her zone implant, which she must keep secret at all costs. And finally, Nick Succorso shows his true colors and begins to unveil his evil plans for profiting from Morn's situation.
The Real Story starts with the patrons of Mallory's Bar & Sleep experiencing something that doesn't make sense. Angus Thermopylae walks into the bar with a beautiful woman at his side. Angus is an evil man and a suspected pirate/smuggler with a reputation for being a loner. The young attractive woman at his side is Morn Hyland, a law enforcement officer who should want nothing to do with someone like Angus. It is obvious to many of the patrons that she is a captive of some sort but she doesn't seem to be acting like one. Enter the dashing Nick Succorso, who confronts Angus and appears to rescue Morn away from him. The patrons of Mallory's then speculate on what they just witnessed and it is clear to many that this is a classic case of a hero (Nick) rescuing a victim (Morn) from an evil villain (Angus.) While that is indeed true, it is also not "The Real Story."
When the 3rd Thomas Covenant series started I was ecstatic. I pre-ordered the hard cover version of the first book, The Runes of the Earth, and upon its arrival I instantly dove right in. Unfortunately, I quickly began to feel like this book was written to take financial advantage of my love for the Land rather than to tell me a good story. The book was full of uber-beings that supposedly always existed in the Land but had never revealed themselves before. These powerful beings had always been there but never surfaced even when the Land was on the brink of annihilation. WTF? My beloved Giants, which were so memorable in the first two series, had now become bland, expendable and boring. The same could be said for the stalwart Haruchai who were now corrupted and uninteresting shadows of themselves. It appeared that Donaldson had done what Lord Foul never could and desecrated the Land. Now I had become the Unbeliever.
At the start of The Wounded Land over 4,000 years have passed since the end of the first trilogy (time moves at a different rate in the Land) and Thomas Covenant is once again summoned back to the Land. This time, however, he is not alone when he arrives as Dr. Linden Avery is summoned along with him. They arrive to find that the Land has been completely corrupted and a malicous force known as the Sunbane has made the Land almost uninhabitable. When the sun rises in the morning it does so with a colored aura every day. That aura dictates what happens to the Land throughout the day cycling at random times between rain, desert, pestilence and unnatural fertility. So day by day the Land either floods, has all plant life die away under oppressive heat, gets overrun by bugs, or has plant life grow at an alarming rate creating a jungle. Revelstone is now inhabited by the Clave who fuel the Sunbane through blood sacrifice and the few remaining inhabitants of the Land have adapted to use blood magic of their own. Covenant's heart is broken when he sees how the beauty of the Land has been corrupted and he vows to set things right and abolish the Sunbane. This is exactly what Lord Foul wants and he takes active steps to increase Covenant's ability to use the power of his white gold ring. Foul hopes to provoke Covenant to recklessly use his wild magic in anger and shatter the Arch of Time on his behalf. The state of the Land in this book broke my heart and I found that Donaldson had manipulated my feelings once again as I was now a staunch supporter of Thomas Covenant.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is a classic fantasy series published in 1977-1979. This is a very polarizing series for readers because the lead character, Thomas Covenant, is an anti-hero fraught with paradox. He is a young, best selling author living an idyllic life when his world is devastated by a diagnosis of leprosy. The disease not only costs him two fingers on his right hand but it also costs him his family, as his wife takes his son and leaves for fear of the disease. To make matters worse he is also shunned by the rest of the community in his small town and he quickly finds himself living a solitary life of despair. He is taught not to hope as there is no cure for his disease and hoping for one only leads to madness. Thomas Covenant is truely a man worthy of your pity. Then he is abruptly summoned to a beautiful and vibrant world known simply as "the Land" where magic is a reality and a cure for his disease is indeed possible. So what does he do? He commits an act of violence so heinous that he instantly transforms himself into a man now worthy of your hatred. Because Covenant is the only person capable of saving the Land from desecration author Stephen R. Donaldson now has you trapped in the paradox of hating Thomas Covenant and rooting for him at the same time. What a bastard.