‘Lord Foul’s Bane’ is the first book of the ‘Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever’ by Stephen Donaldson. As such, it has the hard task of setting up the scene for the rest of the series while also being a good book in its own right. This it does very well.
The main character, Covenant, is a Leper in our world, the Earth, where he is outcast by society, deserted by his family and forced to live with a deep self-hatred. Through a series of events, Covenant finds himself in The Land, a world very similar to Earth, but where the inhabitants wield the magic of the land – wood and stones. Once there he is given a mission by Lord Foul, the series’ over-arching villain, and ends up on a Quest to wrest control of the Staff of Law from Drool Rockworm, the book’s Big Bad. Along the way, he meets a series of interesting characters and struggles with his own self-doubt and the role of hero given to him by the people of The Land.
I enjoyed this book. Covenant is an unlikely hero, and a complex character to boot. His confusion throughout the book is understandable and well done, although he can be quite intense and confrontational at times – most notably when he discusses his leprosy. I found this aspect of him jarring. While the lore of the book is very well thought-out, some of the characters do seem a bit odd – acting in manners that seemed to conflict with the personality they had been given. The descriptions can also be a little dense at times, making parts of the book quite hard to read.
One thing I did get out of it, and enjoyed very much, was the clear parallels between the state of The Land and Covenant’s state of mind and general health. His intense dislike for his condition, and the leprosy in itself, take form in Lord Foul – slowly taking over the beauty and freedom of The Land. The fight for The Land becomes, in this way, a fight for Covenant’s sanity and well-being. By developing the strength to defeat Lord Foul, he is finding a way to fight the self-hatred that plagues him. This interpretation made the book even more fascinating than it already is.
Definitely a book for fantasy-lovers, ‘Lord Foul’s Bane’ is a book that is full of escapism, interpretation and enjoyment. It is also a stand-alone book that introduces an entire series. It will be interesting to see what the remaining books bring.