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Seventh Decimate
by Stephen R. Donaldson
Berkley, $27.00, 307 p
Published: November 2017

What happens when magic and the technologies of war form unholy alliances of destructive power? And what price would you pay, if you were warlord or general or prince, to assure that your kingdom wasn’t annihilated by the opposition?

This setting of kingdoms and princes and magicians and quests for dangerous knowledge could not be more different in tone than Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, and yet they have a quality in common, a sense of the utter, wasteful folly of war rooted in the deliberate management of public opinion.  Both stories also explore heroic choices running counter to cultural expectations.

The countries of Amika and Belleger have been at war for centuries, so long that the original causes are shrouded in myth-telling and finger-pointing. And for centuries certain limits have been observed as the two nations wage war. But as exasperation, dwindling resources and dangerously reduced populations bring home the reality that wars that last too long are counter-productive for even the most insulated strata of society, the Amikan army employs a magical weapon that strips the Bellegrians of their magical defenses in a bid to win the war conclusively.

Prince Bifalt, raised on a code of valor balanced with courtesy, who has fought with and lead Bellegrian units since he was a youth, sets out on a “diplomatic” mission to find an ultimate weapon to serve a winning solution. But it may be that the best he can buy is time.

With vivid world-building and character development, Seventh Decimate doesn’t take you to the point where you see the enemy as yourself, it starts there, and then asks, “So how do we conduct ourselves?” – Chris Wozney

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