A Twisting Fascinating Epic Fantasy
5 out of 5 stars.
A decade or so ago, I watched the Michael Chrichton movie Twister, and the early dialogue explained that the protagonist researchers had three complex and expensive measuring devices and their goal was to successfully place one in a tornado’s path during a superstorm. So, I said to myself, the movie’s plot will be them failing twice and then being triumphantly successful with the last machine, against all odds and competing against a more fully funded research team. And this is exactly what happened [Oh, I’m sorry, Spoiler Alert!]. So I (along with, I presume, most alert viewers) knew the basic structure of the entire plot, including the ending, before getting twenty minutes into the movie.
In extreme contrast to that experience is the reading of ‘A Throne Of Bones’ by Vox Day. On a micro and macro level, the reader is surprised (not to mention shocked and stunned), narrative directions are turned 180 degrees and assumptions are ripped away. I never knew where it was heading next.
And here’s the good news: It’s a delightful experience.
When I reviewed ‘Summa Elvetica’, Vox Day’s last fiction book, I wrote, ‘My feeling here is that this book could be a “The Hobbit”-like prelude to a much more significant fictional writing.’ This, I’m pleased to say, is what the author has done. ‘Throne’ is placed in the same universe as that book and only a few years (months?) later.
And what is this universe? Just like with Summa, imagine Rome in the fifth century, complete with a Christian heritage. Now add in magic. And elves. And dwarves and goblins and some kind of new immortal creature.
But the geography is completely different. The Empire is Amorr. In it, there are two very strong family houses that are growing more and more at odds with each other. In one of these houses, two brothers are in conflict – for good reason. And dark tidings are reaching its neighbor to the north, Savonne, about the ulfin, sentient wolf-men, attacking it’s northern neighbor.
Vox has clearly done his research and I’m guessing that there are few books that give a better picture of what it must have been like to be in an armed conflict in a Roman legion. It puts you right into the battle. One of my favorite chapters has a stream of narrative following the downfall of several named but nameless fighters. In other sections, the reader is also given a fascinating (and I’m guessing fairly realistic) view into the inner-mechanics of Roman/Amorran politics.
Each chapter is from the perspective of one of nine different characters – A rebellious daughter, a general, a princess, a dutiful son, a crafty dwarf. All of these characters are flawed. All of them are interesting and complex.
I will say that in giving this five stars, I’m rounding up. I’d like to give it 4 ½ stars. The book is not perfect. To wit -
The author says in his acknowledgements that he won’t be letting his kids read this book yet. This, I think, is wise. Unfortunately. I’d love to give most of this book to my 14 year old son to read. Perhaps 98 percent of it. The offending two percent is some brief PG13 level sexual content and some fairly graphic battle violence. And some scatological stuff. Oh well.
My other disgruntlement is that this book ends very suddenly, with very little by way of denouement (yes, I just looked up how to spell that word – by all means, let me know if I’ve used it improperly). True, this book is the first of a set, but my thought is that a first book should tie up a few loose ends or have more of a cliff-hanger. You know, like winning the battle at Helm’s deep, or leaving Frodo with the Orcs in the Tower. (I must admit, however, that it does have a face-off that was somewhat satisfying and one mystery solved, slightly disappointingly, right in the last few chapters).
But overall this is a very readable book that made me want to keep on reading. It is, in turn, humorous, shocking and exciting. There are beautiful moments, there is clever dialogue, there is deep mystery. It took some level of genius to write it. I recommend you read it.
As a disclaimer, I should say that I was one of the proofreaders of this book. And Vox Day is a friend of mine. It was a pleasant experience to get an advanced reading of all these chapters. So it might be correct to assume that I am a little biased.