A Throne of Bones

A Throne of Bones: Arts of Dark and Light, Book One
by Vox Day

The Sanctiff has died. The churchmen convene to elect a new leader in the imperial city of Amorr. In the provinces, the legions move to quell provincial rebellions even as the goblins make their annual incursions. And then, the unthinkable happens: an Amorran legion falls.

To the north, the reavers fear. For centuries, they’ve ruled the frigid seas. Now, though, the ulfin have massed in numbers never before seen. The reavers, the wolves of the sea, must ask sanctuary from those that they once pillaged, or face extinction.

The world is falling apart. The orcs move in armies larger than any ever imagined. The nations face civil war. And in all this, one faithful soldier is forced to lead his legion, and he must ask… when the world falls apart, who does a soldier serve? The will of the people? The will of the senate? The will of his family? What is honor in a world where nothing is steady… not even the will of holy mother church?

Vox Day has assembled a thriving world full of grit and complex yet understandable politics. He doesn’t shy away from the dirty aspects of the world. His legionaries swear and kill and have sex. His heroes ask hard questions that don’t have solid answers. His protagonists openly disagree on vital issues.

Oh, and this is a Christian novel.

A Throne of Bones belongs to the Hinterlands imprint of Marcher Lord Press, a line that aims to present books that non-Christians will read and enjoy. It doesn’t hide cursing or even sex scenes – though this is a far cry from erotica. In the Christian community the novel seems to have gotten a fair amount of press, with a lot people both lauding the bold step and a lot of people crying how terrible a novel like this might come from a Christian press.

But… the story? Is it any good?

First off, you need to know that this is a long book. The author aimed to write something akin to Game of Throne,s and in my opinion, he’s succeeded. The thing’s a chunk, but you never really notice. Day never lets you get bored, even as he moves from the politics of the senate to the brutality of the battlefield to the serenity of the Sanctal Palace.

There’s… a lot of main characters. And secondary characters. And tertiary characters. He doesn’t edge out Robert Jordan or anything like that, but there’s a lot of moving pieces here. He finds that perfect balance in not only introducing them, but keeping all of them moving. I don’t recall a single wasted chapter; every one advances not only plot but character development as well. He also knows where to leave the characters, so when the chapter ends I’m tempted to skip ahead to the next chapter featuring that same character.

The plot moves, too. Day has characters from all the many sides of the various conflicts as point of view characters, allowing the reader to discover that everyone has a reason for doing what they do. We do have a clear “main protagonist” in Marcus, the young soldier who climbs the ranks of his legion. Yet, his father the consul, the daughter of his greatest enemy in the senate, her brother in an opposing legion, an opposing nation’s mage, a dwarf, a reaver princess – all these other point of view characters color our perceptions to such a bigger picture.

There’s a lot of things going for the book. Not everything is pure awesome, but these less-than-ideal things seem minor to me. This same author wrote Summa Elvetica, which I reviewed here. At that time, I noted far more telling than showing. It appears Day has grown as an author; I noted no such problems here.

However, some of his naming conventions, because he follows Roman naming customs for his chief nation of Amorr, remain confusing. The novel includes an appendix on those naming conventions. Bravo to him for holding to his chosen culture for his main characters, but it still left me confused at times.

Similarly, he uses Roman military terms and senatorial terms that are not always explained. I understand that explaining terms would throw us out of the story, and given time the terms become clearer – but at least initially, a lot of the terms like “tribune” and “consul” left me confused. Where is a tribune in the military order? How does that compare to a general? Is a consul above or below a senator?

The ending is also… well, not as strong as the rest of the novel, in my opinion. It’s certainly not bad by any means, but that’s not the part I’m going to remember in a few months as I look back at the piece. After nerve-wracking battles and personal drama of the best sort and political maneuvering, the ending of the novel just doesn’t sing in the same way. I suspect Day looked at his page count and said, “Oh! I need to make sure I leave this at a good spot to start the next book!” Maybe the saga will read better in one lump sum. I dunno.

And those parts that have some Christian readers up in arms? The swearing is all done in proper places in-world. Legionaries are soldiers, and soldiers swear. Day doesn’t hide that. Battles include blood and gore; he doesn’t hide it, just as he doesn’t revel in it. I suspect the biggest problem for some will be the sex scene. Yes, there is a sex scene. It’s not erotica. A soldier returns home to his wife and… they do what husbands and wives do. There’s nothing explicit, but it’s also a good deal more descriptive than you’d find in most Christian literature.

Personally, I found nothing wrong with any of these elements in a novel. Day handles each element appropriately within the world he’s created. Maybe this isn’t the novel to hand a Christian with a very sensitive conscious, but for a fantasy lover who’s read pretty much any modern fantasy, it’ll be fine.

So, the final verdict? Get over to Marcher Lord and order the novel if you’ve got some time to dig into a rich world with an engaging storyline and great characters. It’s well worth your time.

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