The Killing God: The Great God’s War Book Three by Stephen Donaldson (book review).

‘The Killing God’ is the third and final part of ‘The Great God’s War’, an epic fantasy trilogy by Stephen Donaldson. For it to make sense, you need to know something about parts one and two, so inevitable spoilers follow. I highly recommend reading the books instead.

‘The Seventh Decimate’ introduced Prince Bifalt of Belleger, a small kingdom permanently at war with neighbouring Amika and isolated from the rest of the world by its geography. Bifalt learned of the Last Repository, a huge fortress built into a desert cliff where sorcerers guarded a library containing all human knowledge. They were preparing for an assault by a barbarian horde, servants of some mysterious god and, to that end, wanted peace between Belleger and Amika, so the two nations could act as a buffer between them and the coming invasion.

Bifalt had no choice but to cooperate and ally himself with the Last Repository in order to defend his home country, but he bitterly resented being used. In book two, ‘The War Within’, he became King of Belleger and married Princess Estie of Amika, who became his queen. For the next twenty years, they readied their countries for the coming war. There’s a lot more to it, of course, with friends, loyal companions, rotten traitors, plots and the priests of the Great God Rile preaching peace, but that’s the gist of the first two books.

Now it’s war. The forces of the Great God Rile are attacking on several fronts. The main army comes by sea, overwhelming the defences Bifalt has prepared by sheer force of numbers, powerful sorcery and a bit of treachery. Most terrifying of all are the fanged horde, starving naked men with sharpened teeth who swarm across the countryside like locusts and ignore any wound short of death. Rile’s sorcery is compulsion and his followers throw their lives away recklessly. He has thousands of infantry, light cavalry, heavy cavalry and the aforementioned fanged devils against hundreds of soldiers fighting for Belleger and Amika. It’s not fair!

Bifalt is helped by the courage and resourcefulness of his loyal companions and also by the same qualities from unexpected quarters. A crisis brings out the best in some, even sorcerers. He has long known that he faced overwhelming odds and planned a strategy of guerrilla warfare and an organised retreat.

The Great God Rile pulls some unpleasant surprises, not just the fanged horde and his callous disregard for the lives of his own troops is shocking. Queen Estie plays a significant role in the drama and a high price, too. Nobody gets off lightly. It’s pleasant to escape into a world where royal princes are selfless heroes devoted to their people.

At 680 pages, ‘The Killing God’ is a substantial read but a gripping one all the way through and a wonderful conclusion to the story. My favourite epic fantasy is Donaldson’s ‘The Mirror Of Her Dreams’ but this runs it a very close second. I’m a fan of the genre but wary because reading it takes up too much of what Henry Thoreau called ‘life’ and one can enjoy a greater quantity of shorter works by a variety of authors in the same time.

However, it’s great to lose yourself in a big story now and then and this is one of the best. Highly recommended. I’m tempted to read all those Thomas Covenant books, but I’d have to take a year off to do it.

Eamonn Murphy

February 2023

(pub: Gollancz, 2022. 704 page hardback. price: £25.00 UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-174-1)

check out website: www.gollancz.co.uk

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.