My reading in 2013 got off to a somewhat slow start because I was slogging through Neal Stephenson’s brick of a novel, Ananthem. 2014 got got off to a quicker start as I finished my first book by January 5th.
The Illearth War, the second book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s initial Thomas Covenant trilogy, picks up where Lord Foul’s Bane left off, at least in Covenant’s “real” world. He is once again summoned to The Land and although little time has passed for Covenant, forty years has gone by in The Land bringing those characters closer to the doom promised by Lord Foul in the first book.
Once again, Covenant struggles with the reality of this alternate existence, initially not committing himself to help because he is not certain it is real. As with the first book, Covenant is a difficult to like yet intriguing character. In The Illearth War, Donaldson gives us another major character, Hile Troy, who has also been summoned to The Land, albeit accidentally. Because Covenant is difficult to like, having a second character with a more clear-cut sense of purpose is a nice counter to Covenant’s ongoing bitterness.
Part way through the novel, the plot goes off in two directions. Troy leads an undersized army into battle against Lord Foul’s forces. Meanwhile, Covenant goes off with High Lord Elana to discover a secret magic power that they hope to use against Lord Foul. As with The Lord of the Rings, these two stories are not integrated chronologically but told first from one point of view and then the other. One of my criticisms of the first book was its striking similarity to Tolkien’s masterpiece, so this narrative structure felt familiar. However, overall, The Illearth War is much more its own tale with the exception of a major plot point near the end of Troy’s story that will remind any fantasy fan of Tolkien’s Fangorn forest.
In reading other people’s reviews, I got the impression that Lord Foul’s Bane was the weakest book in the series and I have to agree that The Illearth War is a marginally better read. My biggest complaint is that the chapters involving the war itself were overlong and fairly tiresome. However, once Donaldson returns us to Covenant’s quest, the novel picks up again and brings the book to a fascinating conclusion. I do see myself picking up the final book, The Power that Preserves, in the near future.