The Runes of the Earth is the first book in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series.
- "Thomas Covenant lost everything. Abandoned by his wife and child, sick and alone, he was transported while unconscious to a magical, dreamlike world called the Land. Convinced it was all a delusion, Covenant was christened The Unbeliever by the Land's inhabitants—but gave his life to save this newfound world he came to regard as precious.
Ten years after Covenant's death, Linden Avery still mourns for her beloved companion. But a violent confrontation with Covenant's son, who is doing the evil Lord Foul's bidding, forces her back to the Land, where a dark malevolence is about to unmake the laws of nature—and the laws of life and death..."
Linden Avery is now in charge of a clinic for the mentally ill and is responsible, among other things, for caring for Joan Covenant. Roger, son of Thomas and Joan, comes to visit for the first time in many years and seeks to take Joan out of care, claiming that he wants to assume responsibility for the task himself. Roger also demands of Linden his late father's white gold wedding ring, which she does not relinquish. Linden remains suspicious of his intentions, but she is not able to prevent his forceful removal of Joan at gunpoint, and his abduction of Linden's adopted son, Jeremiah. Casualties mount as Joan is taken and — whilst attempting to intervene — Linden, Joan, Roger, and Jeremiah are plunged into the Land, where they must adjust to its new demands.
On return to the Land, she discovers that the people have no knowledge of the Earthpower she had so cherished before and this knowledge has been denied them by the blight on the land known as Kevin's Dirt. Also this ancient lore is kept from them by the Haruchai, who have now taken upon themselves total responsibility for the Land's defense, discouraging the learning of Earthpower and a knowledge of the Land's history. They have become the "Masters” of the Land. Also, the Land has been beset by caesures (or "Falls") which are strange disruptions created from wild magic by Joan in her madness.
Linden takes under her protection an enigmatic character called Anele, who turns out to have been the son of two people that Linden had known centuries before, which appears logically impossible. He is full of Earthpower, as a result of a pregnant Hollian (from the second chronicles) being brought back to life by Earthpower. Linden also finds an ally in a Stonedownor, Liand, who quickly comes to trust Linden implicitly when she introduces him to his past and the Land, showing him an expression of Earthpower beyond all his previous experience. The Masters threaten Anele (and indirectly, Linden) as she seeks to find ways of locating and rescuing her son, a quest she keeps to herself. When a strange storm attacks Liand's village, Mithil Stonedown, he and Linden and Anele take the opportunity to escape the Masters.
Their escape is compromised when Stave, another Master, catches up with them. Initially they believe he has come to recapture them, but he actually brings timely warning of a huge pack of wolves (kresh) that is pursuing them. They are rescued by a company of Ramen, the traditional servants of the Ranyhyn horses, who seem to have made an odd alliance with the ur-viles. They are then led to the Verge of Wandering — a valley the Ramen come to every couple of generations.
Here they meet Esmer, a powerful being who claims to be the son of Cail - an outcast Haruchai - and the merewives, the mysterious Dancers of the Sea. Linden is unsure whether to treat Esmer as a friend or an enemy: He attacks and wounds Stave (as punishment for his ancestors' treatment of his father) but then proceeds to help Linden. He uses his strange powers to summon a caesure, allowing Linden and her companions to travel backwards in time to retrieve the lost Staff of Law.
They emerge from the caesure in a Land which is still recovering from the Sunbane. After some initial frustration, they find (with some dubious help from Esmer) that the Staff is guarded by a group of Waynhim who - not being creatures of Law - are slowly sickening from its influence. Linden uses the Staff to cure the Waynhim, but she and her companions are suddenly attacked by Demondim (who they suspect have been summoned from the past by the mischievous and unpredictable Esmer) wielding the power of the Illearth Stone.
Fearful that the coming battle will alter the Land's history, Linden creates a new caesure and returns herself, her companions, the ur-Viles, Waynhim, and Demondim to her own present. When they emerge, they find themselves in the neighborhood of Revelstone, which is now the stronghold of the Masters. The Haruchai attempt to fight the Demondim, but their efforts are wholly in vain. Stave is badly injured, and Linden and her companions are forced to retreat to Revelstone.
Here Linden meets "The Mahdoubt", a mysterious old woman who describes herself only as "a servant of Revelstone". As the company is enclosed in the Lord's Keep with their foes outside, they see a small group rapidly approaching: her son, Jeremiah, and Thomas Covenant, who has seemingly returned to life.