So, my yearly binge of “Zero-G chair-sloth” & reading fiction has come to an end. I managed 2.5 books – and one of those books was pretty massive. I DO have minor spoilers in my reviews, so stop reading now if you don’t like to be spoiled. Anyway:
Lord Foul’s Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson
This was recommended by a friend & colleague a few years back. Seeing as how I finished it, I can say I’m grateful for the recommendation.
We start the story with a leper living in what I can only assume to be America in post Depression, maybe pre-WWII era. He’s on his way to the Bell Telephone company to pay his phone bill. While that may not seem noteworthy, it actually *is* noteworthy for our “hero”: Thomas Covenant. As a leper, his community has tried to ostracize him – going as far as paying all his bills and arranging his groceries to arrive at his house – all in an effort to keep him out of town and out of mind for his fellow citizens. He finds out that he cannot pay his bill because it is already paid through the year. Defeated, he crosses the street and gets hit by a police car.
And awakens in a magical realm. He finds his leprosy waning and he knows it’s just a dream. So much time is spent by the author on the topic of leprosy, and how Thomas takes extreme measures to cope with his disease. Thomas believes his mind is assaulting him, trying to give him false hope. His defense mechanisms have kept him alive for many years – so he cannot afford to “believe” his dream. He knows he’s in a hospital somewhere and he also knows he only has 1 chance to awaken with his mind intact: he cannot believe the very believable dream.
So, he names himself “The Unbeliever” to the people in his dreamland. They expect him to save them from the great evil – Lord Foul. But Thomas only goes along with everything because he feels he must “go through the motions” of the dream in order to reawaken on the other side. So embarks a fantasy journey to defeat a great evil and recover an item of power — pretty standard fare. With the twist of Mr. Covenant, of course.
I liked this story, mostly because Thomas was an interesting & believable character. I liked the play between the seeming “reality” of Thomas’s new world and his resistance to the people and events around him. I found the whole experience personally touching, because I did the same thing when I was in a coma after my cancer surgery. Unfortunately, I hadn’t the time to build the defense mechanisms Thomas had from his years of leprosy. But I certainly slipped into some very believable “worlds” during my coma and subsequent morphine haze which lasted almost a month. I found the lines between what we call “reality” and my own dream worlds to be quite blurry. And at the end of it all, I actually forgot who I was for at least a few hours (maybe a few days). I was aware of my own body, but all sense of “self” was completely erased until I slowly recovered my sense of self-awareness. Until that moment, I was simple existing in my skin, a personless bag of skin & bones.
And the author captured that struggle perfectly. The main character knew his fate would have been like mine, and that in his weakened leprosy state – it would kill him or send him over the edge of insanity. Brilliant work, really.
One more note: This author is a freakin’ master at metaphors & personification. I wish I had written them down as they dazzled me – but alas, I had only thought of that after I had finished.
The Illearth War, by Stephen R. Donaldson
After Lord Foul’s Bane, I proceeded to The Book Barn in Niantic CT to pick-up the next book in the series. $1 paperbacks, baby!
Unfortunately, I only made it about halfway through this book. Though we delved into other points of view in Lord Foul’s Bane only a few quick times – I wrote it off as nothing to worry about. However, in this book we spend long stretches with other characters… and that bothered me. I was having fun along with Thomas and his unbelieving – and I personally identified with that story element. And it got taken away from me.
So, I put the book down and frowned – all my enjoyment went down the drain. It was a personal decision and doesn’t reflect the quality of the work at all. Great book – it just took a turn I personally couldn’t follow.
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
It’s kinda funny that my summer was full of Fantasy books… and I rarely read fantasy these days. Anyway, this one also came under a friend’s recommendation.
At first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it. A vast majority of the book is character back story – the main character is telling a historian about his roots.
… But it WASN’T. Quite the opposite. I was engrossed once I gave it a chance. Mr. Rothfuss is a talented storyteller. Kvothe is an amazing character. Kvothe’s world is masterfully built, follows its own rules and enthralled me.
What’s extra-cool about this book is: it flies in the face of all the “conventional” fiction writing wisdom. Blowhards (me included) who try to dole out advice will tell you that a “back story” book would never work.
Anyway, I’m glad to see it succeed so brilliantly. If you thought you “might have liked” Harry Potter, but didn’t like it – go read this. If you like character-driven fantasy – go read this. If you like well-written, clever fiction – go read this.
So that rounds it out! As a full-time consultant, part-time writer, near-full-time gamer and full-time dad/husband — my “reading time” is always limited. Camping gives me a chance to “unplug” and read some books… so, I’m grateful and I hope y’all had a great summer!
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