- William Shakespeare, Hamlet
When I wrote my article on Christian Fantasy for the Intercollegiate Review, I made a disparaging comment about “wanabee George R. R. Martins.” I received a friendly e-mail shortly thereafter from none other than Vox Day of the Vox Popoli blog, wondering if I had had his novel Throne of Bones in mind. I hastened to tell him that I hadn’t. I’d seen the book on Amazon and thought about checking it out, but hadn’t done so yet.
The upshot was that I sent him a copy of Hailstone Mountain, and he sent me a copy of A Throne of Bones. It should be noted for the record that if our reviews of each other’s books are positive (I don’t know whether his will be, assuming he does one) that we have both received free books in the deal and may have been corrupted thereby.
Most anyone who starts reading Throne of Bones will realize that it’s very much the same sort of thing as George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books, and Vox makes no denial of this. But he’s trying to do the same sort of thing in a very different way, which for me makes all the difference.
The story takes place in an alternate world called Selenoth (it has two moons). The general situation seems to be something like that of the Roman Empire in the late Republican period (as best I can figure out), though there are differences. The time period seems more medieval than Roman, and the Amorran Empire (spell Amorr backwards) has believed in a religion which seems pretty much the same as Christianity for four centuries. The two most powerful houses in Amorr are the Valerians and the Severans, conservative and liberal respectively. The Valerians want to preserve the old form of the empire, while the Severans want to expand citizenship to the provincials. But General Corvus of the Valerians sets off a break within his own family through a necessary act of military discipline.
Meanwhile the Sanctiff of the Amorran church dies, and the conclave convened to elect his replacement is massacred by some kind of demonic attacker, something that’s not supposed to happen in Amorr, where magic is strictly prohibited.
Far to the north, the Viking-like Dalarans are being driven from their home islands by the Ulven, a race of wolf-men. They agree to submit to the king of Savondir (a heathen land where magic is legal) if he will give them refuge and help them reconquer their homeland. But strange shape-shifters have appeared among the Ulven, and pose a threat to Savondir as well.
And Corvus’ soldier son Marcus survives an army coup, managing to wrest control from the mutineers and finding himself, though woefully inexperienced as a commander, the general of an entire army, facing not only orcs and goblins but rebel Amorrans.
And there are dragons. And dwarves. And elves.
Pretty much all you could ask.
I enjoyed it immensely. Vox Day isn’t the prose stylist George R. R. Martin is, but he's not bad. On the plus side we have a complicated, complex story with interesting and sympathetic, fully rounded characters. There are few out-and-out villains – everybody is doing what they think right. And unlike Martin’s stories, the fact that someone is virtuous and noble does not guarantee them a painful and ignominious death. In terms of pure story, Vox Day’s book is much more rewarding. And Christianity is treated not only with respect, but as a true part of the cosmos.