Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson
Series: The Great God’s War #1
Publisher: Berkley (November 14, 2017)
Length: 320 pages
Author Information: Website
My Rating: 2.5 stars
Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson is the opening installment of his new series, The Great God’s War. Featuring a somewhat jaded hero on an epic quest of discovery, the narrative is a fast paced affair with more than a few twists and turns, which nicely sets up the story going forward. Unfortunately, though, it failed to live up to my lofty expectations. More on that a bit later.
For generations, the kingdoms of Belleger and Amika have been at odds. Both sides using the power of their sorcerers to wage near constant war against the other; the nearly unstoppable decimates of power raining down death to people on both sides. Yet, now, things have changed.
At first, this change brings renewed hope to Belleger; their craftsmen discovering the secret to forging repeating rifles. Even the eternally sullen and gloomy Prince Bifalt certain his kingdom can finally turn the tide which had been slowly rising against them. But then another event dashes all those hopes: the vanishing of magic from Belleger.
Frantic to learn the cause, the King of Belleger determines that there exists a rumor of a Seventh Decimate; a final tenant of the sorcery arts which – when invoked – will strip all magic from a land. And so with a single act, the Amika have once again taken from Belleger any hope of triumphing in their eternal war.
Never on to give in to despair, the Belleger king sends Prince Bifalt and a small group of veterans off into the unknown world in search of a legendary repository of sorcery, a grand library where the Seventh Decimate can be learned. And so begins the enlightening and nightmarish quest for the Seventh Decimate!
Before I get into the problems with this novel, I really do need to point out the strengths, starting with Stephen R. Donaldson’s writing. Others might find the author’s style too wordy, too filled with unfamiliar phrasing, or whatnot, but I’ve always enjoyed his distinct techniques with fast paced action, deep introspection, and focus on characterization. So, naturally, I enjoyed sitting down to read another of his works, finding in this narrative a past friend who was refreshingly familiar and overwhelmingly comfortable.
Also, I have to admit finding many parts of the overall story well thought out and intriguing. Especially compelling was the eternal war between Belleger and Amifa. It is never glorified. The realities of such a never ending conflict shown in a real way. The consequences of generations of annihilation surround the characters. Its effect on the people is portrayed with a morbid sense of realism. And even the main hero of the quest, Prince Bifalt, cannot rise above the horrors of a lifetime spent at war; fear of failing his father and people ingrained upon his psyche to the point it clouds ever thought, taints every action he tries to make.
This does lead into the main problem with Seventh Decimate for me personally: Prince Bifalt. This young, troubled man is the focus of the story; it is his journey of discovery and maturity. A reader experiences the world and the quest through his eyes. All information passes through him, shaded by his natural prejudices. Yet, from first page to last, he is nearly impossible to learn to care for. And I don’t mean in that Thomas Covenant smart-ass leper way. No, Bifalt is so thick-headed, so stupidly stubborn, that he never learns anything from his trials and triumphs. His stiffed neck ignorance quite annoying, as it bars him from any real character growth. Honestly, he ends the tale as the exact same person he was at the start. A situation which ruined the whole novel for me personally, as the entire journey became pointless.
As overjoyed as I was to experience a new novel and world by Stephen R. Donaldson, I felt Seventh Decimate was merely an okay read. The overall story concept was intrigue; the realistic look at a never ending conflict and its effect on the people was well executed; and the epic quest itself had many interesting twists and great action; but the failure of Prince Bifalt as the main viewpoint character was startling and ruined the entire narrative for me personally. Hopefully, the author will rectify these problems in the next book, but if not, I can’t see this series ending well.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
As usual, it all boils down to characterization: when we readers fail to connect to a character, the whole story “implodes”. And this particular character sounds as if he’s well beyond the limits of “intolerable”…
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.Well said. Sadly, Thomas Covenant showed more character growth in his first appearance than Bifalt. 😦
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