Saturday, March 4, 2006

Reave the Just and Other Tales, Stephen R. Donaldson

Title: Reave the Just and Other Tales
Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Rating: Good

Donaldson can write. Really.

Reave the Just and Other Tales is a collection of short stories and novellas. Each stands entirely on it's own, and is related to nothing else Donaldson has written as far as I can tell.

My overall impression of the collection is very good. I know everyone reading this thinks I have a "thing" for Donaldson's work, and perhaps I do, but I can still tell good from bad. For me, there is one story here that is fantastic - worth the price of the whole volume. A few others are very good, and one doesn't live up to the standards of the rest. To be more specific, the stories are:
  • Reave the Just
    An excellent tale, set in a classic European style fantasy setting. The main character gets himself into a lot of trouble and only gets out with the aid of Reave the Just, or... well... you have to read it.

  • The Djinn Who Watches over the Accursed
    A pompous youth is the main character here. He falls afoul of powers he doesn't comprehend, and suffers for it, and turns. This story is told in a Middle Eastern setting, and from the first person perspective of a very interesting character. A very good story, but not quite as much character development as I've come to expect from Donaldson. Still, definitely worth reading.

  • The Killing Stroke
    A far Eastern tale of several different martial arts styles, the struggle between good and evil, and magic. This one pins the main characters - and reader - down on the question of "What is good without evil?" Donaldson has a way of exploring these sorts of big questions in depth that I find fascinating. A very good story, well written.

  • The Kings of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts
    Another Middle Eastern tale of magic. This one follows the son of a ruler as he takes power, but doesn't live up to the expectations of those around him. This was a good story, but one that didn't stick with me as well as the others here.

  • Penance
    This is the best story in the book. A classic European setting is the backdrop for a vampire story the likes of which I have never even imagined. In this one, Donaldson considers the basis of loyalty, power, and authority. I cried when this story ended, and my eyes are going blurry now as I write this. This story is amazingly well written, and it will stick with me forever. I'll reread it from time to time as well, simply because it's that good. Read it if you can, please.

  • The Woman Who Loved Pigs
    Another European fantasy setting for a tale of a simple minded woman coming into the presence of a power that she doesn't understand at all, and which eventually must be faced down. A good story, well written. If there is a flaw here it is only that the passage of time in the story doesn't leave enough time (in my mind) for the main character to go through all the changes she experiences. Still, a worthy read.

  • What Makes Us Human
    This was the only real disappointment in the book. It's a science fiction tale of human descendants who encounter something alien, and have to save themselves. The story and setting are fine, but one of the two main characters isn't handled properly, and I found some of the things he says and does out of place. In addition, the enemy here isn't explained in a satisfactory way. Where it comes from is not known, and that left me wanting.

  • By Any Other Name
    A Middle Eastern fantasy in which a wealthy merchant has to confront a necromancer so far beyond him in power that it appears suicidal. Well written and fascinating, but a tad rough in a couple of the particulars. If I gave you the details, I'd be writing a spoiler review, though, and I don't want to do that.
As I said above, Penance is worth the cost of the entire book, without a doubt, and most of the other stories are good or very good. Donaldson is always examining the big issues - particularly questions around people's internal struggles over what they are capable of doing. That kind of inner battle is his forte.

I should also mention that Donaldson's writing is fantastic. Even where I can fault the story, the writing - the construction of the sentences and his use of words - is always flawless. If you want to write, I think studying how he writes would be a good first step.

I recommend this volume, particularly for Penance.