Review: The Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson - 4/10*
Bland, boring and generic are all words that come to mind when I think about this book.
Indeed, The Seventh Decimate is not a book with compelling characters or buzzing personalities; it is not a book that allowed me to invest in the struggles of its protagonist, Prince Bifalt, with any particular ease. Though it is a book about war and the desperate extremes a nation will go to ensure absolute victory against its greatest foe.
The people of Amika have found the ultimate weapon; it's called the seventh decimate and it has the power to render enemy sorcerers completely inert. As such, there is absolutely nothing to prevent the sorcerers of Amika from desolating Prince Bifalt's armies from Belleger. They have no defences against such awesome power, and their recent discovery of gunpowder can only assist them so far. They need to get their hands on the same weapon their enemy has recently acquired so they can, once again, balance the scales of war.
Prince Bifalt is sent on a mission, with a few followers, to acquire such a power. And despite the interesting premise of the novel, this is where the problems began for me. The story developed into a linear quest type narrative, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but what prevented the novel from becoming exciting, dramatic and even entertaining was Bifalt's lack of personality. Simply put, he just not a very likable character because he possesses very little character. I could not tell you anything of remark about him because he has nothing remarkable about him. Seeing the world through his eyes was the biggest hindrance to the story.
A lifeless hero
His attempts at leadership resulted in many cases of generic and clichéd dialogue. I also took issue with his complete lack of knowledge about his own world, his enemy and the ultimate purpose of the war he was fighting. How can the Prince of the land not know what's beyond his borders? He was also fiercely gullible and overly trusting. How can a man in his position lack all political savviness that any leader would need? But this is only the tip of the iceberg. All these things are fine if the central character grows through his journey. Unfortunately, Bifalt did not which made the quest feel incomplete and a little pointless.
This book, though far from being the best of the genre, establishes itself as a grimdark adventure. What it really needs is some stronger foundations to establish much more firmly what's actually happening beyond that of the conflict, and to give Bifalt chance to grow. There are far too many gaps in the world building for this to be successful fantasy.