I was very fortunate to receive a copy of The War Within by Stephen Donaldson last year from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. The synopsis caught my eye right away as something I would enjoy – and I did!
Before I could read The War Within though, I had to catch up with the first book in the series. I read Seventh Decimate in May last year when I found a copy at my library. If you haven’t checked out that review yet, catch up with the first instalment of the series here.
The War Within – Stephen Donaldson
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 people into defiance…
The War Within is on a completely different scale to Seventh Decimate. Where the first book in the series follows a very personal quest by Prince Bifalt to assure the safety of his nation, The War Within has a grander focus on the fictional world as a whole. A larger plotline and conflict involving multiple nations open this story up significantly, and with that, we are also introduced to multiple perspectives.
The War Within was a bit of a slow starter for me. Getting through the first quarter of the book (150 pages) took the longest. But, once I got that far, I read the rest of the book in a week. I think because this book was so different to the first, and set so much later, it took a bit of time for the author to fill in that time gap to get us up to speed with events in between. It also wasn’t what I expected based on the first book, but it actually turned out better once I got into it!
Books written in the third person and from multiple character viewpoints are my favourite. I find it’s easier to get a lot more depth about a character, setting etc without any bias. For fantasy novels where there isn’t any form of intrigue, I like that. Bias has its place and if written well can add to a story. It wouldn’t have really fit into this novel though.
As a result of the stressful situations Bifalt has had to deal with, he’s actually difficult to get on with. His demeanour has completely changed from the first book to the point where he isn’t all that likeable anymore. It’s fitting with what has happened and I like that the author hasn’t been too protective over his characters. Books that have you worry about what could happen are a lot more entertaining than ones where you feel characters are “safe” because they are the hero of the narrative.
I’m interested to see how the story concludes and the character conflicts resolve themselves. There is a lot of potential for an epic conclusion – let’s hope it’s delivered!
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