Review: LORD FOUL’S BANE by Stephen R. Donaldson

Book Reviews


DISLIKED IT

I can’t decide if this book is pure distilled genius or a flaming bag of garbage. Maybe it’s both. I change my mind on a daily basis. Say what you want about LORD FOUL’S BANE (and people have a lot to say about it apparently), I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I turned that last page.

So Thomas Covenant is a leper, living in contemporary USA. He’s also a monumental a-hole. Which is fair enough; his wife has left him, taken his son away and he’s basically become a social outcast, spurned by mainstream society.

I’d probs be bitter about that too.

However, things take a surreal turn when he’s hit by a car and wakes up in a fantasy world called The Land, where he’s hailed by the population as the reincarnation of a legendary hero, sent to save them from the evil Lord Foul. In a twist on the epic fantasy trope of The Chosen One, Covenant refuses to accept the responsibility thrust upon him; his gruelling life as a leper has instilled in him the tools he needs to survive, to accept his lot and live with the harsh reality it entails. He rejects The Land entirely, believing it to be nothing more than a hallucination or dream brought on by his accident and the novel follows his journey through The Land while he struggles to stay grounded and maintain his sanity in a world he believes isn’t real.

That right there is a solid fucking premise!

But then it just goes to hell in a handbasket.

Thomas Covenant is a detestable piece of shit, which is why most people don’t like this book. I don’t have to like a character to be interested in reading about them so that didn’t bother me. What did bother me was it just ended up being so dull.

The protagonist doesn’t do anything. Which I get is intentional. He doesn’t think The Land is real, he doesn’t want to succumb to the fantasy and elevated status this hallucination is bestowing on him, only to return to his leprosy-ridden reality where he’s so reviled.

Unfortunately for us, that doesn’t make for a compelling novel.

And if you’re going to have your main character standing by, refusing to do anything while everyone around him takes the initiative, at least make everyone else interesting. But no, we’re subjected to a cast of one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs who don’t seem to care, or even react to the fact that Covenant is such an asshat.

Then there’s the prose, which is about as purple as purple gets. A quick Google search informs me that’s called Patriarch. So yeah, the prose is Patriarch levels of purple. Long, meandering descriptions of hills and forests and chapter-spanning monologues of lore we’re given no reason to give a flying shit fiddle about.

Despite all this however, there are some compelling reasons to still read this book. Which feels weird to say simply because I resented so much of my time reading it, but I’ll direct you to this very insightful Goodreads review by Brian, as he does an excellent job of articulating the fascinating concept behind the story and why this book might be worth reading if you want to think about it on a deeper level. He articulates it much better than I could and I’d only end up parroting a lot of what he says.

Suffice to say, there are reasons certain people might want to read this book, but they’re niche and not compatible with having an enjoyable time. As a work of art or philosophy, to be placed in the context of the wider fantasy genre and pondered on, this book is very interesting. As a reading experience, honestly it was just plain boring.

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3 thoughts on “Review: LORD FOUL’S BANE by Stephen R. Donaldson

  1. I’ve tried to read this a couple of times and always stalled. It’s comforting to hear that it’s maybe not so enjoyable after all … I always give myself a hard time when I can’t get into a book.

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    1. Honestly I think we need to give ourselves permission as readers to just not like a book sometimes. It’s why I think negative reviews are necessary and useful and the blogging/reviewing community shouldn’t only be an echo chamber of everyone saying how much they love everything.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. When I first started this whole bloggy thing I didn’t want to write anything negative, but I found pretty quickly that they were often the posts I found the most useful/insightful. Which then made me feel a bit more relaxed about having opinions of my own. 🙂

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