The Power That Preserves
By Stephen Donaldson
Thomas Covenant is once again summoned to the strange alternative world where magic exists and an ancient enemy threatens the land. Although for Thomas mere days have passed, for the inhabitants of "The Land" it's been over seven years since the unbeliever was abroad.
The land is much changed since his last visit, ravaged by the armies of the great despiser, the Lords are besieged with no place of safety and Lord Foul's victory seems imminent. It appears that only Covenant can avert this dark fate and with little hope he sets out to confront the relentless enemy. With him go the remnants of lost people, a Bloodguard, a Giant and a madwoman he has wronged.
It only makes sense to read this book if you've already read Lord Foul's Bane and The Illearth War and this review reflects that assumption. As you might expect given how the last book ended, The Power that Preserves is quite a dark novel, not that the others are that cheerful but even so there is pervasive air of doom and inevitable destruction that colours the narrative.
Thomas is much more accepting of the world around him this time too, he's pretty much given up trying to deny what is happening and just accepts the state of play, although he still insists its a dream; after all he is the "unbeliever". It's a bit of a relief too as it would have begun to grate if it had gone on much longer. He's not really an easy character to like (even if you can understand some of the things he does) but never-the-less he does grow on you and is somewhat easier to like in this book, especially as he is now just getting on with things without the constant griping. He also appears to have grown and changed as he has journeyed through the land with many of those emotional and psychological walls having been chipped away, or at least lowered in height.
The very anathema to the hero of most stories, he's still ever so human and while physically weak, afflicted by his illness and clearly not a fighter he is still more a hero than many by his actions, his determination and a selflessness (or perhaps stubbornness) that takes centre stage through much of the novel.
Donaldson's prose is just as well written and powerful as ever, if anything it's an even easier read than The Illearth War while that wonderfully rich and dark, almost poetic voice continues to flavour the story. There is also a faster and more energetic pace than the previous books, unhindered by exposition or lengthy world building it feels like every scene furthers the overall story amidst battles, death, destruction and a host of wonderfully rich characters. With many of these individuals it's unclear which side they are actually on and mistrust plays a large part in the story, as does the ravages of war.
As with many of the best stories Thomas views much of the war from it's effects on the victims, and with the exception of the Revelstone and Lord Mhoram's battle defending the seige Thomas spends most of his time trying to avoid getting sucked into big fights, as he travels ever closer to Foul and his destiny.
I love how the author still manages to cast doubt as to whether "The Land" is actually real or all in Covenants head and right up to the end it's still not made clear. Of course this is a message about belief and a very effective one at that. The story is all the more powerful for all these little messages littered throughout the book, of which there are many and each add to the ambience and charm.
I also loved how original this story still feels despite there having been thousands of fantasy stories written before and since, it's a unique piece of fiction that balances heroism with weakness and greatness with tragedy, replete with a fitting finale that reaches all the right notes. Any fan of fantasy should really check this series out.
Written on 15th August 2012 by Ant .