Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review - The Illearth War

Title: The Illearth War 
Author: Stephen R. Donaldson

A while back, I re-read  Lord Foul's Bane and so it was time to read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Book Two, The Illearth War.We follow Thomas Convenant, who was once a writer, but is now a leper, from the "real" world of 20th century America into The Land, a fantasy world with magic and honor and a terrible danger.

In book one, Covenant was constantly clinging to a disbelief of The Land, thinking that accepting it would mean madness, and that would be deadly to him in life.  He uses this same tactic again, but has an extra difficulty doing so when he meets Hile Troy, a man who, like Covenant, has been brought from the real world into The Land.

Covenant has reappeared a generation later than he left The Land, summoned this time by the Lords of Revelstone to help defend The Land from an all-out onslaught from Lord Foul's army.  And while his initial reaction to Hile Troy shakes his Unbelief, he soon decides he can chalk Troy's existence up to the same subconscious machinations his mind has always been playing on him when in The Land.

We, the readers, cannot do this, however, because a large portion of the book centers on Hile Troy, who is the leader of the Lord's armies.  This first-person narrative makes it clear that while the author, Stephen Donaldson, wanted readers wondering about the reality of Covenant's experience in Book One, he intends for us to understand The Land as a place into which very damaged people can be summoned.

In many ways, this book is easier to read than the first.  Covenant's constant self-pity, and his anti-heroic behavior in Book One were joined by an abundance of simile (see the review of Book One for a short discussion on this) to make some parts of the book hard for a typical fantasy reader to enjoy on first reading.  It was still well worth the read, but Book Two spends time on Hile Troy, who wants to be heroic, who appreciates and accepts his existence in The Land.  This helps the reader get a more typical fantasy experience for part of the story -- as frustrating as the setbacks are, at least the "hero" is not always avoiding participation in the action.  And, it becomes clear, the simile-laden prose is a Covenant-centric technique.  Troy is not a writer, he is a man of action.  Donaldson's descriptions from Troy's point of view contain some similes, but they are clearer and more typical.

And yet, of course, this is a Thomas Covenant story.  And this time, Covenant has reason to participate a little more in the story.  I will not talk about why, for fear of spoiling the story, but while we still get some of the Unbelief, we also get a hero who is at least not as active in damaging The Land into which he has been called.

At some point, probably soon, I will definitely move to Book Three.  The Illearth War ends satisfactorily, but the battle for The Land is clearly not complete.  We know Covenant needs to return, and we want to go with him when he does.


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