Thomas Covenant is a leper. Outcast. Unclean. Embittered by his social isolation and the abandonment of his wife, he has only one goal: to survive. So when an accident in his world hurls him into a new and confusing world with different rules, he faces a dilemma. If he believes that the world is real, that his leprosy is gone, he will lose the survival skills that have enabled him to live with leprosy. He might be yanked back into his own world and his own carelessness will kill him. Yet if he disbelieves that the world is real, he is careless with the lives of others, and his carelessness may kill them. The Lords of the Land believe that Covenant is the reincarnation of an ancient hero, who will free the Land from the diseasing influence of Lord Foul. But Covenant resists. It is all a dream. It must be a dream... Isn't it?
Someone highly recommended this story to me, so I felt I ought to give it a good shot. It took me months to get through the book because it really did not grab me immediately. There was a beauty to the prose, certainly, and I could even work up a little sympathy for Covenant's twisted survival mentality. But so much of the story was lofty and the characters were hard to get into, plus some parts of the story--Lord Foul especially--felt really cliche. It was about halfway through that the story picked up for me. I saw some of the redemptive qualities begin to emerge, and I started to care more about the People of the Land and even about Covenant. By the end of the story, I was willing to continue reading the story.
What Would Have Been Better
Lord Foul, to me, was the weakest part of the story. He just feels like the typical arch-villain. He threatens, laughs, and teases, and doesn't destroy his enemies even when he clearly has the upper hand. Everything he does seems part of some great theatrical design but I have a hard time feeling frightened or chilled by him. And the cavewight he has at his command, Drool Rockworm, is pretty much the same.
Sex, Language, and Violence
As far as language, Covenant utters quite a few h--- and I believe a few d--- as well.
There is only one sexual encounter: [Spoiler] a rape perpetrated by Covenant himself. And yes, the scene does include some disturbing details of the situation. It shows us something about Covenant and his state of mind, both at the time when he does it and the later times when he recalls and reacts to his crime. The book does, at times, describe Covenant's thoughts about the shapes of women's bodies.
Violence is a big part of the story, and is often described in ways to make it as horrific as possible. The point, I think, is to show the heinousness of the innocence lost and of the desecration to the Land, so, while it was disturbing to me, I didn't find it burdensome.
What I Really Liked
While Covenant is hard to like a great deal of the time, he is understandable in a twisted way. You see him as a man desperately trying to hang on to the only thing he thinks he has left: survival. As the story goes on and he finds himself unwillingly beginning to care about the Land and the people in it, his internal conflict tears him apart. He is afraid to care, afraid that he will lose himself. Yet he is afraid not to care, because there is a kind of redemption in being more than just a survivor. The conflict makes him believable.
Personally, I connected better with the other characters. Foamfollower annoyed me with his long tales until events showed another side of him; then I felt quite fond of him. Atiaran's selflessness was astonishing and admirable. Lord Mhoram became my personal favorite, starting off as a little stiff and annoying, yet proving to be extremely loyal.
The rich world-building was probably my favorite part. The idea that the Land was alive in a very sentient way--that you could feel its hurt through your feet--was fascinating. The way the Land responds to the people makes me think of those parts in the Bible where God says that the blood of the innocent cries to Him from the ground, as if the ground and the blood were living things of themselves. In this story, that's pretty close to true.
Also, I liked the quiet power of the Ranyhyn, powerful horses who choose their riders and, when their task is done, disappear back to the plains where they run free.
Pacing back and forth now on the spur of his conflicting needs, Covenant growled, "Baradakas said just about the same thing. By hell! You people terrify me. When I try to be responsible, you pressure me--and when I collapse you--You're not asking the right question. You don't have the vaguest notion of what a leper is, and it doesn't even occur to you to inquire. That's why Foul chose me for this. Because I can't-- Damnation! Why don't you ask me where I come from? I've got to tell you. The world I come from doesn't allow anyone to live except on its own terms. Those terms--those terms contradict yours."