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on June 16, 2000
Stephen R. Donaldson is, in my opinion, certainly the greatest fantasy writer ever to set pen to paper. I feel a little guilty saying this, because of course I love Tolkien. But Donaldon's works are deeper, more moving, and - despite often being harsh and burtal in spots - more positive and optimistic. Where Tolkien revels in the glory days of the past, Donaldson looks to the future.
I enjoyed the short stories in Reave the Just because they are thematically and stylistically closest to his early works, mainly the Thomas Covenant books which I still think are by far his best. If you liked Covenant, these give you a sort of condensed shot of many of the things that make his earlier novels appealing. From the fool who falls in love with a lady and looks to the legendary Reave the Just to save him - only to find out that Reave's power is rather unusual and in the end he has to save himself; to the man who is cursed by a genie to have all the people close to him die horribly, this is classic Donaldson, but with a cleaner style honed by experience. I also liked the variety; the stories in this collection are not cookie-cutter fantasy but explorations of a variety of different themes and ideas, approached in different ways with real imagination.
Also worthy of note, what made the Gap and Covenant series hard to read for many people was not so much the violence, which could be frequent and graphic, but the rape - which was neither, but obviously could still be rather difficult to tackle. There is no sex of any kind in any of these stories, which should make them much more accessible. While I "enjoyed" his most recent Gap series, in many ways those books reached a level of brutality I can't deal with repeatedly. These stories have backed off to being more typical fantasy fare with the Donaldson trademarks of un-heroic, often disadvantaged characters trying somehow to come to terms with difficult situations or tortured existances. Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir to Elendil they most certainly are not.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit and highly reccomend it.
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on July 31, 2015
Donaldson never fails to deliver. This is a collection of stories that aren't really connected by characters or events, but feel somewhat connected by story type and the way they are told. Each one is a gem. No one crafts heroes like Donaldson, and few authors have his insightfulness into the working of the worlds and characters they create.
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on January 20, 2015
Eight short stories from a master of modern fantasy. A few, such as "Reave the Just" and "The Djinn who Watches Over the Accursed," are up there with his best stuff. The rest are good but not great.
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on November 5, 2000
Donaldson again demonstrates that he is the best fantasy writer today. He makes the others in the genre--Goodkind, Brooks, Jordan--look like hack writers. Although I prefer the longer books and series, the short story format is satisfying in a way in which multiple volume works are not--each story has a beginning, middle and end. The most frustrating thing about other authors is their tendency to wallow in unnecessary prose and character development. Here, Donaldson's writing is taut and sharp--a pleasure for fans of the genre to read. I highly recommend it. To Donaldson, I would say: Go back to fantasy novels! Your fans miss you!
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on December 27, 2016
as advertised
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VINE VOICEon April 22, 2000
Stephen R. Donaldson, probably best known for his fantasy epic "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever", delivers his second collection of shorter work in "Reave The Just And Other Tales". Although uneven in quality, there are a lot of goodies here for Donaldson fans.
Apart from the duology "Mordant's Need", Donaldson's work is often serious in tone, dealing with moral/ethical questions. Likewise, the stories in this collection seem to focus mostly on themes like justice, sin and redemption.
Donaldson likes to draw his moral dramas with broad strokes and wide settings. When using the shorter form, the intensity of the moral drama becomes so strong that the tales resemble parables rather than short stories. Specifically in "The Djinn Who Watches Over The Accursed" and in the title story, the protagonists resemble incarnations of ideas, not so much real people. Combined with Donaldson's formal, stately prose style, this often leads to a "processional pace and mood", to quote another reviewer.
Favorite stories are "Penance", one of the most moving and psychologically insightful vampire stories I ever read, and "The Djinn Who Watches Over The Accursed", an interesting and fable-like meditation on being cursed. Other very strong entries: "The Kings of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts" and "The Woman Who Loved Pigs". The only real clunker in this collection is "What Makes Us Human". It's the only science fiction story in this predominantly fantasy collection. Apart from that, the lighter style makes it seem a bit of a throw-away story. Not surprisingly, this is the oldest story in the collection.
Over all, this is a strong collection. Donaldson, a master of the long form, demonstrates that he can condense his style effectively in shorter works.
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on August 10, 2014
I'm not usually huge into the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but in recent years I've been more open to reading recommendations from friends and family, hence how I chanced across this author and this particular book. Love it, having never read anything else from this author. Absolutely well written and engaging! Each story appealed to me and there wasn't one I disliked. "Penance" may be my favorite, though I also really appreciated "Reave the Just," "The Djinn Who Watches Over the Accursed," and "By Any Other Name." But like I said, all the stories were excellent. Very captivating. I finished this book very quickly relative to the nonfiction selections I typically am drawn toward. Definitely got my imaginative juices flowing. I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this author prior to a couple months ago.
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on May 7, 2005
Make no mistake about it... Donaldson is a dark, dark writer. In this collection of eight short stories, he covers topics ranging from demonic possession to unjust imprisonment to soulless machinery. Some of these stories have been published before, mostly in other science fiction anthologies. Most of them are set in the realm of fantasy; only one can truly be called science fiction. Despite their dark and sometimes disturbing themes, I thought these stories were interesting. This may have been due, in part, to the fact that they were not each a full-length novel. Extended doom and gloom may have been too much, but in short bursts, I found Donaldson to be manageable.

Quite a few of these stories have an Arabian Nights-type of feeling to them. Many are set in Mid-Eastern or medieval styled countries. I especially enjoyed "The Djinn Who Watches Over the Accursed" and "Penance." Few of Donaldson's stories seem to have unqualified happy endings, but there is usually a lesson to be learned or a point to be made so the ending is usually appropriate, if not always the one the reader might wish for. Donaldson is definitely not the kind of writer who throws his main character into all sorts of trouble and then waves a magic wand to rescue him or her and make things completely better. Instead, there are issues to be worked through and flaws to be dealt with. The main character in Donaldson's tales generally walks away a different person from the individual s/he was initially.
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on January 20, 2001
For those of you unfamiliar with Stephen Donaldson (and you should be), he is perhaps best known for "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant," written in the late 70' and early 80's, and widely regarded as a classic of fantasy fiction. Since then he has written "Mordant's Need," and "Daughter of Regals," both fantasy, the latter also a collection of short stories, though neither work possesses the strength or import of the earlier "Chronicles." His more recent work, the dark scifi quintet "Gap" series, remains problematic, and I found myself abandoning the series midway through due to a plot that seemed uncertain as to its heading and a bevy of essentially unsympathetic characters who were unable to capture either my interest or much sense of identification. I was therefore very pleased to read this collection of tales, as once again they amply display the author's talent at using fantasy as a means to explore larger and more existential issues, without the spiraling downward into depravity and cynicism that seemed to dominate the "Gap" series.
This collection of stories is as much a literary effort as an expression of fantasy, the latter used as a backdrop to explore themes of morality and redemption common to all Donaldson's work, as well as what it means to be human. Many of these explorations take place at a metaphoric and symbolic level, demanding close attention and probably benefiting from more than one reading. Unlike the simple storytelling that dominates most fantasy, Donaldson's plots and characters more often than not serve as a vehicle to question and explore larger, at times less obvious issues regarding identity and personal responsibility, the crisis, when it comes, most often a confrontation that tests the character's acceptance or assumptions of his or her personal reality, rather than overcoming some dire or portentous obstacle so usual to most fantasy. These tales are quests of the self, the rewards most often ones of insight rather than treasure or ennobling conquests. For this reason it is doubtful that those seeking ordinary entertainment, the more common fare of swords and sorcery, will find this to their delight.
Here Donaldson once again shows himself in mastery of both language and his prose. Except for the odd inclusion of the solitary science fiction entry, "What Makes Us Human," odd not only because of its differing format but also because of the relative weakness and direct simplicity of the tale, all eight stories or novellas included here use fantasy as the setting for meditations upon existence not normally expected in the genre. At times moral and perverse parables, the author displays his ability to stretch his style, "The Kings of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts," unlike his usual, more formal approach, lyrical in a way entirely appropriate to the expression of his tale, a twist upon dreams and the nighttime stories of Scheherazade. "Reave the Just" seems the most typical and traditional, its setting and characters familiar to all who read fantasy, and yet the actions and instructions of its hero are well outside the realm of normal fantasy, driven by a message more contemporary than medieval. In "The Killing Stroke" borrows elements from oriental martial arts in a way at once familiar yet original to explore the nature of truth and self, and elsewhere the author blends and reworks vampirism in "Penance" to explore redemption. Without doubt my favorite tale in this collection is "The Woman Who Loved Pigs," capturing both the tone and admonishment of the traditional fairy tale, yet taking it places the Brothers Grimm have never gone. Even though many of Donaldson's characters are fatally flawed, even at the end they retain a very human if tarnished dignity.
The author is to be applauded in these tales for taking fantasy where it rarely goes, and exploring themes well beyond the ordinary hero or quest attained. Along with Patricia McKillip, and maybe certain earlier authors such as Mervin Peake, I can think of no other author currently writing that so stimulates one's thoughts. Highly recommended and, without the unfortunate inclusion of "What Makes Us Human," easily one of the best collections of short stories fantasy has ever had published.
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on June 30, 2000
I had not read a Donaldson book in years, but decided to buy this one after reading the author's preface.
In the preface the author points out when he wrote the stories, mentions how a few of them were written during important times of his life, and even notes that at least one of them really isn'tthat good.
I wanted to read for myself just how an author's craft influenced his own life, and perhaps wonder how his life influenced his written word.
I was not disappointed.
Some reviewers have moaned how the stories are slow or boring. Look elsewhere on Amazon and note how often that charge is leveled. I charge those reviewers with forgetting how to enjoy buildup, foreshadowing, and anticipation.
Few others have mentioned The Woman Who Loved Pigs. I thought, at first, it was very slow, but then got caught up in wondering where it was all going. I grew more interested in it as I went along. Most reviewers probably think the payoff was the confrontation near the end of the story. That is not the payoff---that is the climax. The payoff, which is pure Donaldson, is at the very end, when he describes how things slowly returned to the way they were at the beginning.
Some have charged That Which Makes Us Human as not being very good. Well, Donaldson himself beats you to the punch. Look in the preface. He practically admits it is not very good. I still liked the story. I liked how two people beat a beserker; I liked how they refused to surrender int he face of overwhelming odds. I especially liked how they turned back at the end.
As the cover notes mention, these aren't action stories; these are human stories, tales about the power and might of the individual.
If you want to race to/from work, race to/from vacation, and are hooked on fast-paced computer games, then this book is not for you.
If you want to experience story-telling and the fine art of short stories, then this book IS for you.
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