The Killing God – Stephen R. Donaldson

The Killing God


Belleger and Amika have finally found peace with each other. But war threatens from without, and it's a greater, more dangerous war than any of them could have envisioned.


It pains me to admit that I have not [shudder] read the middle book of this trilogy. My impression is that I didn’t miss that much in terms of plot.

This series is titled The Great God’s War, and the martial aspect comes to fruition in this final volume, which is essentially one very long (600 page) collection of battle scenes. I found it wearing, especially because there’s no map to help envision the various strategic moves. After a while, I found it hard to stay interested in tactical decisions that lacked context and tended to blur together. In part, that’s because of the characters’ histrionics.

Any fan of Donaldson knows that his characters will tend toward the selfish and dramatic, with a likelihood of freezing under pressure. He set that template in Lord Foul’s Bane, and hasn’t strayed far from it since (though a bit more so in his short fiction). It’s become at least a trademark, if not a crutch. Here, he applies it in spades. Character after character is anguished by their need (and willingness) to sacrifice others, but taken aback by any suggestion that they pay a price themselves. And ‘anguish’ is the operative word here; characters have the choice of two responses: flat stolidity or wailing, tooth-gnashing anguish. Never does anyone say, “Sure. That will be mildly difficult, but we’ll give it a shot.”

At one point, Queen Etsie learns the nature of her undeveloped magic power, and the price for it. It’s a power that’s not terribly useful, and it’s not really clear why she feels driven to explore it. At the same time, the price, while certainly life-changing, is small compared to the stakes and terms that are constantly thrown around. Yet, paying that price seems to drive her to extremes of depression, as if someone had asked her to torture her children one by one. It’s on par with the generally overwrought feel of the book, and I found it really trying – especially as the Queen and King repeatedly ask others for the impossible, but cry their eyes out over paying any price themselves. That’s a bit exaggerated, but then, so is the book.

I’d ordinarily think that – as I suggested in a review of the first book, Donaldson is in a bit of a rut or even decline, but I felt the Thomas Covenant series ended fairly well. I do think that this most recent trilogy is not a success. From the awkward naming (Bellegerin and Amika as warring nations) to the overdramatic characters to the endless battle scenes to the loose threads, there’s a lot that could have been better.

A host of things unexplained in this concluding volume. The Final Decimate ends up underwhelming, and its nature unclear. The magic system as a whole begins to fall apart – or muddle together – at the end; what’s a decimate and what isn’t remains unclear, beyond the simple, formal designation. The nature and origin of the dreaded enemy? No attempt made to explain it at all. The motivations of the characters, beyond serving the plot? Well, they serve the plot, and, you know, this must be done, despite the vast, incalculable price. I guess.

The book is largely what I anticipated, based on the first in the trilogy, but longer and more angsty. I think that Donaldson is a talented writer, and I wish I could say that I’d loved this book or series, but I can’t. In my view, he’d do better to try something really different – not just a new genre (as in the Gap or The Man Who series), but something a little more lighthearted and without quite so much drama.

The cover, as with the first book, is pretty, but only somewhat related to the book itself.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

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