Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Fatal Revenant by Stephen Donaldson

Review of Fatal Revenant by Stephen Donaldson

To put my review into context I should say that Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books have never been my favourites among his work. The Gap series was fantastic, Mordant’s Need – although it’s a long time since I read it – was very good, and his first three detective novels were highly readable. After finishing the Gap books, Donaldson wrote another detective novel, which wasn’t as good as the others, and eventually turned his mind to The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

When I first read it, I also wasn’t too impressed with The Runes of the Earth. There was too much sitting around talking and too much travelling. Stylistically, it bears, perhaps, more resemblance to the Gap series than the earlier Thomas Covenant books – but it retains some of the verbosity and has only one viewpoint character, as opposed to the range of protagonists in the Gap series. However, I read Runes again just before I started on the new book, and found a lot more enjoyment in it.

With this preparation under my belt I started immediately on Fatal Revenant, and found it even more entertaining.

As with the previous book, there’s still a lot of travel and talk, but here everything moves along with more purpose. Linden sets out with Covenent and her son, Jeremiah on a quest, apparently, to save the world – but something is manifestly wrong. Linden’s journey once again takes her into the past and she learns more about the world’s history. The first part of the book consists of Linden tagging along with others, and then climaxes with a violent encounter between her and some of her many enemies – and this scene is probably the highlight of the series so far.

In the second part of the book, Linden engages in more travel, as she has resolved upon a course of action and this section ends with a cliffhanger reminiscent of the first book – and which left me wanting to read on – although I’m going to have to wait another three years for book three. In some sense, book one was a prologue to the rest of the series, and book two has a similar feel to it – although more happens and more is explained, more threads are also added to the story’s tapestry.

As I said, the narrative has a lot more force than its predecessor, but it’s not without flaws. Linden is as angsty as ever, which can grate, but it’s par for the course for any Donaldson character. There’s also the issue of all the seemingly all-powerful, all-knowing characters who continually tell Linden what to do, but don’t explain why or answer her questions. For instance, if any of them had been less cryptic with her, her encounter with her opponents at the end of part one would have been averted. The logic behind this seems to be that she needed this showdown and the events around it to make her strong enough to eventually save the world.

Some of these all-powerful, all-knowing characters, the Insequent, are a new addition to the world of the Land, and given that the stories of the Second and Last Chronicles were created at the same time it doesn’t quite feel right that we’re only learning about them now. Donaldson’s trademark vocabulary is also very much in evidence and any mere mortal who attempts to read this book should keep a large dictionary to hand.

The verbosity and the angst-ridden protagonists keep me from recommending the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant unreservedly, but I thought Fatal Revenant was excellent.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
  1. DG
    1 December 2007 at 5:21 am

    Just finished “Fatal Revenant,” and I found Donaldson’s latest “Thomas Covenant” offering far more appealing than “Runes.” The latter was a major slog…hundreds of pages in the middle of the book where damn near nothing happens. Nor could I get into all the esoteric “horserite” stuff…and I think the book suffered from the absense of Covenant, angst-ridden as he is. He’s a far more interesting character than Linden.

    Fatal Revenant is more focused plotwise…and more suspenseful…Donaldson seems more cogent about character growth here than in his previous “Last Chroicles” effort. Fatal Revenant is quite good, and I’m a big fan of the series…Donaldson’s purple prose and penchant for spelling-bee words (how many times does he use the word “puissance” or some derivation thereof in FR?.I’d put the over-under at 75.) can be annoying, but the man knows how to tell a dense, complex, compelling tale.

  2. 12 August 2008 at 8:24 am

    I’ve just finished “Revenant” now and I feel that it’s pretty good, but not as engrossing or as fluid as “Runes of the Earth,” and that Donaldson has fallen back on some excruciating habits as a writer that I was really pleased he seemed to have lost in “Runes of the Earth.” Alas, I celebrated too soon. If I never hear the word “puissant” again it will be too soon. It appears on almost every page of this book. I’m not exaggerating.

    I also agree with the review here that the high point of “Revenant” occurs about halfway through — it is a truly electric and interesting scene, not least because Linden has been rather pallid and gullible up til then and finally at least takes a stand and does something unexpected. There is an unexpected and very interesting clash here between three characters, and the rest of the book to me never quite measured up to that moment.

    It’s solid though, and I do want to keep reading. I always loved the first two trilogies, writing flaws and all, and am enjoying this one. I’ll reserve judgment on Linden as a heroine until the end, but thus far she is not quite as interesting or understandable either as Covenant, or as she was herself in the second trilogy.

    I also agree with the review here that the new trilogy shows an overreliance on scenes that repeat themselves a bit too frequently, in which Linden asks questions of some maddening and mysteriously all-knowing character(s), but despite long long conversations no real information is divulged. Then when Linden almost invariably makes a mistake or takes action, that same all-powerful character (or variation thereof) is on the sidelines yelling at her, “Why did you DO that?!” It does get a little frustrating.

    I don’t mean to bash the book. I really enjoyed it. I just found it unbelievably frustrating as well.

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