I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Thomas Covenant found himself once again summoned to the Land. The Council of Lords needed him to move against Foul the Despiser who held the Illearth Stone, ancient source of evil power. But although Thomas Covenant held the legendary ring, he didn't know how to use its strength, and risked losing everything....
I’ll admit that book 2 is an improvement over book 1, but it’s a grudging admission. Having said that, Thomas Covenant is STILL an ass, but the improvement is that this installment isn’t all in Covenant’s POV. Mind you, Hile Troy as narrator is only a small step upwards. What is it with the Lords’ magic that they can only seem to snag “damaged” men from “our” world? At least Troy had some theoretical battle knowledge to contribute [but he would probably be much better at mission planning if he was less emotionally involved, à la Ender’s Game].
I hate that there are lots of female characters and all of them are cardboard cutouts (mind you, even the vast majority of the male characters are extremely under-developed, so I guess I shouldn’t bitch too much). High Lord Elena wastes time “massaging the brows” of upset men, instead of giving them a swift kick and telling them to get over themselves. Especially since Covenant and Troy both really need to get over themselves. Plus if a male High Lord spent time cooking and cleaning up along the journey, we’d wonder what the heck was wrong with him—where is his support staff? Elena’s willingness to just go haring off after the Seventh Ward right before battle just baffled me—once again, behaviour which wouldn’t be acceptable in a male character in her position and I didn’t find acceptable for her either.
Pacing was a big issue for me in this book. This tale just whips you onward, giving no respite, no hint that there is hope with which to buoy your spirit as the battle unfolds. I kept waiting for a switch, for a chapter to describe what Elena and Covenant were doing, for example. Instead, I was getting beaten down, as the army keeps on making heroic sacrifices and nothing is gained, they just face another retreat when they are already completely worn down and worn out. Even a glimpse behind enemy lines would have be an improvement, just to tear the gaze away from the grind of marching and making a series of “last stands.” Eventually, we get Covenant’s perspective, but I would have preferred some kind of alternation between the two, rather than just doggedly following one plot line to the end before starting in on the second plot line. And we never get a glimpse into the enemy camp, to know what the good guys are up against.
My biggest beef, I think, is that the people don’t act like any real people that I know. The people of The Land are sheep-like in accepting that Covenant’s ring accords him special treatment and in placing their faith in him and in Troy without any suspicion or any real discussion. There seems to be blind faith in their leadership by the council of Lords. The only emotions expressed by any characters are those of anger and unhappiness—if you don’t count unbelievable insta-love (which I don’t because it doesn’t exist). [And women falling in love with their fathers—like that’s going to happen except in Sigmund Freud’s wild imagination.]
2.5 stars, and that’s being generous.