Sev­enth Dec­i­mate

Weapons of magic de­struc­tion

SFX - - Reviews - Dave Bradley

re­leased 17 Novem­ber 307 pages | Hard­back/ebook/au­dio­book Au­thor stephen don­ald­son Pub­lisher Gol­lancz

there’s a fa­ble-like qual­ity to Sev­enth Dec­i­mate. Al­though the pro­logue has tinges of mod­ern grim­dark, it quickly adopts a folk­loric uni­ver­sal­ity. It’s not a tale of po­lit­i­cal in­trigue but an old-fash­ioned quest: one man’s progress through the wilder­ness. Don­ald­son’s in­flu­en­tial early se­ries, The Chron­i­cles Of Thomas Covenant, is as fa­mous for its page count as for its or­nate lan­guage. Sev­enth Dec­i­mate could be by a dif­fer­ent au­thor; with its clar­ity, brevity and time­less­ness, it bears a re­sem­blance to Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

This is book one of a new se­ries called The Great God’s War. The con­flict be­tween Amika and Bel­leger has per­sisted for gen­er­a­tions. Sorcer­ers on both sides have pounded the coun­try­side with six types of de­struc­tive magic – the Dec­i­mates – un­til, with­out warn­ing, the Bel­legerin Mag­is­ters lose their power. With the Amikans now at a clear ad­van­tage, Prince Bi­falt of Bel­leger must find the myth­i­cal book of the Sev­enth Dec­i­mate.

There’s an en­dur­ing im­pres­sion that you’re meant to in­ter­pret. The na­tion’s names; the Cult of the Many who take on the sins of oth­ers; the dandy who leads a troupe of per­form­ers called the Wide World Car­ni­val; a cynic with a lit­eral scar bi­sect­ing his face… Read­ing Sev­enth Dec­i­mate is like be­ing in a fever dream packed with sym­bols. Al­though this grants it vi­brancy and grav­i­tas, when it comes to the char­ac­ters you crave more au­then­tic depth: it’s dif­fi­cult to like a pro­tag­o­nist de­fined by his self-right­eous bloody-mind­ed­ness. And when we meet the bronze­skinned desert car­a­van­ners, or the “sav­ages” with their witch doc­tor, there’s a sense of stereo­typ­ing.

Magic as a weapon of mass de­struc­tion is a fa­mil­iar theme in fan­tasy lit­er­a­ture. But if this is a story about the fu­til­ity of war, it’s also about knowl­edge, and the pa­tro­n­is­ing power wielded by those who own it. It’s a lit­tle ar­ti­fi­cial, but told with a mas­ter­ful vigour.

Don­ald­son’s first novel, Lord Foul’s Bane, was orig­i­nally re­jected by all 47 ma­jor fic­tion pub­lish­ers in the US.

Told with mas­ter­ful vigour

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