Lord Foul's Bane
Series: Chronicles of Thomas Covenant 1
Reviewed date: 2003 Dec 8
You heard it from me first: Lord Foul's Bane is a rotten book.
I finally decided to start reading the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which have been sitting on my shelf for almost a year now. I just want to take this opportunity to rant about how truly awful this book is. I want to reach out and thottle the author for subjecting me to this painful sophomoric charade he deigns to call a story. Mr. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (there are FIVE more?! *cries*) may have kickstarted a new era in fantasy fiction, but that doesn't mean they are any good.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever have been compared to the Lord of the Rings. Those who put the two series in the same category wouldn't know a good book if it jumped off the shelf and bit them. Lord Foul's Bane (the first book in the series) is similar to Lord of the Rings only in that it steals plot devices. Ooooh, see, there's this magical ring of power, and we have to take it to Mount Doom^H^H^H^HThunder because, um, that's where the evil bad guy lives. Yeah.
At first I thought maybe I hated Lord Foul's Bane because I didn't understand the fantasy genre. But I considered that and rejected that explanation, for several reasons. Firstly, I have read a decent amount of fantasy, so I'm not exactly new to it. And secondly, I can usually tell if a book is any good, regardless of whether I like it or not. For example, I disliked Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, but I recognized that it is a great book.
I found a review online that describes the flaws in Lord Foul's Bane better than I ever could, so I'll just post a link to it and quote a bit of it. Kyle Marquis's review at RPG.net:
Now, I have it on good authority that The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant really shook up the fantasy genre, that its maturity and "adult themes" helped revitalize a genre that was sliding into dull formula-writing and tropes so overused that no one understood them anymore. ... But all that still doesn't make Lord Foul's Bane a very good novel.
There's a lot of potential here, and perhaps this was the kick-start that fantasy needed in the late 70s. You can almost feel Donaldson trying very hard to write a fantasy novel that will be taken seriously. Maybe Lord Foul's Bane was a thunderclap of innovation. Once. But it's pretty pale today. The writing is bad in the way that only fantasy writing can be bad, with lots of long-winded speeches full of melodrama.
[T]he actual story is surprisingly brief, almost skeletal. Lord Foul's Bane is straight from the stock fantasy adventure generator. Get a quest at A to go to B. Along the way, meet some allies. Reach B, get some more allies, get the Real Quest, and travel to X to take Y from Z. It's a travelogue through a rather boring fantasy world, seen through the eyes of a rather dislikeable person.
An altogether bad novel, I give Lord Foul's Bane a rating of 1.