“While one valiant heart yet defends the Earth, evil can never triumph utterly.”
It’s the first of December! And so begins the time of the year when I play “Fairytale of New York” at least ten times a day, start feeling ridiculously cheerful for no reason at all, and tell people off for not having enough Christmas spirit.
So here’s an early Christmas present for you, Constant Reader.
And a Book Review! Could this day get any better?
I actually finished this ages ago, while I was deep in the throes of the Thirty Day Book Challenge, and I’m rather glad I’ve had that time to think about it before reviewing it.
White Gold Wielder is the third and final book in Stephen Donaldson’s Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, or the sixth book in the Thomas Covenant cycle (I will admit, my heart sank just a little when I realised THERE’S A WHOLE OTHER TRILOGY. Do you know how long the present trilogy is? 1234 PAGES, that’s how long), in which Covenant and the gang attempt to return to the Land in order to confront the Clave and end Lord Foul’s evil.
White Gold Wielder, unfortunately, suffers from the same pretensions of style as The One Tree and The Wounded Land: it’s quite clear that Donaldson doesn’t actually know what some of his favourite and most flowery words mean. (“Sojourn” is one that really annoys me. He always gets it wrong.) As a rule of life: if you’re not sure what a word means, don’t use it. Alternatively, you’re welcome to look stupid. The prose is dense and old-fashioned and, as I’ve pointed out in my other reviews of this trilogy, often just plain wrong.
And Covenant himself, as a character, becomes insufferable at several points in his journey. For instance, at one stage he uses the rest of the ka-tet‘s water TO SHAVE. I realise this is meant to be symbolic, but symbolism is not an excuse for selfishness.
Not even when you’re a ring-
But – and this is a big but – White Gold Wielder, and to an extent the other books in the trilogy, has stayed in my thoughts a lot since I read it. As I’ve said before, Thomas Covenant is a wonderfully relatable character, because he feels real, and the same thing is true of Linden. Their struggle, their story, seems true in a way that, sometimes, only fantasy can be. There are questions of identity, of how much you ought to sacrifice to hold on to who you are, of the power of self-despite and the nature of hope. For all of their flaws, their length, their density, their mistakes, White Gold Wielder and its predecessors represent some of the best and most thoughtful fantasy I’ve read.
Laurence Cosse writes in A Novel Bookstore (review to come) that
We want splendid books … books that prove to us that love is at work in the world next to evil, right up against it, at times indistinctly, and that it always will be.
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is one of those books.
(Thank you to the Resident Grammarian for my omnibus copy of The Second Chronicles.)