Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Stephen Donaldson: Mordant's Need, "The Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through"

A standard medieval fantasy setting where mirrors are imbued with magical powers. A Realm slipping into chaos under threat from foreign powers and the machinations of traitorous mirror using imagers. A once heroic King who seems oblivious to his countries present peril and contents himself with playing checkers all day long. A young woman from our world who is transported to this fantasy relam through the action of a magical mirror and who despite her emotional frailty appears to have an important role to play in resolving the plot.

Despite the canonical status of his "Thomas Covenant" series I have a very limited tolerance for Stephen Donaldson. These two books, together telling the saga of "Mordant's Need", stretch that tolerance beyond breaking point. Yes they tell a complex and intriguing story set in a richly detailed world but two hallmark Donaldson flaws ruin any pleasure there is to be had.

Firstly Donaldson's heroes are weak to the point of utter incompetence. The plot is resolved more in spite of their efforts than because of them. Their main function seems to be to fill the reader with such frustration as to want to tear the book up.

Donaldson's second hallmark flaw is to pepper his stories with massively illogical twists and devices. Fundamental plot premises just don't make any sense. How does he get away with this? Fantasy is a nerd genre. We nerds like our stories to make sense.

These flaws are certainly also present in the better known  "Thomas Covenant" and "Gap" novels but to my mind those books struck a much better balance between enjoyment and annoyance.

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