Review by Leo P. Neufeld
The Last Dark: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Stephen R. Donaldson
G.P. Putnam's Sons
The Last Dark is Stephen R. Donaldson’s final addition to his critically acclaimed fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. In this last novel, Thomas Covenant must traverse a near-apocalyptic world in hopes of defeating the evil entity, Lord Foul, who threatens to destroy the world and who has already caused the deaths of celestial bodies.
With The Last Dark, Donaldson both reestablishes and creates relatable, memorable characters. For instance, there's a child-gone-rotten whose demise is even more frightening than Anakin becoming James Earl Jones, and the protagonist, Covenant, rocks a forehead-scar probably more painful than the one borne by everyone’s favorite child-wizard.
In fantasy, certain elements make us sit up and pay attention—motifs like bad childhood environments, for example, or scars real and imagined. Once Donaldson has hooked us, his characters convince us they understand suffering, and our suffering in particular. Thomas Covenant, his lover Linden Avery and their son Jeremiah gain our trust because they act how we imagine we might act in their place.
Besides melding the relatable and the magical, The Last Dark is big on all things gradual and methodical. Its characters’ struggles never seem to amount to anything until they have tried it—whatever it is—one, two, three times or more. Whether building a mythical safe-house in a treacherous mountain range, learning to wield a magic staff or the entirety of the Chronicles themselves, everything in Donaldson’s literary universe goes through stages before it ultimately finds its fate. Donaldson’s disinterest—no, disdain—for anything other than hard-won, measured achievements is stamped on the story in his choices of terminology: One of Lord Foul’s evil forces is, controversially, called a Samadhi, which in Hindu scriptures is actually a holy term that means “sudden enlightenment.”
The novel's inner and outer landscapes are defined by a beautifully gradual depth. These progressions will keep you reading and enjoying until The Last Dark’s last page.
Stephen R. Donaldson will be appearing this Saturday, Nov. 23, at Page One Bookstore, still located at the corner of Montgomery and Juan Tabo (until after the holidays). The event will begin at 2:30pm and will include a talk, reading, Q&A and book signing.
Leo P. Neufeld is a chicken wing enthusiast who currently “lives” in Albuquerque, NM. He is of no relation to the painter who is apparently famous here in Albuquerque; he is very good at drawing stick figures.
Stephen R. Donaldson Reads and Signs The Last Dark
Saturday, Nov. 23, 2:30pm
Page One Bookstore
11018 Montgomery NE