Seventh Decimate: A sorely disappointing experience

The Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. DonaldsonThe Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. DonaldsonSeventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson

Seventh Decimate (2017) is the first book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s newest series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. The story centers on two nations that have been locked for generations in devastating warfare, each having their own version of how the war began. Amika has all the advantages: size, money, population, trading partners, more wielders of magical forces (“decimates”), against the smaller, land-locked, more beleaguered Belleger.

The story, though, opens up with a potential turning point — Belleger’s discovery of how to use the decimate of fire to manufacture rifles and thus kill magisters at a distance. It’s enough to force yet another stalemate, but before they can make enough to truly turn the tide, Belleger’s sorcerers (called “magisters”) all lose their ability to wield power, including the necessary decimate of fire.

Before Amika can use its magic to roll over the suddenly powerless Belleger, Prince Bifalt is sent on a quest across an uncharted desert in search of a great library of magic where he hopes to find a way to reverse the loss of magic. What he finds isn’t what he expected.

To be honest, I barely was able to get through Seventh Decimate — “a mess” would be how I would sum it up — a sorely disappointing experience based on my prior enjoyment of this author.

The War Within (The Great God's War) Hardcover – April 2, 2019 by Stephen R. Donaldson (Author)

Sequel

Where to start? One problem is that Donaldson has stripped so much of the story down, maybe to give it a sort of parable/allegory feel, that it feels almost utterly random. There’s little sense of world-building (a shocker from this author), leaving to a sense that characters are moving across a literal map rather than an actual place. There are hints of a world beyond what we see in characters introduced on the Prince’s journey, but because we see only singular such characters, they feel like plot constructions rather than part of a living world. Similarly, explanations of how things (such as Belleger’s ignorance of things outside their country) are often implausible, and so seem to be existent because the story requires them to be that way.

The plot is episodic, with events happening too slowly in too disconnected a fashion and with abrupt shifts, until we reach the Library itself, where things settle into a more focused, cohesive story.

The main character, Bifalt, is often a one-note Angry Man, and seems to respond not as a person would but as a person meant to convey some philosophical concepts has to. Take Thomas Covenant, ratchet up his anger (yes, really), and then rob him of his humanity and sense of reality, and that’s Bifalt. Meanwhile, only a few side characters feel substantive at all. And the prose shows odd signs of repetition and slackness (every time I read that Bifalt “bit his cheek” I was reminded of how much I hated all that “braid pulling” in WHEEL OF TIME). And too much of the book relies on telling us what characters feel or think rather than showing us.

Really, this was the most disappointing read I’ve had in some time. I’ve been sent book two, The War Within, which was recently published, so I will read it and hope this series improves drastically.

Published in 2017. The acclaimed author of the Thomas Covenant Chronicles launches a powerful new trilogy about a prince’s desperate quest for a sorcerous library to save his people. Fire. Wind. Pestilence. Earthquake. Drought. Lightning. These are the six Decimates, wielded by sorcerers for both good and evil. But a seventh Decimate exists—the most devastating one of all… For centuries, the realms of Belleger and Amika have been at war, with sorcerers from both sides harnessing the Decimates to rain blood and pain upon their enemy. But somehow, in some way, the Amikans have discovered and invoked a seventh Decimate, one that strips all lesser sorcery of its power. And now the Bellegerins stand defenseless. Prince Bifalt, eldest son of the Bellegerin King, would like to see the world wiped free of sorcerers. But it is he who is charged with finding the repository of all of their knowledge, to locate the book of the seventh Decimate—and reverse the fate of his land. All hope rests with Prince Bifalt. But the legendary library, which may or may not exist, lies beyond an unforgiving desert and treacherous mountains—and beyond the borders of his own experience. Wracked by hunger and fatigue, sacrificing loyal men along the way, Prince Bifalt will discover that there is a game being played by those far more powerful than he could ever imagine. And that he is nothing but a pawn..

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. I stopped reading him a while back. I admire your fortitude, because this does not sound fun.

  2. That’s disappointing. I know how much you admire Thomas Covenant. (I mean the series, not the man.)

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