Famed fantasy author Stephen Donaldson on his new novel, Seventh Decimate

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Mar 26, 2021, 6:00 PM EDT (Updated)

A storm of magical sparks in brewing in acclaimed sci-fi and fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson's new wizard-clashing adventure, Seventh Decimate, dropping in book stores and online retailers today, November 14.

Legions of loyal readers of his rousing Tolkien-esque sagas are chomping at the bit for this first book in The Great God's War trilogy. The series pits the rival fantasy kingdoms of Amika and Belleger against each other in a sorcery-saturated battle of mutual destruction, with a charismatic prince searching for a legendary conjuror's library.  Donaldson is the New York Times bestselling novelist of The Gap Cycle, Mordant’s Need, and the epic 10-book series,The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, which began back in 1977.


Here's the official synopsis:

Fire. Wind. Pestilence. Earthquake. Drought. Lightning.
These are the six Decimates, wielded by sorcerers for both good and evil.

But a seventh Decimate exists—the most devastating one of all…

For centuries, the realms of Belleger and Amika have been at war, with sorcerers from both sides harnessing the Decimates to rain blood and pain upon their enemy. But somehow, in some way, the Amikans have discovered and invoked a seventh Decimate, one that strips all lesser sorcery of its power. And now the Bellegerins stand defenseless.

Prince Bifalt, eldest son of the Bellegerin King, would like to see the world wiped free of sorcerers. But it is he who is charged with finding the repository of all of their knowledge, to locate the book of the seventh Decimate—and reverse the fate of his land.

All hope rests with Prince Bifalt. But the legendary library, which may or may not exist, lies beyond an unforgiving desert and treacherous mountains—and beyond the borders of his own experience. Wracked by hunger and fatigue, sacrificing loyal men along the way, Prince Bifalt will discover that there is a game being played by those far more powerful than he could ever imagine. And that he is nothing but a pawn…

SYFY WIRE spoke to Donaldson about embarking on this imaginative new series, mixing technology with magic, writing a Thor novella, and what readers can enjoy and embrace in his latest literary endeavor.


Can you take us on a brief trek into the plot of Seventh Decimate?

Stephen R. Donaldson: Well, it's a new departure for me in many different ways. This book is about the process which leads our protagonist, Prince Bifalt, to accept the idea of trying to make peace with his people's ancient enemy. This is not an easy thing for him to arrive at, there's been too much loss, too much bloodshed, too much ancient animosity. He's not an especially empathetic individual and it's a little hard for him to get the idea that peace would be a good thing. The story, along with his quest to gain more necessary knowledge, is the story of how he comes to not only become the kind of person who wants peace, but the kind of person able to go out and get it. I'm writing about a world that has sorcery but also has repeating riffles and that's something I've never tried to balance before. The adventures of technology combined with the adventures of magic. So I'm stretching myself.

What pressures or pleasures are you experiencing in launching a new series?

I am not a naturally confident person. I like to say that if my mother had ever suspected us of self-confidence she would have drowned us when we were puppies. That's a joke of course. But we were raised to doubt and I spent an unusual amount of time floundering in the first book here until I finally found my footing. It's partly because I'm old. I'm seventy. I've got 24 books behinds me and I don't feel like I have the time or the energy for the kind of massive work I've done in the past and I have concerns for what the future holds. So I was hesitant to admit to myself that this story needs to be a trilogy or I can't get where I need to go. I hope people like it. I hope people will trust me. I'm doing all kinds of things in new ways and I want my readers to know that if they go on this journey with me they're going to end up glad they did.

Where did the genesis of the story come from?

The genesis is long and quixotic. There have been, in the course of my reading life, a number of stories about strange and mysterious libraries. I've always been fascinated by the concept of writing about such a repository of knowledge, especially in the climate we live in where knowledge is often perceived as a negative thing and ignorance is perceived as a virtue. And I wanted to write about a library as a vehicle for writing about the quest for knowledge and what that quest is about and why it's important.


How do you see the current state of fantasy literature in the market place?

There's always room for somebody whose work is unique in the best sense of the word. The kind of story that nobody else could have written, it's not like anybody else's work. Like every form of literature, this field generates its treasures. There are writers working today who are incomparable and there's also an enormous amount of books that are predictable and turn out to be the same times you've basically read many times before. As fantasy became acceptable in the marketplace, it produces 90% junk and human beings do that in every field and I can give you a list of Pulitzer Prize-winning novels I consider to be junk.

What arenas of inspiration are there for you outside the literary world?

I do love movies and I see a lot of them and I love TV shows like The Expanse and I watch them faithfully. I'm not conscious of drawing ideas from those sorts of things but everything sinks into the mind and emerges in one form or another. And I like the blockbuster movies and the superhero movies. If you're able to suspend your disbelief there's an enormous amount of content in the best of these stories. Captain America: Civil War, which many people kind of blow off, asks some very searching questions about the struggle between the nature of society and the needs of the individual and the role of ethics. I think popular entertainment can provide just as much depth and satisfaction as indie film where the characters give each other meaningful looks but nobody ever explains what's going on.

Can you tell us about the Thor novella you once wrote?

I wrote a sort of pastiche based on a Thor comic back when I was a wee lad as a writer back in college and I won a "No Prize," for longtime readers of Marvel comics who might know what that is. I can't picture myself working in that direction now. The stuff that fires my imagination is different than that in terms of my own work. But I had a lot of fun with it and I profited a lot from it but it's not what I do.

What are you working on now and heading into next year?

Well this is the first book of a trilogy so I'm working on the second book and then I've got a third book to do and then I'll be really old. I'm calling the second book The War Within and it will make perfect sense in context when people are reading the book.