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Seventh Decimate By Stephen Donaldson


None The Wiser
Jul 24, 2003
What Has Gone Before:

This is a short explanatory note before the review and (for my own amusement) I decided to entitle it in the fashion of a Thomas Covenant recap. I am, as you can probably tell, easily amused.

Now to the nitty gritty. In all honesty, I have to inform any reader of this review that I am not an unbiased reader of Stephen Donaldson’s work. I first read the Thomas Covenant books when they were initially released and became a fan. Thirty years later, I read the Last Chronicles. Thirty Years! I want that to sink in because never have I been so bitterly disappointed with a writer’s work than with Donaldson’s four-volume conclusion to his magnum opus. I felt it to be shoddy, pretentious and inexplicably elongated whilst also feeling rushed. And to cap it all, the end was a complete cop-out in my opinion. When I read the last chapter of the last book, I tossed it in the bin in a fit of disgust and vowed never to read any Donaldson again. To wait so long, to invest so much time in all ten volumes and, in the end, to feel cheated, is the only way I can describe my emotions at the time.

That vow held until I stumbled across the paperback Seventh Decimate. Am I a masochist? Honestly, I’m not sure but I decided to give the writer one last chance.

So here it is – my exceedingly jaundiced opinion of Donaldson’s latest work….

The Review:
Belleger and Amika are at war and have been for centuries. The reasons for the start of hostilities have been lost to legend. There are stories but no certainty to its origins. And now, finally, the conflict appears to be reaching an end game of sorts. There is a twist, however. All of Belleger’s sorcerers (magisters) – wielders of the Six Decimates – have been stripped of their power. Belleger’s king suspects the existence of an all-powerful seventh decimate that Amika have somehow utilised against his realm and sends his son, Prince Bifult, on a quest to find the last repository of the theurgist’s knowledge so that he might find a way to re-enable the Bellegrin sorcerers that they might defend the realm in its greatest time of need. Now, as Bifult’s quest unfolds, he finds the world to be a much larger and stranger place than he had imagined…

The book itself is sectioned into a prologue and five parts. The prologue and first two parts were tedious to say the least, and could probably have been paired back to a more economic size of story. The lumbering pace and one-dimensional characterisations didn’t do anything to help matters. To make things worse, I find myself at odds with Donaldson’s word skills as he tosses around ridiculous phrases.

Examples: Grim as rock…eh? How grim is a rock? What about happy rocks? Can somebody be as grim as something that can neither be grim nor otherwise? Cold as granite I could accept because a rock can be cold, but grim?

He was a conflagration….followed by a passage where he is described as full of wood. Now, obviously, Donaldson is talking about fuel for the fire but the term wood has been used in other ways and, for a moment, I asked myself does Bifult have an erection? Rather clumsy, I thought.

And then later, his bed whispered his name…I just shook my head in dismay and wondered why my bed never whispers to me.

Another annoyance is the fact that Bifult chews his inner cheek so often that by the end of part two, I questioned whether he actually had any face left. Now, obviously, Donaldson was attempting to give him some kind of character trait but it was over used in the early stages.

I find these phrases not descriptive or even flowery, just ridiculous. But then, again, when it comes to Donaldson, I am not (as previously stated) unbiased.

One other point: it’s all (for example) he did not and no sign of he didn’t. Not one contraction anywhere. I presume this is to give it an air of age and be fitting with its fantasy setting and to a certain extent, it succeeds. There will be people, however, who also find it reads a little clunky in our brave new world of brevity and text-speak..

Thankfully, by the time our one-dimensional hero reaches the repository (and has met some interesting characters along the way), he not only begins to fill out the other two dimensions, but the story itself begins to become a bit more interesting and I found myself starting to enjoy it a little more….so much more that I stopped becoming so annoyed at some of the phrases that had irked me previously.

Not bad. Not great but not bad. Bifult does not (and never will I suspect) have the raw and visceral edge of a character like the early Covenant or Angus Thermopyle but he’s starting to get a little more believable.

I got the distinct impression that the beginning of the book was lacking passion – as if the writer found the whole exercise a chore. It all felt a bit clichéd and stereotypical, as if written by somebody that had become jaded. Perhaps it simply just started off as an exercise with which to pay the rent. But, as it progressed, it began to show signs of life. Story embers began to glow a little brighter and Bifult seemed to awaken from a literary coma little by little. Vital signs grew stronger and the pacing quickened like a pulse gaining strength (oh dear, I seem to be tainted with Donaldson wordage).

Maybe the author was just getting warmed up before his love of writing could re-emerge? Perhaps the butterfly Stephenis Donaldsonis is about to burst from its cocoon? I’ll shut up now….

Overall, it’s a book to be read when you’ve nothing else lying about. Something to while away a bit of spare time. An enjoyable romp (eventually) but not a classic.
Yet it shows some promise.

Who knows? I might even pick up volume two. I know I will never return to re-read Thomas Covenant – too much damage has been done - but maybe there’s some hope for me and Mr Donaldson’s books after all?

On the right track but he’s not forgiven yet.

Six out of ten. (it would have been seven if not for the sluggish start).