Book Review – Lord Foul’s Bane, Book 1 of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson

I spent the last couple of weeks trying to catch up on some of the giants of modern fantasy. I chose Lord Foul’s Bane (LFB) by Stephen Donaldson. I had heard mixed reviews on this one. Some have called Donaldson’s work dark and depressing. I don’t think that falls far from the mark.

I recently enjoyed Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. One of that book’s critics had complained of an excess of rape in Prince. I was shocked at their criticism. I remembered very little mention of rape let alone a descriptive scene of one. How could I forget something like that? The critic went on to blast Lawrence by comparing his work to LFB. They said the rape in Prince surpassed even the scene in Donaldson’s book. I suppose this forewarned me of what was to come, but it also made me less cautious about reading LFB. If they felt Prince was worse then LFB then LFB couldn’t be that bad, right?

I don’t want this whole review to center around one or two pages in the book. The rest of the book was lacking in my opinion too, but I’ll get to that soon. I understand why Donaldson did what he did, but there were other (better) ways to achieve his goals. In some cases rape can be written to portray a powerful message, but in this case it just fell flat.

There was zero logical need for Donaldson to make his ‘anti-hero’ rape a teenage girl. There were even less reasons (yes, I know I just said zero) for him to visually describe the intricacies of the rape to his readers. We knew Thomas Covenant (the anti-hero/rapist) was a messed up guy before the scene. We knew he was self loathing, fearful, and mistrusting of others. We understood his reasoning. We also understood that Covenant thought he was dreaming. The scene was awkwardly written. Donaldson seemed to struggle between connecting a very shallow compulsion within Covenant to actually becoming a rapist. All this culminated in being disgusted at the scene and confused over the character’s decision. I wasn’t very impressed.

The magic system within “The Land” was your typical fantasy magic system. That is to say there really wasn’t much of one. This is fine but if you came here for such a thing, you won’t find it. Go back to reading Sanderson – or I recommend my friend Ryan Kaelin – if that is what suits you.

The plot within LFB was your typical fantasy quest. Darkness is settling across the land. Thomas Covenant has to travel from point A to point B to meet with the lords. They all set out together to rescue an artifact that will save the world. They travel in a round about way to avoid all the hordes of bad guys descending from the mountains. Within said mountains lies the Staff of Law and of course the leader of the bad guys.

Did I mention all the traveling? Probably 85% of the book is just traveling and scenery. While I can appreciate good visual writing, enough is enough!

The characters in LFB were all the same, save for Covenant himself. Everyone comes off as selfless and in harmony with the earth. The land is a beautiful place and provides everything the people need. There is no disease and only vague memories of war. No one seems to have a care for their own well being and fear only for the children who will not be able to live full lives should Lord Foul win.

Donaldson’s style of writing is similar to Tolkien’s. There are a lot of descriptions that do a decent job at forming a scene in the readers mind. Some of the phrases in LFB are dated which is understandable as the book was written in the 70’s. We in the era of computers are spoiled with online thesauruses, and Donaldson’s creativity can be seen in the similes he draws for us.

Overall I just didn’t like Lord Foul’s Bane. The bad choice of using rape aside, the book just failed to capture me. It was very slow moving and I felt it was written for teenagers. Due to the rape scene I wouldn’t recommend it even for them. I give Lord Foul’s Bane 2 out of 5 stars. The Illearth Stone (Book 2 of the original trilogy) just moved way down on my to-read list.

You can buy it here:

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