It’s been ages since I read the first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. I remember feeling somewhat conflicted by it. On one hand, it was a distinctly personal take on the “epic fantasy” theme – the protagonist was an anti-hero (before that sort of thing became more stylish in these sorts of tales), and the many of the conflicts were framed as personal struggles, with “self doubt” the main danger as opposed to endless hordes of orcs. On the other hand… gaaah, the protagonist (Thomas Covenant) was a massive whiner, and you could easily create a drinking game around the books. Take a swig every time he says or thinks “leper outcast unclean”. You’ll be in a coma in no time. As an aside, this seems to be a tendency in Donaldson’s books in general, his protagonists tend to be people with… problems. Here it was a leper whose wife had left him, in the “Gap” scifi series pretty much everyone was screwed up, and in the “Mordant’s Need” books (my favorites from his work) the heroine was mostly useless. At least in the beginning.
Anyway. The Wounded Land begins the second trilogy of Thomas Covenant books. Covenant is living as a hermit near a small town, trying to retain his sanity and take care of certain obligations. By random chance, a doctor, one Linden Avery, moves to town (running from he own demons), and circumstances maneuver to put her in contact with Covenant. After a rocky start, they end up communicating, and after certain a violent night end up in the Land, together – with Covenant possibly dying, back in the real world. Turns out that four thousand (or so) years have passed since Covenant’s last visit, and the Land has gone to hell. Lord Foul has returned and slowly corrupted everything. The Land has become a hellish realm, with a strange event called the Sunbane switching it from poisonous desert to equally poisonous jungle at a moment’s notice. The few remaining inhabitants scratch out a meager existance, using blood sacrifice rituals (taught to them by the mysterious Clave) to avert the doom that’s upon them. There is little trace of the old Earthmagic. To add insult to injury, Covenant is now blind to the Land’s need, with Linden inheriting his connection. Together, they embark on a quest to fix everything, or at least reclaim some part of what was lost.
It’s a grim book. The Land is no longer the typical verdant fantasy wonderland, more a sort of purgatory. Covenant has lost much of his reason to keep on going, and Linden… is a deeply troubled woman, who has problems grasping her situation. Covenant isn’t as annoying here as he is in the first books; he whines less and tries to do more. There is still a lot, perhaps too much, of internal turmoil and angst – but in a way, that’s part of what makes these books tick. Linden takes a while to get used to, and in the beginning she almost becomes Covenant #2, but this changes and she starts to gain her own distinct voice.
I guess I’m also a bit conflicted about this book. It’s not bad at all, and there are some great scenes here. On the other hand, it’s slightly dreary going, and Donaldson goes out of his way to use obscure words; I can see him having a Thesaurus permanently open while writing this. It becomes a bit excessive at times, with (it seems) the writer trying to find out how many obscure words he can throw at the reader. He’s not alone in this, of course, Gene Wolfe is notorious for stuff like this too.
In the end, the book was worth reading, and I’ll continue with the second part, but I wasn’t completely “wow’ed” by it. It was somewhat plodding, at times… as was the first trilogy. As a bright point, there are two protagonists here (instead of just whiny one, as in the first books), and both become quite proactive as the book progresses. That’s a nice change.