Jan 03 2009

Review: The Wounded Land

Covenant snatched at her wrist. “Listen.” His voice must have held emotion—urgency, anguish, something—but she did not hear it. “This you have to understand. There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.”

Rating: ★★★★★

In this first book of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson, it has been ten years since Covenant’s last trip to the Land.  During that time, he gets control of his leprosy and begins writing again.  His life reaches a certain level of peace until Lord Foul is able to use someone close to him to pull him to the Land again, to give Foul another shot at using Covenant’s ring to escape the world which is his prison.

Everything is different this time, though, because Linden Avery, a doctor who just moved into town and met Covenant, is pulled into the Land with him.  Where Covenant’s leprosy makes him fear power, Linden’s childhood upbringing and vocation make her crave power—power to heal and make things right, whatever the cost.  Last time, Covenant had the power of the wild magic but didn’t know how to use it; this time Foul makes his power come too easily, so every time he uses it he risks destroying the world.

Ten years in Covenant’s world translates to four thousand years in the Land, and Lord Foul hasn’t been idle.  He has corrupted the Earthpower that was the essence of the Land’s beauty and life, changing it over the centuries into the Sunbane, an extreme distortion of nature and weather that makes bare existence difficult.  The people of the Land have lost their wood and stone lore, and the Lords have been replaced by the Clave, who claim to be fighting the Sunbane with the blood of people they take.

Linden can sense the pain of the Land the way Covenant could on his first visit, and the fact that she can’t escape it or fight it tears at her soul.  She yearns for power like Covenant’s so she can rip the Sunbane out of the earth, though she knows that could destroy the Land entirely.

I’d have to say I like this series better than the first three books, although you shouldn’t read these without reading the others first.  It’s a completely fresh look at the Land, and Covenant is a different person after ten years and what he went through last time.  Having Linden as the co-protagonist makes a big difference too, as her aggression about power and fighting evil counters his hesitancy.  For people who found Covenant unlikeable, especially in the first book, she’s a much more sympathetic character.  Seeing them alternately through each other’s eyes offers insights into both of them.

The stakes are higher here, in a way, and yet more subtle.  In the first series, Foul came with armies to defeat the Lords, intending to defeat Covenant in the end and take his ring.  Here, he tries to box Covenant and Linden into a position where they’ll destroy the world for him.  He’s spent four thousand years setting up this scenario, and it’s a doozy.

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