It was both with a sense of excitement and trepidation that I elected to read Stephen R. Donaldson's The Runes of the Earth next. This current series is The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. And it's been more than 2 decades since the last one. In the intervening years, both Covenant series have attained "classic" status. A rare feat in the fantasy genre. . .
Could it possibly live up to expectations? I have to admit that Donaldson set the bar rather high with the previous Covenant Chronicles. Truth be told, the bar could not have been set higher. Which is why I was apprehensive. Both Chronicles of Thomas Covenant figure among my all-time favourites. Shades of Star Wars Episode 1 drifted inside my mind, making me wonder if this new book would fall short. Because anything that did not live up to the high standards set by its predecessors would be considered a letdown.
Could Donaldson conjure up the magic that captivated millions of readers worldwide? Could he write yet another tale that would capture the imagination life few fantasy series ever could? Could he, twenty years later, return to the Land and cap off what has become one of the best high fantasy sagas ever written?
The answer, quite simply, is a resounding yes! Don't get me wrong. If you have not enjoyed Donaldson's Covenant books, this novel will not change your mind. I'm afraid that one either loves or hates Donaldson and his novels. There appears to be no middle ground when it comes to his work. I've always made that claim, and I'm not about to change my position. But for those who have enjoyed past Covenant books, then by all means jump on this opportunity to return to the Land!:-)
What makes this one so special, you ask? Well, everything! To begin with, Donaldson doesn't miss a beat. It's as if he never left the Land at all. Honestly, the author has such mastery over his creation that it's as if White Gold Wielder was published last year instead of 1983.
Just a chance to voyage through the Land once again is an exceptional treat. The landscape is as vivid as it ever was, the images it conjures up as magical. More than 3 millennia have passed since the Sunbane was neutralized. This book gives us the opportunity to rediscover the wonders of the Land, even if things have changed, sometimes dramatically.
Once more, this is a highly imaginative saga. This novel is in itself a somewhat vast introduction with a satisfying ending. But we catch more than a few glimpses of things to come, promising to make this series as interesting and captivating as its predecessors.
Vast in scope and vision, once again with a cast of three-dimensional characters, this book is unquestionably the work of a master. It's a feast for readers who crave high fantasy tales with depth and substance. As you read along, you get the feeling that this is truly something special, something that comes along only rarely.
My only complaint (which is always the same with a Donaldson novel) is that some of the dialogues don't ring true. Stephen R. Donaldson is probably one of the very best fantasy writers ever. His prose is superior to all but a few authors in the field. But when a simple villager possesses a vocabulary that would put an English major or a Ph. D. holder to shame, there's something wrong!
For all you fans out there, rejoice at the opportunity to return to the Land. The Despiser threatens the Arch of Time once more, and it's up to Linden Avery to find a way to stop him. But this time, Lord Foul has access to white gold, and Linden will have to face several challenges before she can even hope to succeed. The Land is not as she remembers it. There will be new allies, ancient foes and new enemies.
So return to the land of the Elohim, the Haruchai, the Ranyhyn, the ur-viles, the Staff of Law, the Ravers, and so much more!:-)
One word of warning, however. There is absolutely no point in beginning this series if you haven't read the previous two. If you have time to spare, reread the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I wish my schedule would have permitted me to do so. I'm persuaded that it would have made my reading this novel an even more wonderful experience.
The Runes of the Earth is the work of an unequivocal master of high fantasy, writing at the top of his form. This one has "CLASSIC" written all over it.
If you are a fan, this a book to own in hardcover. I cannot wait for the next installment!
Final verdict: 9/10