The Last Dark by Stephen Donaldson

5.0/10
This final series has been an exercise in diminishing returns
The Last Dark book cover

Hellfire! This much used exclamation of Thomas Covenant seems an apt way to open this review. And I warn you, not much here will be positive so if you are enjoying the final chronicles please close this page now and don’t let me spoil things for you.

My journey with the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant began over twenty years ago. A lady I knew was aware of my love for the fantasy genre and very kindly found a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane in a second hand bookshop, bought it, presented it to me and told me I must read it as it is an absolute classic.

And so I began reading, and though I found it wasn’t easy going I did find that it was unlike anything I’d read before. The main character, Thomas Covenant, was not at all a nice man, he was a leper with a degree of angst and self loathing perhaps never seen before in the genre. But the book also presented the Land, a place of incredible beauty and majesty populated but wonderful races. It was in essence traditional epic fantasy but done in a way far from the norm (Glen Cook and Gene Wolf were also part of a movement that provided far darker fantasy novels). I read, I struggled but I ultimately enjoyed the six books that made up the first two trilogies.

But this final series, consisting of four novels, has been an exercise in diminishing returns, each novel becoming more problematic, less enjoyable and at times simply excruciating to read. I honestly believe that the only reason I read all 4 novels was due to a) completism and b) so that I could close the door on the author and series and never feel compelled to return.

Here, for those who may be interested, is the novel’s blurb:

Compelled step by step to actions whose consequences they could neither see nor prevent, Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery have fought for what they love in the magical reality known only as 'the Land'. Now they face their final crisis. Reunited after their separate struggles, they discover in each other their true power - and yet they cannot imagine how to stop the Worm of the World's End from unmaking Time. Nevertheless they must resist the ruin of all things, giving their last strength in the service of the world's continuance.

My major issue with this series has been the lack of narrative progress that I felt continually throughout. A whole book could pass without anything much really happening, just a lot of navel-gazing, angst and despair. It felt like it was going nowhere, and even when a destination became apparent I was way too jaded to care. So, I simply cannot recommend this book, or the three that preceded it. I do however feel that any fantasy fan should give Lord Foul’s Bane a go, it is different, it is special, and it may be something you greatly enjoy. But this book, and the series in general, was hard work. Far too much hard work, reading should be about enjoyment, not perseverance. 

Maybe it’s just me, and I was in the wrong place when I read these books. But a great fantasy book takes you away from your mundane issues and transports you to a new world, where you can be free while reading. This didn’t happen to me in this series though.

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