When Mike Duran featured Jeff Gerke’s new publishing imprint, Hinterlands, on his blog, I must admit I was skeptical. The Hinterlands’ platform was a little off-putting, to say the least. Gerke seemed to envision a gritty Christian publishing line that secular readers might be attracted to and, through which, these worldly fantasy types might be subtly influenced by an obscured-by-grit gospel message. In addition, the first book he chose to publish is–according to his own word–a Christian [mimicry] of George R.R. Martin’s books. Even the title of this work, A Throne of Bones, resembles A Game of Thrones. And for unknown reasons, despite his lofty ideal of publishing realistic, yet evangelistic, speculative fiction for the teeming hordes of unrepentant readers, Mr. Gerke chose Vox Day to be his voice of the day. Does controversy sell, or does it come back to bite you when you bite all the wrong people? The answer, I’m sure, is yes.
Aha! you say. You’re one of those virulent feminists who hates Vox Day! I’m not, to be honest. Vox Day is just the pseudonym of a man, living in a distant clime, who has no influence over me or my life. But on a purely literary level, I hadn’t yet found Mr. Day’s talents to be equal to his claims of superior intelligence. Do pay attention to my verb tenses, please. I had always found his nonfiction articles to lack nuance, but later discovered that this lack of nuance left him open to attacks on his logic, which then created situations of counterattack wherein Day revealed how very coldly logical he was, and in a way that most people couldn’t follow. This led me to believe that Vox Day is a master manipulator, who directs the dichotomous thinking of others [most people, I’ve found, are black and white thinkers, even if they boast high intelligence. And that personality trait is exploitable]. In contrast to his nonfiction–or paralleling it, depending on how you look at it–Day’s fiction had been, at best, average.
If you’re wondering why I bothered to read Day’s latest offering–all 800 pages of it–it was owing to his challenge to me in the comments section on Duran’s blog. He told me to go ahead and rip his work to shreds as long as I was honest about it. Well, I may not be entirely honest (I’m not). But if I’m anything at all, I’m thoroughly obtuse. So I bought and read this epic tome known as Mature Christian Fantasy. To get banalities out the way, I’ll say right now that the line editing was terrible. It was so terrible it left me wondering why the author went with a publisher, since the publisher clearly had no intention of conducting line edits on the work. However, that’s a philosophical question these days: What is the sound of one word dropping?
Now that I’ve spilled all my cynicism on the page, I’ll go ahead and admit that A Throne of Bones is an above-average fantasy novel that has, in my estimation, elevated the author’s literary status. I would rate the book at four stars. I was hooked from the beginning battle scene, where Day demonstrates he can orchestrate battle in such a clear and concise way that I can understand what’s occurring on the field. I’m neither friend nor foe to battle scenes, but most of them are so poorly written that my mind sees only a muddle of figures with weapons and bloody stumps. Certainly, I’m no expert on battle, nor do I care to be. The author, then, must be the expert for me. As it turns out, VD is an expert [hey, he’s the one who uses those initials!].
He also approaches fantasy in the way I prefer it–as a scholar. I have no idea whether he’s an actual scholar, but his historical perspective is very well done. Some fantasy readers would rather read authors who create entirely new worlds/universes where they tack on creatures who are very much like humans, except not, because they’re alternate versions of our misguided selves. I prefer fantasy works that rely on an alternate version of history. This grounds the stories in the real world, but with archetypal frameworks of epic proportions. If you’re tired of me discussing archetypes on this blog, stop reading, because I’m not going to stop. Archetypes are necessary for our souls [for example, see previous post].
A Throne of Bones is epic owing to its sweeping vision of a society–in this case, a fictitious and fantastical Rome–that is both progressing and hunkering down for conservation at the same time. Balancing a collective society with individuals is nothing if not complex and nuanced. ***oh, boy, have I lost my train of thought owing to wine, dishes, children, and other sundries–on second thought, not including children who aren’t dry goods, but neither is wine*** What was I saying about the progression and conservation of society as pertaining to the individual?! And where is the soul in all of this?
The soul is in the integrity of the characters, as well as in the mixing of the fantasy world with the faith elements. Although I would hasten to add that I knocked off a star in part owing to Severa’s lack of development, the other minors and majors were stellar. Severa, in case you’re wondering, began as a temperamental young woman, who sought out the order of the goddess with the mantra “maiden, mother, crone”. This would suggest that she’s about to work her way through a transformation process, which she does–yes, from maiden to wise female ruler overnight with little to no development. I was disappointed by her. On the other hand, the two major characters–in my opinion, Marcus and Corvus–were men who resonated in their archetypal developments as warrior scholar and man of words (i.e. politician) respectively.
And why is the soul also present in the mixing of fantasy with faith? Ah, well, it’s beautifully done, except, perhaps, in the dropped plot thread of the dragon (yet another reason for the fallen star). There is no overt preaching, simply a Catholic faith that is political, corrupt, and true at one and the same time. The fantasy creatures fit: they’re skeptics or pagans; they’re extensions of the spirit and science and magic present in our world today.
There you have it. Even with chaos sounding its discordant tones all around me, I’ve managed not to tear apart VD’s novel and to be as honest as an obtuse winebibbing insomniac can be. I might scratch my head at Gerke’s–perhaps ironic?–marketing plan of “Hi, we’re Christian artists imitating secular artists,” but Gerke stepped out of this model to choose a quality first book that is a far cry from mimicry. I will, most likely, purchase and read the next book in the series, especially if Marcus is still a main character. At the end of the day, what one needs to bring heart to one’s parched modernity is a warrior scholar.