Daggers and wizards, time travel, leprosy—for fans of fantasy, there’s much to like in Donaldson’s latest installment in the multivolume Thomas Covenant epic series of yore.
When last we saw Thomas, way back in 1983, he was, to put it gently, dead—and not, in the words of the necromancer of The Princess Bride, merely “mostly dead.” The intervening three decades have served him well, for the saintly Thomas—who “had turned his back on scorn and punishment long before Lord Foul had slain him”—is back courtesy of some kindly magic on the part of lissome Linden Avery, in tandem with the white gold ring (in fantasy, it seems, it’s always the ring) he bears and a few other soupçons of sorcery. He has a quest before him, natch, for the bad guys are plotting, yet again, to subjugate the otherwise idyllic realms of humankind and replace them with some grim Ragnarok. Having already toured hither and yon, “toward the Sunbirth Sea” and into the land of the Elohim, "cryptic beings of pure Earthpower who appear to understand and perhaps control the destiny of the Earth,” Thomas is understandably tired, but he knows the call of duty when he sees it. As befits the genre—and this is respectable genre fiction, if likely to appeal largely to those who have already followed the series or embraced fantasy lock, stock and pestle—Donaldson trades capably in ersatz Icelandic saga, with shades of Tolkien throughout. Alas, this is much talkier than Tolkien, though, who favored explication in the doing, not in the describing. No harm there, save that a few hundred pages in, the reader may wish a salutary sip of the waters of Middle Earth as a palate cleanser.
If the likes of Cirrus Kindwind, the Lost Deep and She Who Must Not Be Named, and lines such as “Through the bane’s ferocity, she smelled the acrid pulse of unnatural blood,” are your bag (or Baggins), well, then this is just your book.