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Stephen R. Donaldson

Stephen R Donaldson(1947- )
Stephen Reeder Donaldson is an American fantasy, science fiction and mystery novelist, most famous for his Thomas Covenant series. His work is characterized by psychological complexity, conceptual abstractness, moral bleakness, and the use of an arcane vocabulary, and has attracted critical praise for its “imagination, vivid characterizations, and fast pace.” He earned his bachelor’s degree from The College of Wooster and a Master’s degree from Kent State University. He currently resides in New Mexico. In the United Kingdom he is usually called “Stephen Donaldson” (without the “R”). Read excerpts and some of his poetry at Stephen R. Donaldson‘s website.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Highly recommended


Stephen R. Donaldson’s Land (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) series is one of the earliest reactions against the carbon-copy Tolkien-like works that proliferated soon after the success of The Lord of the Rings and stands in start contrast to another book published the same year — Sword of Shannara —which simply rewrites Tolkien rather than responds to it.

The first series is known as the Chronicle... Read More

Lord Foul’s Bane: A character study of alienation and vindictiveness

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

Stephen Donaldson’s opening volume in THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANTLord Foul’s Bane, is divisive for fans of fantasy. It strictly follows Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, which some readers may see as comfortably familiar, and others may see as unoriginal, especially when set alongside the plethora of epic fantasy available today. Parallels to THE LORD OF THE RINGS may also entice or put off readers. What’s not discordant, however, is the moral message burning at the heart of Covenant’s story. Still poignant today, it and the quality of the writing are the main reasons Donaldson’s series was once king of the fantasy charts.

Lord Foul’s Ban... Read More

The Illearth War: Lord Foul strikes back

The Illearth War by Stephen Donaldson

Reading The Illearth War (1978), the second book in Stephen Donaldson’s THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, I can’t help but be reminded of The Empire Strikes Back. This is in comparison to the strong THE LORD OF THE RINGS feel exuded by Lord Foul’s Bane, the first book in the series. Both Illearth and Empire are the middle story in a trilogy (and like THOMAS COVENANTSTAR WARS has since spawned additional trilogies), and the outcome is not as cotton-candy as the firs... Read More

The Power that Preserves: Covenant comes to a higher plateau of understanding

The Power that Preserves by Stephen Donaldson

If there is any consistent theme in the reviews and discussion of Stephen Donaldson’s THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER series, it is their divisiveness. Some readers are turned off by Covenant’s personality, while others are intrigued by his atypical qualities as an epic fantasy (anti-)hero. Some see the series as a Tolkien rip-off, while others believe the series is a fresh view on epic fantasy. And still others are turned on or off by Donaldson’s worldbuilding. The Power that Preserves (1979), the third book in the series, is consistent with the first two, and will probably change no one’s mind.

Covenant was thrown back into the real world at the end of... Read More

The Runes of the Earth: A mostly welcome return

The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

Fans of Stephen R. Donaldson's earlier work in the Land will find much to like here. Much of what was so good in the first two trilogies is here: conflicted characters; examinations of power and guilt, sense of loss, familiar etc. That's both a positive and a negative, however, as there is a distinct sense of been there done that. Not overpowering, as the story does expand, deepen, and in general differ in slight, subtle ways from its predecessors. But the sense remains through much of the book, as once again the Land is under assault, once again characters are ignorant or unwilling, once again a character wrestles with use/control of power, once again a character is taken hostage, once again we deal with Stonedowners and Ranhyn and Bloodguard, once again Kevin Landwaster has lessons to tell us. Again, the book manages, I think, to evade this as a major pitfall, but one is willing t... Read More

Fatal Revenant: This is awesome!

Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

Donaldson raises the stakes so high in Fatal Revenant that it was difficult, at times, to see how he was going to pull it off. I'll be honest: I doubted that he could do it, and I'm a true, dedicated (not obsessive, thank you) fan. However, after turning the final page of Fatal Revenant and sadly setting the book aside, I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit that my ability to express my emotions and thoughts had been significantly diminished. Rational cogitation evaded me entirely, and I felt like the teenager I was when I first stumbled on Stephen R Donaldson in the early 1980s (gulp). All that ran through my mind, in a continuous loop, for about five minutes, was "Dude! This is awesome!" And it was. It is. I hold Donaldson to a higher standard than most writers, because he's earned it. Not only did he meet meet my already inflated ... Read More

Against All Things Ending: Tipped the wrong way

Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson

Against All Things Ending is Stephen Donaldson’s third entry in the four-book series THE LAST CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT. Or, as one may think of them, his ninth book in the long-running series detailing the story of Covenant, and later Linden Avery, in the fantastical world known as The Land. I’ll refer readers to the plot summaries in our reviews of the prior books — mostly as refresher notes, since nobody should be picking this book up who hasn’t read the previous two, and in my mind, nobody should be reading the “last” chronicles who hasn’t read the previous two chronicles. Not only would you be lost in basic plot and character points, but you’d be missing many of the thematic and philosophical underpinnings of the story and the direction of its long narrative arc.

Those themes and subjects remain fa... Read More

The Last Dark: This series belongs on the must-read shelf of any serious SFF fan

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

With The Last Dark, Stephen R. Donaldson draws to a close not only his most recent tetralogy, but his entire ten-book epic centered on the travails of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, certainly one of the longest-lasting and most significant and influential characters in modern fantasy. No matter one’s feelings on the book itself (and mine were definitely mixed), the series as a whole stands as a towering achievement, one of those classic/canonical works of fantasy that any student of the genre has to wrestle with. Though I confess to some disappointment in these final few novels, the very ending left me feeling both satisfied and saddened. Satisfied because Donaldson ends the novel in an entirely fitting fashion and saddened because it is an ending.

As in the prior books of this LAST CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT (and I’m going to assume you’ve read those so will be freel... Read More

The Mirror of Her Dreams: Different, but disappointing

The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Mirror of Her Dreams is a low fantasy that chronicles the "translation" of the beautiful but insipid Terisa Morgan into the besieged realm of Mordant by way of "Imagery," sorcery that brings things out of mirrors. In this case, a clumsy apprentice, Gerarden, enters a mirror in Mordant in hope of finding the "champion" that the mirror depicts. Instead, he finds himself in Teresa's sterile New York penthouse and, thinking that she may instead be Mordant's savior, persuades her to return with him. A maelstrom of court intrigue arises on Terisa's appearance in Orison, the sprawling castle-capital of Mordant (reminiscent of the castle in Peake's Gormenghast saga); and of course, someone (or multiple someones) desire the newcomer's death. ... Read More

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story: Unique in many ways

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson

Though better known for his ongoing epic fantasy series, THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, THE UNBELIEVER, Stephen Donaldson has also taken a foray into science fiction. The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is the first in THE GAP CYCLE and a very difficult read if it is not understood that the book is mere stage setting for the four books which follow. Essentially the exploits of a sadistic psychopath and his victim, the novel will (rightfully) not win sympathy from many readers, but must instead be approached with a view to the larger framework of character development Donaldson imagines the series to be. Criminal and victim may be the assigned roles now, but what of the future?

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is unique in science fiction for a... Read More

The Best of Stephen R. Donaldson: The shorter works of a masterful author

The Best of Stephen R. Donaldson by Stephen R. Donaldson

Stephen R. Donaldson will probably always be best known for his novels: the epic fantasy series THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, the wonderful fantasy diptych MORDANT’S NEED, and — my personal favorite — the dark science fiction GAP CYCLE. However, Donaldson has also produced a number of great short stories and novellas throughout his career. So far, these could mainly be found in his two collections, Daughter of Regals and Other Tales (1984) and Reave the Just and Other Tales (1999), but thanks to the nice folks at Subterranean Press, you can now also get a solid sample of the author’s shorter works in The Best of Stephen R. Donaldson, a generous slab of fiction that includes the two title novellas fro... Read More

Seventh Decimate: A sorely disappointing experience

Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson

Seventh Decimate (2017) is the first book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s newest series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. The story centers on two nations that have been locked for generations in devastating warfare, each having their own version of how the war began. Amika has all the advantages: size, money, population, trading partners, more wielders of magical forces (“decimates”), against the smaller, land-locked, more beleaguered Belleger.

The story, though, opens up with a potential turning point — Belleger’s discovery of how to use the decimate of fire to manufacture rifles and thus kill magisters at a distance. It’s enough to force yet another stalemate, but before they can make enough to truly turn the tide, Belleger... Read More

The War Within: Shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar

The War Within by Stephen R. Donaldson

I was sorely disappointed in Seventh Decimate, the first book in Stephen R. Donaldson's new series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. Luckily, the second book, The War Within (2019), shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar and so I can't say it’s enough to convince me the series is worth starting (at least at this point).

(Here is your warning that this review will contain spoilers for book one).

The War Within jumps a few decades into the future, with the countries now at a tenuous peace due to Prince Bifalt of Belleger having married Princess Estie of Amika, a turn of events that came about thanks to what Bifalt had learned at the libra... Read More

More speculative fiction by Stephen R. Donaldson

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDaughter of Regals: And Other Stories — (2012) Publisher: A short story collection from the New York Times bestselling author — available in trade paperback for the first time.  “Donaldson proves that he is as adept at the short story as he is at the novel” (Denver Rocky Mountain News), in this superb collection. The famous outtake from The Illearth War, “Gilden-Fire,” headlines eight tales of mystics and unicorns, angels and kings — all written with the dazzling style and imagination that have made Stephen R. Donaldson one of the top fantasists of the day.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsReave the Just and Other Tales — (1999) Publisher: Stephen R. Donaldson is known for weaving brilliant tales of worlds so real, they come vividly to life. His unique talents have placed his work among J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth stories, Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, and C.S. Lewis’s classic Chronicles of Narnia — and established him as a writer with the rare ability to expand readers’ imaginations as he deepens their understanding of the human spirit. This magnificent new collection of eight stories and novellas — three of which have never before been published — commences with the exceptional title story, “Reave the Just.” This fablelike masterpiece entertains as it deftly highlights one of the major themes in all of Donaldson’s work: the innate and extraordinary power of the individual to overcome adversity. “The Killing Stroke” concerns perhaps the ultimate quest for meaning and honor, as three warriors desperately attempt to escape a doorless room, a war between mages, and even death. The morbid, soul-taking hero of “Penance” and the mysterious beggar woman in the dark fairy tale “The Woman Who Loved Pigs” are both plagued by the double-edged sword of love. And a pampered antihero is forced to make a choice between virtue and vice in “The Djinn Who Watches Over the Accursed.” Boasting exotic settings and suspense fueled by sudden plot twists, the stories in this must-have anthology feature tormented practitioners of mystical martial arts, the perils of wizardry, and the exploits of imperfect heroes embarking on marvelous quests. Most of all, Reave the Just and Other Tales is a testament to the astonishing scope of Stephen R. Donaldson’s mastery of magic and myth, as well as his talent to spin unforgettably spellbinding stories. A lavish reading experience for his many fans and a superb introduction for readers just discovering him, this collection beautifully does something that only the very best fiction can: inspires readers to dream the most fabulous dreams.