The One Tree by Stephen Donaldson (Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever: Book 5)

As readers put down The Wounded Land they were left with the mental imagery of Thomas Covenant boarding a giant-built dromond (a large castle-like ship built of stone) and sailing off to find the One Tree in order to recreate the Staff of Law and bring order back to the Land.

And so it with a fresh breath of salt air that the fifth instalment in the Stephen Donaldson's fantasy masterpiece begins. And rather than slowing down, or running out of ideas, like so many others do, this series has actually been getting better.

Does The One Tree keep things on track? For me it is both a yes and a no.

To be brutally honest, The One Tree is my least favourite book of the five in the series so far. That is not to say it is not a good book, it is, but it just lacked the immersive quality that I found in the previous four novels.

I found a parallel for The One Tree in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian had been received very well but the author was conscious that he needed to offer something fresh and new, something different from what had gone before. And so Lewis and Donaldson, possibly in an attempt avoid repetition, moved the story away from the places the readers knew and loved so well (Narnia and the Land) and put them to sea.

I did not like Voyage of the Dawn Treader at all, it took me 20 years to finally finish it after half-a-dozen aborted attempts. And while The One Tree is a far superior book I think it didn’t work for me because all I loved about the Land was missing. And I found the void left was unable to be filled successfully by the new characters and locations that are met by the quest on their voyage. I may be alone in my judgement but it just didn’t feel like a real Thomas Covenant book, it felt a little like a bridge between novels, in its way similar to Steven King’s Song of Susannah from the Dark Tower series which, important as it is to the overall story arc, just didn’t have the same immersive qualities as the previous five books.

Here is a little information on events that transpire: Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery flee from the Land, and embark with the Giants on a desperate search for the One Tree, the powerful life-force whose branches alone can re-make the Staff of Law. They leave the Sunbane-ravaged shores they know for a new world where awesome creatures attack them at sea – and strangely powerful new races both welcome and threaten them on Land. Lord Foul sends his Ravers to harry Covenant and all who help him. Before them lies the prize that can vanquish the Sunbane – or wreak the devastation that Lord Foul seeks…

This book is good, just not in my opinion great like the four that preceded it. Although I may sound a little down on it I should make haste to highlight the strengths that still run true.

A Stephen Donaldson Covenant novel is able to provide mental images of the very strongest nature. His characters are full of life: From Vain's dark demeanour, full of impassive strength to the solid and hearty giants, from the gaunt Covenant to the resolute Haruchai. The Land is also full of memorable places too; from Mithil Stonedown to Revelstone. Nothing that is read is forgotten.

I’m glad that I read The One Tree but I am also glad to move onto White Gold Wielder, which I hope will see us to return to the shores of the Land. Maybe I’m just a hobbit at heart, preferring things that I know and feel comfortable with; preferring home and comforts to travel and adventure.

9/10 A fresh breath of salt air in the Stephen Donaldson's fantasy masterpiece.

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