Lord Foul's Bane  - Stephen R. Donaldson Oh. My.

Pay no attention to those who'll tell you Donaldson is 'the alternative to Tolkien' or that the two should 'stand shoulder to shoulder'. I'm not even talking about quality. The two are incomparable simply because Donaldson is a leech - this book reads as if someone has chewed up the Lord of the Rings and spat it back out. If you read much fantasy, you'll be well aware of the tendency to denigrate writers who seek simply to rewrite Tolkien. I've been pretty selective in my reading of fantasy, and, until now, have mostly managed to read stuff which avoids this to some extent, or at least does it in a fresh and enjoyable way.

But this book, so often touted as the great alternative, baffles me. The only original thing here is the unpleasant leper protagonist, and I couldn't agree more with the reviewer who described this as 'a failed literary experiment' - failed because Donaldson seems to lack the insight or technical skill to make his anti-hero believable. The world itself is wooden and dead, and no amount of overblown similes (open the book on a random page and count the 'as if's and 'like's - you will be amazed) can bring it to life. The characters are equally two-dimensional; dull, bound by honour, ready to fight for their Land, yadda.

But what makes this book so unbearable isn't the masturbatory Tolkien-fanfic vibe it exudes, or the unforgivable prose style (clearly Donaldson knows HOW to write, but he utterly, utterly kills it with similes and appalling cliche). It's that it's just so damn BORING. Seriously. I pride myself on never giving up on a book, but halfway through Lord Foul's Bane I was very close to reneging on this policy. Very, very little happens over the course of almost 400 pages. The whole book is like a tribute to writer's block - they travel. A lot. There's a lot of empty and unpoetic description of scenery that's of no ongoing importance, interspersed with Covenant's endless and tedious agonising over whether he should believe in this other reality. That could have been so wonderful, insightful and interesting, but Donaldson butchers it utterly.

I could probably dredge up a couple of things I like about this book (on reflection, rather than while actually reading it). Leprosy is an endlessly interesting topic, and Donaldson's brief description of Covenant's trials is a misleadingly promising start to the book. The author's metaphor-heavy style appealed to me at first, but I quickly soured towards it; he throws them around with no regard for relevance or moderation, and seems to think that this passes for good writing. I really can't say ANYTHING good about 'the Land' that forms the vast bulk of the narrative; it's tedious, soulless and utterly derivative.

Anything else? No, that'll do. I'd just like to finish by saying, if you are considering reading this book, DO NOT BOTHER. It's bad, and not in an interesting way. I don't feel as though I've gained anything from reading it. If you love Tolkien, this pale knockoff will anger you. If you hate him, you'll find all the same things to hate here. If my review can save just one person from the waste of time and money that is the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, then maybe it'll have been worth reading after all.