Weapons of magic destruction
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