The Killing God by Stephen R. Donaldson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Killing God by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Killing God by Stephen R. Donaldson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsI was not, to put it mildly, a fan of Seventh Decimate, the opening book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s GREAT GODS WAR trilogy. Book two, The War Within (2022), was an improvement, but marginally. The good news is that book three, The Killing God, is a big jump up, though the obvious bad news is one has to get through the first two to arrive here, begging the question of is it worth the journey? Warning: spoilers for the first two books to follow as I try to answer that question.

The long-awaited invasion of Belleger by the Great God Rile is about to commence. At the point of invasion, King Bifalt readies his plans and defenses against Rile’s overwhelming force. Meanwhile, his wife and ally, Queen Estie of Amika, has journeyed to the Last Repository, the great library where she hopes to awaken the sorcery she’s just discovered she carries within her, though she doesn’t know what her power is or how it might help them against Rile.

As noted, The Killing God is a vast improvement on the prior two books, lacking any of the issues that caused me so much grief earlier. The book flows smoothly, propulsively forward; the language is rich and vibrant without any of the repetition that so marred earlier book; the plot grows organically rather than relying on implausible actions/choices. Characterization has been smoothed out (especially with regard to Bifalt) and spread amongst a larger group we become deeply invested in, particularly Bifalt’s general and captains.

The Great God's War by Stephen R. DonaldsonDonaldson offers up some quite moving scenes, as well as a number of tense one on one confrontations and major battle scenes, each of which is its own type of battle, offering its own type of readerly anxiety. One of my favorite segments involves a relatively unique way of portraying one such battle, with the Repostitory’s magical “far-lookers” relaying the events to Queen Estie and others, but thanks to the darkness and the inability of the far-lookers to hear, increases the suspense and tension as they struggle to accurately describe what is happening on the battlefield. And this being Donaldson, there are also a number of fraught, more interior or philosophical debates, particularly with regard to the wielding of power, the obligations of duty, tyrants’ fear of knowledge, and the difficulties and joys of human relationships.

The Killing God isn’t wholly without flaw. I’d argue that it could be a bit better balanced between battles and non-battle scenes, even if the battle scenes are vividly portrayed. And I found myself, as has been the case throughout the series, wishing for a greater sense of the world beyond these characters. The battle against an implacable foe in Donaldson’s earlier THOMAS COVENANT series, for instance, had such powerful impact because readers were so attached to the Land and the people within it. Here, that sense of just what Bifalt and Estie are fighting to protect isn’t as fully realized or felt and while that doesn’t have much impact on the individual scenes, it does rob the book a bit of a larger effect.

So is it worth the journey to arrive here at The Killing God, a book that honestly feels wholly detached from the series in its quality, almost as if it were written by a completely different author? It’s difficult to say. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed this read, and as is the case with everything, time (it’s been a few years obviously since I read book one) softens the memory of less pleasant moments. And given how much excellent writing is out there, recommending one reads two weak books (one quite so) to get to an excellent one seems a bit silly. But I supposed I’d say give Seventh Decimate a shot and if you react less strongly to it, just keep going. If you have the same reaction I did, consider skimming through it just to pick up plot (but don’t feel bad about just giving up on the series if you so choose), then read book two, which isn’t great but certainly better, and finally settle in for a good attentive read with The Killing God.

Published in November 2022. The kingdoms of Belleger and Amika had been fighting for generations. But then they learned of a terrible threat moving through them to destroy the Last Repository, an immense hidden library. To face this greater enemy, King Bifalt of Belleger and Queen Estie of Amika allied their lands and prepared for war. Now the time of preparation is over. Black ships and sorcery test the cannon that defend the Bay of Lights. Treachery and betrayal threaten the kingdoms. The priests of the Great God Rile sow dissent. And Estie rides for the Last Repository, desperate to enlist the help of their Magisters—and to understand the nature of her own magical gift. Bifalt hates sorcery as much as he loves Estie, and the discovery that she could become a Magister shatters him. But he must rally and fight. Belleger and Amika are all that stand between the Great God’s forces and his ultimate goal: the destruction of the Last Repository and its treasure of knowledge.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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