Any long-time reader of fantasy or science fiction knows of Stephen R. Donaldson. Those who have read his works are, more often than not, fans for life. This holds true for myself, at least. I distinctly remember poring over the pages of his Thomas Covenant series, breathless awaiting the next installment as soon as the current book was consumed. And it would be so easy to compare The War Within, this newest book in his current series, The Great God’s War, to those that I loved in the early eighties. But that would not do justice to this new book and the care with which it was created.
Unlike in some of Donaldson’s earlier works, the story we have before us is not one that focuses on the weaknesses of the protagonists, but rather allows our perception of them to grow and expand as they face their challenges with courage and fear. Fear is unavoidable here, as the main premise of the book is preparation for a war and invasion that is said to be coming. In this world, machinations and firearms play a larger part than magic, though sorcery does still exist in a select few. The threat of invasion has spurred the monarchs of two smaller kingdoms to put aside their ages long hatred and fighting and unite their people against the common enemy, though no one has yet seen this adversary. Bringing their countries together through the marriage of their oldest children, Kings Abbator and Smegin agreed to cease hostility. On the surface, at least.
Though it is an increasingly loveless marriage, Bifalt and Estie work diligently to better their people’s plight and prepare them for what is coming. I suppose I should say King Bifalt and Queen Estie, as their fathers left the thrones to their eldest offspring shortly after their marriage. As you might expect, not everyone feels that the two kingdoms should stay united. In fact, there is treason aplenty, as we are apt to find in most stories akin to this one. But you will be quite surprised by some of the perpetrators that are discovered or suspected. But all the signs are there, a darkness is coming and its goal is the Last Repository, an elusive and secretive library of more than books. The world simply must be prepared!
This book is an obvious bridge between the plot setup in Seventh Decimite and the forthcoming third novel in the series. A lot of development went into not just creating the atmosphere and intrigue, but also in building the characters up in such a way that you simply must empathize with them. They are so real, so flawed, so human that you feel as they feel, see as they do. This is perhaps the greatest power that Donaldson has, he brings people to life in ways seldom seen. The time he spends describing people and places might seem overdone at first, but later you realize he imparted exactly who they were and where they went. Not your personal version of it, but rather his. I find myself rooting for the background characters as much as the main ones; they may have supporting positions, but they are no less developed and realistic. As the reader, you just have no idea who will have a pivotal role and who might not make it at all.
Some parts of the story do seem to drag on, but once you get further in, the smaller details matter. The sub-plots are as finely detailed as the primary and the world is being explored one chapter at a time. This is not a story for the easily distracted, however. And at nearly 600 pages, this novel is no light read. It is definitely what I would consider high fantasy, structured and comprehensive as it is, and damn is it good. You’ll dig into The War Within and you just will not want to let go. Any fan of Donaldson will adore this book, but fans of series like Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, and Song of Ice and Fire will as well. I truly cannot recommend this one enough. Happy Reading!
It has been twenty years since Prince Bifalt of Belleger discovered the Last Repository and the sorcerous knowledge hidden there. At the behest of the repository’s magisters, and in return for the restoration of sorcery to both kingdoms, the realms of Belleger and Amika ceased generations of war. Their alliance was sealed with the marriage of Bifalt to Estie, the crown princess of Amika. But the peace–and their marriage–has been uneasy.
Now the terrible war that King Bifalt and Queen Estie feared is coming. An ancient enemy has discovered the location of the Last Repository, and a mighty horde of dark forces is massing to attack the library and take the magical knowledge it guards. That horde will slaughter every man, woman, and child in its path, destroying both Belleger and Amika along the way.
With their alliance undermined by lingering hostility and conspiracies threatening, it will take all of the monarchs’ strength and will to inspire their kingdoms to become one to defend their land, or all is lost….