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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Throne of Bones - Vox Day - Review

Subtext flows fast through the story, providing a skeleton that never shows through the story's skirts. However, if you want elegant critiques on the distancing effects of television, the nature of cruelty, the excellence of warfare, the culture of the Church, the narrowness of postmodern expectation, the daft inner workings of pseudoscience, the shortcomings of theory versus application, the invisible nature of Modalism, or the psychological impact of human flight you'll find them, like a rake in his prime, waiting, ready and rich.

But this is a book designed with a single primary purpose, to revive epic fantasy as a rooted form, and most readers of fantasy are going to receive this story as such.

They will not be disappointed.

Names are important in A Throne of Bones, and I'll highlight two: Selenoth, the continent upon which the action takes is, a nod, I believe, to the element selenium, which occurs naturally in volcanic areas. Considering the photosensitivity of the material, it seems natural that the land provides an elemental basis to the development of Selenoth's primeval magic.

Even more interesting, however is the name of the main country: Amorr. Yes, it is a play on the legendary "secret name" of Rome, which provides a clever signal that this strange society will in some way mirror the Roman republic. However, more deeply, it is also a direct tip to the Latin word for "love" and this is where, if the magic of Selenoth draws the bow, the arrow of Amorr strikes the heart.

Day is, after all, an incorrigible romantic, and not of the hopeless variety. The nostalgia, realism and richness of Selenoth is crystalized through the lens of Amorr, and, to put a fine point on it, love is all around. Love in degraded, if happy, form in the camp followers and brothels among the soldiery. Love between sibling reavers on a mission to draw former victim states into an alliance against certain doom. In a scene stunning, dreadful, long-coming but still shocking scene, love grips in stoic, complex anguish.*

The raw and needful love between man and wife. Long-distance love between the clever (yet earnest) and the cruel (yet sympathetic). Love of complex relational intrigues. Love of language. Love of order. Love of family, of honor, of duty.

Love of dragons. Love of gold. Love of knowledge. Love of good men, of good life, of good death. A love of the hope that all things, not some or most, will pass away, and yet that all things, not some or most, will be restored by the hand of the Almighty. Every page, for its grit and realism, its tragedy, folly and danger, the thwarted plans, curses, whoredom, brutality, the death of youth, the loss of ideals, the temporary victory of murder and evil, is an out and out love letter to the Immaculate. Death, in all its towering, all-consuming bleakness, is small, and soon to be swallowed by a love so great it lays its life down, and in defeat, quite literally overcomes all.

A Throne of Bones is doorstopping fantasy for far more than its physical dimensions. Metaphysically, it shuts the door to the world we know and provides an escape to a better reality, and one far more dangerous than the one in which we now dwell. It expresses longings (to master dragons, to find treasure, to save the world on a mission from God, to restore and enjoy the family, to live abundantly and in reality, enjoy and defend the relationships that matter, and many, many more) in such richness of detail.

An aside: fantasists are the bastard children of organized theology. I don't mean that fantasy is allegory, and certainly not direct, symbol for symbol theology. Instead due in part to the fact that every fantasy, from Phantastes to His Dark Materials, are created worlds that don't pop into existence at random. They each have creators who can't help that they leave traces of themselves in the handiwork of their model worlds. While science fiction is typically a practical exercise or applied thought experiment in galactic or atomic creation, fantasy distinguishes itself by fabricating the middle ground: the world as it is commonly known. A Throne of Bones expresses a theology that views an Almighty who is coming to restore all things, and the things, even in corrupted state, have their origins in good. Evil is small and dark and nothing, whose major temporary advantage is its ability to poison hope and occlude the truth.

Ensoulment, the major theme of the previous novel in the series, Summa Elvetica, gets to play in A Throne of Bones in a way that was impossible when it was the primary pack mule for the plot of the previous work. As previously established, love is not possible without ensoulment. What is most fascinating is to see the care in which the author has ensouled each of his own characters, down to the idiotically short-lived and naturally evil goblin cannon fodder.

Forget if elves might be ensouled. Can goblins win a fight?

The book has tremendous surf. There are waves of no fewer than seven chapters that are powerful, climactic, moving: not just great writing, but great in meaning. I have been surprised to see (more than once) complaints about dropped plot threads (such as the dragon) which to me were quite obviously not dropped, characters that do not naturally develop (such as Severa) who seems to me to very naturally develop and comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire where I see very little resemblance.

A major criticism I have of the book is something I naturally expected after reading a chapter or two: music. The book itself is not lyrical, but technical (though elegant in technique), but the world of Selenoth, especially with its peculiar response to the Immaculate, simply cries out for various bits of poetry, hymn and common song to be in greater evidence. Aside from a muscular (and welcome) public recitation of poetry (during which Corvus, the listener, falls asleep!) they are not.

I know, I know. Bad form knocking a book an entire half-star (out of ten) for what it did not include, but it really was that noticeable. It isn't like the author hasn't included poetics in previous works: the decision had to be conscious, and all I can say is that I missed the music. The reader gets smells, sights, sounds, textures and action, but the lack of music is curious. The lyrics are there, mixed in with more mundane plot-drivers - they are simply not drawn out and set to music to make it more obvious for the reader. There are prayers, but no psalms.

On the other hand, despite an off-hand reference to musicians, there are also no minstrel bards to be found, and of that I can't complain.

Despite its length, A Throne of Bones is a fast read, and perhaps would benefit from the occasional gear-shifting song cycle or original poem, just to remind the reader to linger and look around a moment longer.

Of course, to truly succeed, the series will need to out-do itself until the penultimate book (where, if the series is to be great, it must peak, then echo that peak through the final book and achieve an elegant slight downslope), which will certainly be a challenge, perhaps an epic one. However, I simply can't express the joy in knowing this is a planned set - a part of a larger story (but don't worry, this one stands just fine on its own. Though it ends with a satisfying suspense, it is no annoying cliffhanger. It will build expectation for what comes next, but also satisfies.) - and that I have only just begun a lifelong escape into the reality of Selenoth and Amorr: or, as I think of their secret names - Magic and Love.

9 out of 10


*One note on this, yet trying to avoid major spoilers* - the scene of anguish is subtle and intensely complex, and argues, in a very brief moment, a detailed theological argument. I view it as a significant underpinning to the way the world of Selenoth "works" from a creator's point of view - a creator who fully intends to restore all things, and one who therefore allows space for a man to work out many critical and seemingly impossible choices for himself.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Artificial Intelligence Interviews the Author, Coherence Ensues

Mark Coker at Smashwords has developed  an innovative way to interview authors and he invited me to participate.

Well, he invited everyone participate. I just happened to be one of the folks who agreed to it.

So, this is my interview. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dead Vault: An Arclight Adams Thriller

Dead Vault is now available anywhere.
Arclight's in trouble. Out of work and out of time, he's losing his own mind in search of someone else's.

That's the good news.

It seems that dementia isn't the only thing in North Tree that is in the business of swallowing hearts. When Arc goes down, he goes down hard.

Make it to the end, and realize why the question really isn't:

Will Arc Adams survive the dead vault?
...but, will he want to?

My latest book, a pulpy little novel about the search for a missing woman, is now available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, or pretty much anywhere else you care to look.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Contact

I seem to have stirred something up recently. Some requests for contact info have come in, so here it is:

d p a u l e n e s s "at" gmail.com [No spaces]

Monday, April 15, 2013

On the Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Titanic - Tales of the Haunted Titanic

Tales of the Haunted Titanic - Available Everywhere
A memorial.

A relic.

The greatest ocean liner to sail the Atlantic.

The true treasures of the RMS Titanic: passengers and crew, victims and survivors, trapped in that brief moment when the world's tallest building, its most luxurious hotel, and its grandest expression of wealth could walk on water.

In 100 years, the RMS Titanic has only gotten bigger. But there is a forgotten treasure of the Titanic, a spirit, a precious memory that was ignored, and then lost. But out of the icy darkness, it returns. And with it, so do her ghosts.

Collecting a half dozen stories of the uncanny, the improbable and the unreal, Tales of the Haunted Titanic shares the ghostly alternate history of the Unsinkable and the Unthinkable.

Some stories include: A mystery surrounds the funeral of one of the survivors, and the only clue is provided by one of the victims. As a talented embalmer begins to draw bodies from the deep, a body draws him into the depths. One survivor is unaccounted for: a song which outlives its performers. A bankrupt aristocrat follows a dark trail of revenge to Boiler Room Number 6. A giant of the deep rouses from a ghostly slumber, taking a chance to make history at history's end.

Collecting: Titanic Rising, On Jack Thayer's Watch, The Autumn Ice of Springtime, The Unsinkable Supernatant, Pronouncing the Mackay-Bennett, and Introducing: The Giant, Ben Guggenheim, a new story exclusive to Tales of the Haunted Titanic.

Available anywhere books are sold, digital or print.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Publications Gather...

For those of you keeping score at home, I've been in the basement, mixing up some medicine, and some strange stuff is periodically leaking out...

[At this rate, about one new thing goes up per week, sometimes faster than that. Anthologies and novels to come.]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stupefying Stories Escapes

Anyone who has told you the age of the pulps is over hasn't read Stupefying Stories. One of my stories appears in the October edition.

Available now for e-reading everywhere (retail $1.99 for the anthology.)