The Main Course of Selenoth Begins

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day, Castalia House, December 4th, 2016
(originally published by Marcher Lord Press on December 1st, 2012) 

Back in January I posted a review of Summa Elvetica and Other Stories which I read for the second time over the 2023-2024 holiday period. After letting a few books get in the way, I finally got to A Throne of Bones last month and have now finished reading it. As I mentioned in the previous review, I originally read this before Summa Elvetica back in 2013 so it has been over a decade since I first read it. This means there were a few connections with the previous book that I’d forgotten about that I didn’t include in the previous post. As of writing, I’m still waiting for the physical release of the follow-up A Sea of Skulls which has been available digitally for a few months now.

In preparing for this post, I also want to highlight the somewhat confusing release history. Both of these books have gone through a multiple releases and publishers and both were originally published before Castalia House existed. They were also removed by Amazon for never-explained reasons but are all available again as of writing. The best (and most reliable), way to buy them digitally remains directly through the Arkhaven Store. This all naturally makes publication dates a little confusing and that is reflected above.

This review will include some spoilers for the plot but I will try to keep them minimal.

As mentioned, it has been a long time since I first read this and I was happy with both how much I remembered as well as how much I enjoyed my second reading. I wrote a positive (and now long deleted), review on Amazon back then and though I don’t remember everything I said, I do remember some criticisms I made which I will come to in the course of this review.

Back when I first read it, I remember liking the way the chapters were all named after the characters they focused on and looking forward to coming back to some characters much more than others. I recall originally considering the chapters focusing on “Corvus” to be the most engaging. I didn’t realise then that this was based off the structure of George R. R. Martin’s still unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire series. Moreover, I wasn’t aware that Vox Day was consciously taking inspiration from Martin’s work and indeed — creating a better version of it. As of writing, I am still only familiar with the adapted television series A Game of Thrones and I don’t think I started watching that until around the same time I read this book and due to its rapid decline in quality, I never finished watching it either.

Even with only the television show as a guide, I am now well-aware of how vulgar Martin’s world is. There is rape, fornication and all manner of depravity to no good end. But at least early on, he could engage his readers. It is plausibly argued that the reason he has been unable to finish it was because the logical ending to such a  worldview can hardly be one that would please. And judging by the reaction viewers had to the final season of the show, this has played out in reality. 

This book which is the first in Day’s Arts of Dark and Light series seeks to give the moral core missing from Martin’s work while retaining the cataclysmic events and multiple converging storylines that made his work so engaging and popular. I would also be willing to bet money that unlike Martin, Day will also complete what he’s set out to do and in a way that I’ve no doubt will please readers.

The story continues after the events of Summa Elvetica but as I said, it is not necessary to be familiar with these events. Marcus is now part of the new XVII Legion and serves under the command of his father, Valerius Corvus. As a result of his earlier flirtation with the priesthood, he has received the name “Valerius Clericus.” The early chapters with both Marcus and Corvus concern Marcus’s first experience of combat in the legion against a goblin army. The shocking aftermath of this battle sets in motion the major events of the book’s 800+ page narrative. 

Marcus’s father is only mentioned in Summa Elvetica so it is interesting to see how father and son contrast. Corvus is a highly competent career soldier but also a loving father and husband. He is something of a stoic but this is tempered by a recognisably Christian morality. Marcus is still bookish but he is also his father’s son and adapts to the life of a soldier through a mixture of ingrained talent and the events he is unwittingly swept into. 

Alongside Marcus and Corvus are a number of parallel narratives. Marcus’s newly freed slave Lodi has his own little adventures which comes into play towards the end. The Savondese (or is it Savonnaise?) mage Theuderic from A Magic Broken and the elfess Lithriel Everbright also have a large part to play. Then there are two female characters introduced in this novel. The first is Severa, the daughter of Severus Patronus, a major rival of House Valerius. Farther up north is Fjotra the daughter of a Dalarn warchief whose island home is being overwhelmed by the demon wolf creatures introduced in The Last Witchking. The Savondese are something of an analog of the French and the Dalarn, an analog of the Nordic people. There are also some lesser characters with a chapter or two devoted to them and all of these separate stories become connected in different ways before the end. 

As mentioned, the novel is over 800 pages but the prose flows smoothly and I found myself getting through up to a hundred pages in a single sitting. The chapters tend to jump to characters in the same order and I often found myself wanting to read an entire cycle each time before putting it down. One of the simple ways the novel is kept engaging is the way many of these chapters end on a cliffhanger which leaves the reader in anticipation of what comes next even as they read of events elsewhere. 

That the prose flows smoothly is not to say it lacks sophistication. The language is varied and often dense. Day adapts real historical events, philosophical discussions and other touches within. One does not need to be familiar with the real-world analogs to understand these but it does give an appreciation for the thought that has gone into it if you do. I very much doubt I caught all of these but I did pick up a few in the course of the novel. 

One criticism I do remember having was of the teenage Severa who quickly goes from naïve to cunning after being rescued from potential scandal by her observant father. I thought the speed at which she the developed this practical wisdom to be a little implausible. After a decade more experience with the opposite sex, I can now see how this one incident could have changed her. Women can be very adaptable when they need to be and her father awakens this hidden cunning by calmly explaining her error with little admonition. He is clearly fond of her and she is soon shown to be her father’s daughter in this respect. Something her father must already have noticed before the events of the novel.

Something also explored in Summa Elvetica but which remains important is the existence of magic within the same world as an analog of the Christian faith. This is found within the premise of the Roman Empire existing in a fantasy world. If magic did exist and Christianity were true, it would be necessary for Christ to intervene through his priesthood as he does with seven sacraments of the Church. So there is a priestly military order that does have the power to nullify the various forms of magic that exist. Importantly, this does not mean that magic users give up on it and come to the Faith. As with the seductive nature of evil in our own world, magic remains a temptation through the very real and visible power it has. 

The book also puts the characters in situations where there is not clear answer or right choice. Where they have to make decisions based on the information they have or what they conclude will be the best for them. The narrative builds from a family struggle, to civil war and upheaval with the beginnings of darker events to follow. The ending is left open for the sequel but the narrative threads are still impressively brought together in the final chapters. Even minor events from early chapters are shown to have significance by the end.

Going by my experience of fantasy, I’d have to conclude that the ratio of good to bad is weighted decisively to the latter. The best praise for A Throne of Bones is that I can unequivocally place it in the former. I am very much looking forward to diving into A Sea of Skulls especially while the previous events are still so fresh.

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