The One Tree

“All power is an articulation of its wielder.”

Stephen Donaldson

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE WOUNDED LAND.

Continuing The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant on from The Wounded Land (I would link to my earlier review, but it is GONE and I know not why) is The One Tree, a tale of sorcerers and giants and ships and…a random tree.

Covenant and the gang managed at the end of The Wounded Land to convince the Giants they met in Sarangrave Flat to take them sailing, sailing, sailing in search of the One Tree, for reasons that are fairly unclear but may have something to do with making a new Staff of Law to bolster the failing Earthpower.

Let’s start with things that I loved about The One Tree. I loved that we got to see different parts of Donaldson’s alternative world, countries like Bhraithairealm and Elemesnedene (really hope I spelt those right) to whom the Land’s struggles are small and far-off and where people are genuinely different – different ways of life, different patterns of thought.

Which leads me on to my other favourite thing about The One Tree: the Giants.

Oh, the Giants. They are easily the best thing about this book.

Their capacity for laughter, their love for stories, their implicit empathy, and this:

The First sounded like a woman who could stand upright under any doom.

The Giants are a race of people who you’d actually want to meet, and who you could quite easily talk to; they’re both genuinely alien and yet completely relatable. They are my answer to the question “If you could be any mythological being…?”

Plus, they’re really good at sailing.

However.

There were…problems. One of the things that annoyed me was the presence of certain bits of plot that were just ridiculously obvious and hackneyed. Like the villain Kemper conveniently relating his Evil Plan, entirely for the reader’s benefit, to an unconscious Covenant. Or the Treacherous Servant Lady Alif explaining her entire, and sadly predictable, motivation in the midst of a pitched battle. This was more or less OK in the first Chronicles, when the whole malarkey might have been just a dream and therefore such plot points were explicable as Such Stuff Dreams Are Made On, but Donaldson has decided that it’s basically real now, and I feel this should require slightly more inventive plotting. I’m not here just so that the characters can agonise at me, you know. I would like to see something dramatic and believable happen.

There’s still that problem of scattergun over-thesaurising that we saw in The Wounded Land (“disinterested” is not the same as “uninterested”, as any Jane Austen reader will tell you), and insisting on italicising names like Elohim is just pretentious, especially when a part of that name is recognisably English (Bhraithairealm, I’m looking at you).

The One Tree is another long read, but it’s also one of those books that sneaks up on you: you suspect there’s something important and weighty going on behind the fantasy, but you can’t quite work out what it is…it would be an excellent reading-club book for a group of people with a lot of time on their hands.

PS In L-space news, there’s a Historical Fiction Survey floating around that people might be interested in (you get a free ebook).

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