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SFF Author: 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.



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The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Highly recommended

THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT by Stephen R. Donaldson

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 Chronicles of Thomas the Unbeliever (more on that later),


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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.


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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 COVENANT


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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.


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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,


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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.


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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,


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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.


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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.


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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,


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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),


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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,


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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).


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The Killing God: Concluding novel is a huge leap up in quality

The Killing God by Stephen R. Donaldson

I was not, to put it mildly, a fan of Seventh Decimate, the opening book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s GREAT GODS WAR trilogy. Book two, The War Within (2022), was an improvement, but marginally. The good news is that book three, The Killing God, is a big jump up, though the obvious bad news is one has to get through the first two to arrive here,


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