I first heard of Vox Day in conjunction with the #Gamergate scandal. Day, also known as Theodore Beale, is a writer and game developer who’s become controversial for his outspoken conservatism. My first encounter with his work was a short political book called SJW’s Always Lie, a harsh critique of the so-called “social justice warriors.” The book outlines a simple strategy for protecting oneself from the fanatical progressives who try to silence anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Despite his tendency for hyperbole, I enjoyed Day’s abrasive style, and decided to take a look at his fiction. I selected his 2012 fantasy novel Throne of Bones, Arts of Dark and Light, Book One.
In its print version, Throne of Bones is approximately 850 pages, almost as long as a George R. R. Martin work. Due to my busy schedule, and the fact that I’m always reading several books at a time,it took me several months to finish it. But I persevered, and I found it quite enjoyable.
My biggest complaints about Throne apply not to this specific work but to the fantasy genre in general. I prefer novels of about half that length, so I can finish them in a reasonable about of time. There are also too many point-of-view characters and story threads. Just when I get caught up in one of these narratives, it switches to another. If there were just 2 or 3 threads, I’d read on, expecting the author would get back to it soon. When a novel has 7 or 8, I become frustrated.
Nevertheless, there is a lot to recommend this book. Of the plethora of characters, most are well-rounded and interesting. You might expect a notorious radical like Day would create characters who are purely good or evil. Thankfully, he does not. In that way, he’s a lot like (he’ll wince at this comparison) Game of Thrones Martin. This depth of character is complicated by their mores of their world, which are nothing like our modern, tolerant ways. Take for example the general Valerius Corvus, who has his own nephew executed for disobeying orders during a battle. He is a tough, unyielding bastard but is also one of the book’s most sympathetic characters.
The novel’s setting is Selenoth, a Tolkien-like fantasy world. It contains the expected races of humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs, with some interesting twists. In particular, the elves are not noble and pure like Tolkien’s; they possess a cruel sense of humor and have a xenophobic, genocidal history. Humans on Selenoth are organized loosely in three political groups. The first and most prominent in the story are the Amorrans, denizens of a Roman-type empire that speak a Latin-like tongue and practice a strict, quasi-Christian religion. They rule over a vast number of subservient cities and territories, none of whom possess Amorran citizenship. Secondly, there is Savondir, a neo-French kingdom with a complex aristocracy. Unlike Amorr, which forbids the use of magic on pain of death, Savondir employs battle-mages as part of its military forces. In the third group are the barbarian Dalarn, Viking-like reavers who inhabit the Wolf Islands in the far north.
Much of the action consists of warfare within and between the various human groups, as well as battles against the blood-thirsty, cannibalistic goblins. As I said before, Day does not soften these cultures in line with modern, Western sentiments. There is plenty of killing of and by the protagonists. Amorran martial discipline is enforced by the threat of summary execution. Male-female sex roles are similar to those seen throughout human history, with women taking a subordinate (though often conspiratorial) role. Only among the elves do females have a prominent place in society, due to the magic powers of their virginal sorcerer-priestesses.
My biggest issue with Selenoth society is the imbalance that should be caused by the Amorran ban on magic. I don’t understand how they would not be defeated by Savondir or the elves, both of whom have a magical advantage. The long-lived elves are relatively aloof from human concerns, but the Savonner nobles are as cruel, arrogant, and power-hungry as their Amorran counterparts.
Regardless of what you may think of Day’s politics (and I personally couldn’t care less about an author’s ideology,) Throne of Bones is a great read. If I were to subtract a star for anything, it would be the book’s marathon length and complexity.