Category Archives: book reviews

Vox Day, His Latest Book, and the Hinterlands Imprint

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.


I’m Going to Write a Post About. . .Beer!

I grew up in Portland, where the smell of hops mingled with the muddy breezes blowing off the Willamette River. The fragrance of hops was the smell of downtown Portland, at least until the late nineties, when the Henry-Weinhard Brewery sold its operations to Miller, who moved the brewery to Washington. To lose a piece of Portland’s history to Miller is a sad affair, indeed. But, don’t despair over the loss of Henry-Weinhard’s, because Oregon is rich with micro breweries that craft some of the tastiest beers around–better than HW’s, I have to add, if only in a whisper.

Why, you ask, am I bringing this up now? Have I finally cracked (well, yes, if you read my previous post you know I have) from living in New Mexico for too many years? New Mexico is known for its wines, not beers. New Mexico is, in fact, the oldest wine-grape-growing region in the country, but that’s the subject for another article. In part, I’m feeling nostalgic for a beverage I no longer enjoy. My gluten intolerance, which has worsened in the past few years, makes beer drinking a dangerous activity. I don’t prefer to spend the night doubled over in cramps, regardless of how little gluten remains in beer after the brewing process. Oh, how I used to love beer, though. I loved all kinds, too, as long as they were high quality–pale ales and porters and stouts and nut-browns.

And for the other part, beer reminds me of literature. Not so long ago, I had noticed a sentiment among writer-bloggers of belittling writers who wanted to be critics of literature, as well. Readers don’t care about the same craft devices that writers do, which renders writers’ critiques useless, not to mention snobbish, to those uneducated masses who simply know how to read and conversely know nothing about craft. Never have these readers had to dissect Shakespeare in English classes, apparently, nor have they sat through lectures on sentence structure, essay/poetry/story structure, theme, or symbolism. Of course, that’s utter nonsense. If they graduated from high school, they sat through these kinds of lectures.

The snobbery of treating readers as if they’re uninformed irritated me. I vented my frustrations to my husband, who happens to be a reader rather than a writer, and I thought he would agree with me and justly be offended by the notion that readers aren’t that smart or observant. Instead, he changed the subject and talked about beer.

The bitter truth of it (thanks Deschutes brewery!) is that the same types exist in the beer-drinking trade as in the reading trade.

The lowest common denominator of beer drinkers will buy cases of Budweiser or Coors or, God forbid, Hamm’s. They love to drink beer, but they don’t know or care about quality or craft. They buy a lot of beer, they like it cold, and they like it in quantity.

Residing on the next step are the beer drinkers who’ve tasted the good stuff, but they prefer to buy the cheaper beer and only occasionally play the snob with a Sam Adams or a Dos Equis. They may or may not know anything about the crafting of beer.

The next group up on the ladder to heavenly brews prefers the best kind of beer and wouldn’t consider lowering themselves and their drinking experience to a Bud Light, even if the Bud was free. Still, though, they know nothing about craft–they just know what tastes good.

The next group are the aficionados, who can talk for hours about crafting techniques, while savoring the good stuff. They study their beers for balance and quality of ingredients. They look for mastery. They long for it!

And then, of course, the brew masters run up and down the ladder–some brew Bud quality and some brew Blue Heron quality. They know their craft, but they also know their audience. Does my audience want a cooler full of beer to drink away the night, or do they want something with a creamy top served by the side of an expensive gourmet hamburger or a pizza baked in a wood-fired oven? Brew masters find themselves soul-searching, looking for their niche. Or maybe they only ruminate this way in my imagination. Who knows?

Needless to say, the vast quantity of beer drinkers reside on the first  three steps of the ladder. But sometimes beer drinkers will surprise  you. Sometimes you’ll find a Bud light drinker who knows all about the crafting of beer and still prefers Bud. Sometimes you’ll find that the world isn’t a black and white place, in which beer drinkers and readers can be easily quantified.

My analogy breaks down at a certain level–and I’ve already hinted at it. All high school graduates in this country have sat through grammar and Shakespeare, and if not Shakespeare, then some other highly esteemed literature. Nobody is forced to sit through lectures on beer crafting, though it should be a mandatory subject, right up there with algebra (oh, come on, why not?). Yet nobody would tell a brew master that he isn’t allowed to critique beers by what he knows of craft, simply because the average beer drinker might not know or care about hops and malt, might not know that it takes more than just a recipe and a group of ingredients to create great brews–that it also takes inspiration and talent and hard work.

But you’d probably be surprised at what the average person knows.

Now for the nitty-gritty. What’s your favorite beer (if you have one)?  And what do you think of writers reviewing literature?