Review: “The Last Dark” by Stephen R. Donaldson

Stephen R. Donaldson’s “The Last Dark,” published in 2013, is the concluding volume of “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” and marks the end of a fantasy epic that began with “Lord Foul’s Bane” in 1977. Over the span of more than three decades, Donaldson has crafted a rich, complex universe filled with deep philosophical themes, intricate character development, and a unique take on the fantasy genre. “The Last Dark” is a fitting culmination of this journey, delivering a powerful and emotionally resonant finale to the saga of Thomas Covenant and his companions.

Plot Overview

“The Last Dark” continues the harrowing journey of Thomas Covenant, Linden Avery, and their allies as they strive to prevent the total destruction of the Land. The story picks up immediately after the events of the previous novel, “Against All Things Ending,” with the Worm of the World’s End awakened and threatening to consume the Arch of Time, thereby unleashing chaos and annihilation.

The novel follows multiple narrative threads, converging towards a climactic confrontation. Thomas Covenant, now wielding the combined power of white gold and wild magic, must grapple with his own inner turmoil and the weight of his responsibilities. Linden Avery, driven by her love for her son Jeremiah and her own sense of duty, continues to seek ways to avert the impending apocalypse. Alongside them are stalwart companions such as the Haruchai, Stave, and Branl, the Giant Rime Coldspray, and the enigmatic Infelice of the Elohim.

As they traverse the Land, facing formidable foes and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the protagonists are forced to confront their deepest fears, make profound sacrifices, and ultimately embrace their destinies. The narrative culminates in a final, epic battle against Lord Foul the Despiser, where the fate of the Land and the cosmos hangs in the balance.

Themes Explored

Redemption and Sacrifice: One of the central themes of “The Last Dark” is redemption. Thomas Covenant’s journey from a reluctant anti-hero to a savior willing to make the ultimate sacrifice underscores the novel’s exploration of atonement and the possibility of personal redemption. Linden Avery’s arc also embodies this theme, as she seeks to redeem her past actions and protect those she loves.

Power and Responsibility: The novel delves into the complexities of power and the responsibilities that come with it. Covenant’s mastery of white gold and wild magic forces him to confront the moral implications of his abilities. The narrative questions whether true power lies in dominance or in the ability to make selfless choices for the greater good.

Hope and Despair: “The Last Dark” balances themes of hope and despair. The Land’s impending doom and the overwhelming forces arrayed against the protagonists create a palpable sense of despair. Yet, through their resilience, determination, and acts of courage, Covenant and his allies find hope and light in the darkest of times. This dichotomy is central to the novel’s emotional impact.

Identity and Self-Discovery: The characters’ journeys are also journeys of self-discovery. Covenant’s struggle with his own identity, particularly the merging of his past and present selves, is a key element of the narrative. Linden’s quest to understand her own power and place in the Land’s fate further enriches this theme. The novel suggests that understanding oneself is crucial to achieving one’s true potential.


Thomas Covenant: Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, is a deeply complex protagonist whose evolution over the course of the series reaches its zenith in “The Last Dark.” His struggle with leprosy, self-loathing, and the burden of his power makes him a profoundly human character. In this final installment, Covenant’s journey towards acceptance, self-forgiveness, and ultimate sacrifice is depicted with emotional depth and nuance. His transformation from a reluctant hero to a figure of hope and redemption is both compelling and poignant.

Linden Avery: Linden Avery, introduced in “The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,” is a character marked by resilience and compassion. Her fierce determination to protect her son and the Land drives much of the narrative. In “The Last Dark,” Linden’s character is further developed as she confronts her fears, harnesses her abilities, and makes significant sacrifices. Her relationship with Covenant and her unwavering commitment to doing what is right highlight her strength and complexity.

Jeremiah: Jeremiah, Linden’s son, plays a crucial role in the narrative. His journey from a traumatized and seemingly powerless child to a key figure in the battle against Lord Foul is a testament to his inner strength and resilience. Jeremiah’s ability to wield his own unique power becomes instrumental in the fight to save the Land, and his character arc is both inspiring and heartwarming.

Lord Foul the Despiser: As the primary antagonist of the series, Lord Foul represents the embodiment of evil and chaos. His desire to destroy the Arch of Time and unleash destruction is driven by a profound nihilism. In “The Last Dark,” Lord Foul’s motivations and machinations are explored in greater depth, adding layers to his character. His final confrontation with Covenant and Linden is a culmination of the long-standing conflict between good and evil.

Supporting Characters: The supporting cast of “The Last Dark” is rich and diverse, each bringing their own unique contributions to the story. The Haruchai, Stave and Branl, represent unyielding loyalty and strength. The Giant Rime Coldspray embodies wisdom, courage, and the spirit of camaraderie. Infelice of the Elohim adds an element of mystery and ethereal power. These characters, along with others, enhance the narrative and provide a broader perspective on the Land’s struggle.

Writing Style and Atmosphere

Stephen R. Donaldson’s writing style in “The Last Dark” is characterized by its intricate prose, deep philosophical reflections, and richly detailed descriptions. His ability to craft complex, multi-layered characters and weave together various narrative threads is evident throughout the novel. Donaldson’s use of language is both poetic and precise, creating a vivid and immersive reading experience.

The atmosphere of “The Last Dark” is one of epic grandeur and profound melancholy. The Land, with its diverse landscapes and mystical elements, is brought to life with vivid detail. The sense of impending doom and the weight of the characters’ struggles create a tension that permeates the narrative. Yet, amidst the darkness, there are moments of beauty, hope, and triumph that shine through, making the journey worthwhile.

Donaldson’s philosophical explorations add depth to the novel, inviting readers to ponder questions of morality, power, and the human condition. His ability to blend these reflections with a gripping, action-packed narrative is a testament to his skill as a storyteller.

Reception and Legacy

“The Last Dark” was met with acclaim from both fans and critics. Readers who had followed Thomas Covenant’s journey from the beginning found the conclusion to be a satisfying and fitting end to the epic saga. Critics praised Donaldson’s ability to bring together the many complex threads of the series into a cohesive and emotionally resonant finale.

The novel’s exploration of deep themes, combined with its rich character development and intricate plotting, has cemented its place as a significant work in the fantasy genre. “The Last Dark” stands as a testament to Stephen R. Donaldson’s ability to craft a compelling and thought-provoking narrative that resonates with readers on multiple levels.

The legacy of “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” series is marked by its influence on the fantasy genre and its enduring popularity. Donaldson’s unique approach to fantasy, characterized by its philosophical depth and complex characters, has inspired countless readers and writers. “The Last Dark” serves as a fitting conclusion to this monumental series, leaving a lasting impact on the genre and its fans.


Stephen R. Donaldson’s “The Last Dark” is a powerful and emotionally resonant conclusion to “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” series. Through its exploration of themes such as redemption, power, hope, and identity, the novel delivers a profound and thought-provoking reading experience. The complex and richly developed characters, coupled with Donaldson’s intricate prose and immersive world-building, create a narrative that is both compelling and memorable.

Thomas Covenant’s journey from a reluctant anti-hero to a figure of hope and redemption, alongside Linden Avery’s unwavering determination and strength, anchors the narrative and provides a deeply satisfying resolution to their stories. The novel’s climactic battle against Lord Foul the Despiser, and the ultimate sacrifices made by the characters, underscore the enduring themes of good versus evil and the power of selflessness.

“The Last Dark” is not just a conclusion to a fantasy series; it is a culmination of a decades-long exploration of the human condition, filled with philosophical reflections and emotional depth. Whether you are a longtime fan of the series or a newcomer to Donaldson’s work, “The Last Dark” offers a rich and rewarding reading experience that will leave a lasting impression.


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