Audiobook Review: Against All Things Ending by Stephen Donaldson

25 06 2011

Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson (Book 3 of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Recorded Books

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Donaldson’s latest is not an easy read, and it will try and pull you down into its character’s despair, yet, with its brilliant ending, and beautiful narration it is a worthwhile listening experience.

Grade: B

Against All Things Ending is the third book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and the ninth overall in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever series. The Covenant novels have always been daunting to me. I am not a huge epic fantasy fan, and quickly tire of elves and fairies. Donaldson’s epic fantasy tale about a leper transported to a new land, which he believes to be just his unreal imaginings, is definitely not about elves and fairies. Donaldson has created a world, called The Land, which is both beautiful and terrifying. From the earliest moments of Lord Foul’s Bane, I fell in love with The Land, reveling in its Earth power, yet fearing its many mysteries. Yet, Donaldson’s writing is not easy. While his prose is beautiful, it not only borders of overwritten, but often generously leaps into that territory. It is often said that Donaldson would not use a short word, when a long one would do. For the first eight novels, which I read in Dead Tree form, I would always keep a dictionary next to me, knowing I would need it often. While for many this is a criticism, I often reveled in the overwritten nature of the books. I’ll admit, the vast majority of the books I listen to are written in a straight forward manner, and I tend not to read what is considered “literary fiction.” So, Donaldson’s verbosity is unique for me, yet, so appropriate to The Land I have fallen for, and its plethora of characters that stick in my mind long after the last page is turned.

Against All Things Ending was a tough one for me. Donaldson’s work has always been full of imperfect characters, filled with self loathing and bordering on despair. This is Thomas Covenant’s essential character. Yet, since the first book of the Second Chronicles, The Wounded Land, Donaldson has provided us with a character in Linden Avery who is one of the strongest female characters in Fantasy Fiction. I know, she is a polarizing character among Donaldson fans, but for me, she has been the true hero of The Land for the past six books. Yet, with the ending of Fatal Relevant, when her decisions and actions have lead to such dire consequences, Linden has basically lost her mojo. She spends much of Against All Things Ending doubting herself, and rightly so. This fits well into Donaldson’s theme for the novel, “Only the damned can be saved” yet, it didn’t make for the most uplifting reading experience. The only thing that kept the book from being utterly depressing was the attitude of the Giants, who always bring joy and laughter no matter the situation. Despite Linden’s break down, the company takes on some great foes of the land, in some brilliant action. It was nice to have a corporeal Covenant as well, even with his shattered memory. What truly saves this novel, which is the penultimate tale of the series, is the brilliant and redeeming ending. The last five hours of the audiobook easily makes up for whatever flaws the first 28 hours had.

Before listening to Against All Things Ending, I was a bit skeptical about the choice of Tim Gerard Reynolds as narrator. I know that many people were disappointed, including the author, that Scott Brick no longer narrated the tale. Since I never listened to Brick’s handling of the earlier tales, I didn’t suffer any discontinuity that other listeners may have. My major concern was that Reynolds is Irish and has a strong Irish accent. Now, nothing against Irish narrators, yet, I never liked the fact that many people feel that fantasy novels should be read by those with accents. Even American narrators will pepper their fantasy readings with a bit of an Irish or English tilt. Since the two main characters of Donaldson’s world are American, I just wondered what the point was. Yet, upon listening to Reynolds’s narration, I now have to admit my concerns were unnecessary. I found Reynolds’s narrative tones to truly bring out the beauty of Donaldson’s words. I also loved his characterizations of the Giants and the Haruchai, as well as many other creatures of the land. I didn’t love his take on Covenant, just simply because it didn’t fit the voice in my head for him, and I thought his voice lacked some of Covenant’s brokenness, but this is a minor complaint at best. Where I feel he truly excelled was communicating Linden’s inner turmoil.  Linden’s voice was gruff, bordering on masculine, yet with a surprising feminine tilt at moments that truly fit her character. Donaldson’s latest is not an easy read, and it will try and pull you down into its character’s despair, yet, with its brilliant ending, it is a worthwhile listening experience.