In Stephen R. Donaldson’s latest novel, there are six “decimates,” supernatural powers that can be used for good or evil. The sorcerers of Amika and Belleger have employed their decimates for centuries in a war that is unending. Both sides are looking for something that will give them an edge, deliver victory and bring peace. Negotiated settlement is not an option.
When the sorcerers of Belleger are rendered powerless overnight, there is great fear in the land. The country is now defenceless, except for rifles, something Amika has yet to develop. But the number of rifles is limited, and without sorcery no more can be made. The final attack could come at any time.
Faced with this dire predicament, Prince Bifalt, heir to the throne, sets out with a group of companions to search for the fabled Last Repository of the sorcerers. There he hopes to find a book, Seventh Decimate, which will contain the information necessary to restore power to Belleger’s sorcerers, and deprive their Amikan counterparts of their supernatural abilities.
Bifalt should already be dead, having been struck by lightning in a clash two years previously. Some miracle saved his life, for a purpose he does not yet know. What he does know is that he has a destiny. He hates sorcery and what it has done to his country. If he could he would end sorcery and sorcerers and live in peace, though admittedly he does not know what peace would look like.
Seventh Decimate, is yet another gripping fantasy tale from a master writer, one I first discovered almost thirty years ago when a friend recommended Lord Foul’s Bane, the first in the tales of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. When I read that novel, I marvelled at Donaldson’s story-telling and his obvious love for the English language. With this new book I am pleased to say that nothing has changed: the man still knows how to tell a story that draws you into it, with characters that are believably flawed.
I am sure there are those looking for deeper meaning in Donaldson’s work. Yes, this is a fantasy, but is it also an allegorical tale? What are we to make of two countries that have been waging war for so long that the origins of the conflict are unclear? How do we demonize our enemies so that we see them as less than human? Are there parallels to be drawn between the societies found in these pages and our society in the early 21st century? Thank you for asking those questions, but I can’t provide the answers. I read this book for entertainment. Let someone else provide academic analysis.
My only real complaint is that Stephen R. Donaldson has a penchant for writing series. This is Book One in The Great God’s War. The story stands on its own, a tale of friendship and loyalty with an epic quest. Yes, there is more to the story, but that will have to wait until the next volume comes out.
As an entertaining tale Seventh Decimate works. That’s what matters most.
Review copy was provided courtesy of Orion Publishing Group.