“The Seventh Decimate” by Stephen Donaldson – the first in a new fantasy series

In the world that Stephen Donaldson creates for his novel The Seventh Decimate two countries have been at war for as long as anyone can remember. There are stories about what started the conflict but people are past caring because war has left their lands in ruins and their people starving. Each country has its own corps of magicians. Each magician has one of six deadly powers, or decimates, which are not quite strong enough to win the war but which devastate the people and the land. What shifts the balance is that one country seems to have acquired a seventh decimate – one which allows it to negate the powers of the magicians on the other side.

Prince Bifalt hates magicians and everything that they do but he is chosen to lead a forlorn expedition in search of a legendary library where there may be information to allow his nation to acquire this seventh decimate for themselves before it is too late. The expedition has very little hope because it has very little information but the prince and his companions face unknown dangers to find what they need to save their country. The prince is also hearing voices at times of danger asking him “Are you ready ?” but he doesn’t know what he needs to be ready for.

This is the first book in a series and it does what many series do which is to finish at a point where you need to read the next book to make sense of this first one. During this novel the author introduces us to the world he has created and begins a lot of story arcs but nothing is resolved at the end of this book and we are left with a lot of unanswered questions.

If the story is good enough then when I have the first volume in a series I would normally be rushing to read the next instalment but, unfortunately, this book didn’t engage me enough to want to follow the story through. The first reason for this is that I did not really engage with the prince and his quest. Bifalt is stubborn and prejudiced and it is obvious to the reader that there is more going on than he can grasp but he continually makes ultimatums and ends up in very difficult situations which would be avoided if he was more flexible and willing to consider anyone else’s point of view. The whole book is told from Bifalt’s point of view so you never get to meet or understand the other characters except through his eyes which means that none of them have any real substance. I also cannot remember any women who play any role in this story whatsoever.

If you haven’t read Stephen Donaldson’s fantasy novels before then I think you might want to give them a try. They tend to be quite serious and without humour and often steeped in despair but I have enjoyed both the Thomas Covenant books and the Mordant’s Need duet in the past. The author is excellent at creating worlds with believable people but somehow in this book he failed, at least for me, so I will not be reading further in this series. Although I have enjoyed this author’s work in the past I no longer feel the attraction for his stories that I used to and I have moved on to other fantasy writers whose works I am enjoying more at this time in my reading life.

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