18/01/2013 § 1 Comment
A Throne of Bones by Vox Day
A Throne of Bones is a long, remarkably dense work of fiction. That it is well-written and compelling helps to hide this fact, especially when you read this in the Kindle format, for once you start reading, it is very difficult to stop. As such, the sheer entertainment value coupled with Vox’s need to constantly propel the plot forward at a rather fast clip (much like what you would expect from the TV show 24), makes this book seem shorter than it is.
I will not attempt to summarize the plot, as a) I don’t want to reveal spoilers and b) doing so would almost be a novel unto itself. Nonetheless, the plot of this book revolves primarily around war, and most of the subplots revolve around this as well.
What makes this book both an entertaining and fascinating read is that Vox draws on his rather tremendous depth of knowledge and literary theory to create a world that is quite imaginative and “realistic,” which is in turn populated with characters that are interesting, sympathetic, and multi-dimensional. The book’s presumable protagonist—Marcus Valerius—though good, is quite human. He is cunning and intelligent, though his inexperience often gets the best of him. He has self-doubts, and is occasionally ignorant of a good number of martial truths, but still manages to prevent self-doubt from ruining his abilities to lead.
Most of the remaining characters in the book are similarly three-dimensional, and often sympathetic. Corvus, for example, comes across as a hardened military man who loves his family, and is somewhat flummoxed by the realities of politics. He loves his city and his house, but seems almost blindly tied to tradition. Nonetheless, he is an honorable man who acquits himself with dignity when dealing with foreign emissaries (his interaction with Lord Silvertree is a rather memorable example of this), and his honor ultimately compels his death.
The same tri-dimensionality is found with the Aulus Severus, one of the story’s antagonists. At first, he appears to be a representative progressive thought (progressive used in reference to 21st century American politics), but as the book goes on, it becomes clear that Severus is a very shrewd politician. One of the major conflicts of the book revolves around the idea of extending Amorran citizenship to outsiders from other provinces. The traditionalist view, held by Corvus and others, is that this will be detrimental to Amorran culture. Severus’s view is that this will help ensure by giving the provinces a stake in the future of Amorr, even if the culture is weakened.
Interestingly, Vox’s development of female characters is most interesting. His two main female characters—Fjotra and Severa (the latter being the daughter of Aulus Severus)—begin as studies on the extremes of female characters. Fjotra is practical and wise for her age, although hilariously naïve. She is often kind, and somewhat reserved. Severa is passionate and foolish in many ways. She often follows her heart (read: tingles), and is very manipulative. At first, these characters seem rather one-note (especially Severa when she attempts to attain the power of the Goddess), but as the story progresses, these characters become considerably more human. For example, Fjotra falls for the Red Prince and becomes quite infatuated with him, and also acts short-temperedly towards one of the mages sent to accompany her to battle. Severa’s behavior, though, is best understood as the result of having a somewhat indulgent father. Fundamentally, these characters have very human motivations, which lead to the result of the reader having sympathy for them.
The good news, in all this, is that Vox has created some rather compelling characters. Basically all the major characters that appear in the book, as well as a large number of side characters, are three-dimensional and fully-bodied. It is quite enjoyable to spend time with them.
Furthermore, Vox has created a very compelling fantasy world. His knowledge of history, particularly military history, gives this world a very realistic feel. What’s amazing about this accomplishment, is that Vox draws on a rather disparate lot of history. The Amorran realm appears to be based on the Roman Republic, the Lutece realm appears to be based on sixteenth/seventeenth century France, and the Dalarn appear to be based on eleventh century Norsemen. Furthermore, the church is obviously based on the Catholic church, probably around the time of the Medici. These disparate historical elements are then blended together for an incredibly unique and seemingly realistic feel. Couple all this with traditional fantasy elements, such as magic, dwarves, elves, mages, goblins, orcs, and merman, and you have yourself a very interesting world.
Vox also allows his rather unique worldview to shine through. The scene of Corvus’s reunion with his wife, Romilia, is a rather touching celebration of marital love. The scene of Corvus in the Senate allows Vox to demonstrate his views of politicians (“It seemed that, in politics as well as in battle, men tended to think primarily about the consequences intended, never stopping to consider the unintended ones”). There are generally similar touches like this throughout the book, and Vox’s general view of the world presents an interesting change of pace from the utopic progressive visions generally found in modern fiction.
Finally, one other notable feature of this book is that a good portion of the plot conflicts are moral conflicts, which make the conflicts meaningful. The characters are not random actors that exist simply as plot devices. Rather, they are characters with their own beliefs, motivations and moral codes. Whether you agree with any given character’s motivations or not, you cannot deny that any given character’s motivations are what make the story so compelling. In fact, the constant moral conflict found with Marcus Valerius is what makes him such a compelling character. Watching him struggle with him adjusting his theological studies to the real world of war causes you to sympathize with him.
In all, A Throne of Bones is a very good read. It is incredibly entertaining, and stands as a happy and enjoyable alternative that not only inhabits so much of modern fantasy, but modern fiction as well. Vox has written an undeniably engrossing epic, and I do not think that comparisons to Tolkien’s works are undeserved. It is, I suppose, given the remarkable quality of this book, that it is more than possible that Vox is unable to top this effort as he continues on in this series. However, if this book ends up being the worst book in the series, then Vox will have done quite well for himself indeed.