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Friday, July 15, 2016

A Throne of Bones: a review

Katrina reviews ATOB on Amazon:
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up because I'd seen the author's critiques of the current state of SF/F and was curious to see if he could deliver an improvement on the mediocre works that just about define the genre today. I was also intrigued by the military emphasis- or more specifically the emphasis on an accurate portrayal of warfare. On both accounts, I came away impressed.

Yes, this is like A Game of Thrones. As I understand it, that's intentional.It follows a similar format with each chapter named for the character whose perspective is shown, and the general idea is similar, with different warring kingdoms and factions and betrayals going on at the micro level and some vast cyclical magic operating at a macro level.

Where A Throne of Bones improves upon AGoT is mainly at that macro level. As much as it's transparent in Martin's books that he has no idea where the overall story is going, it's quite clear that Day actually has a plan for Arts of Dark and Light. I get the feeling it's a good plan, too, and, without giving too much away, I suspect it's a little more Wheel of Time than Game of Thrones.

Day also roundly defeats Martin in the military arena. I wasn't sure if this aspect of the book would interest me, since I'm more a fan of naval history, but I found AToB perfectly balanced realism and detail with excitement and pacing. I got the sense that Day could go on all, well, day, about tactics and logistics and this horse and that infantry, yet he didn't, which gave the story a sense of depth without growing tedious. I don't know whether we have the author or the editor to thank for that, but well done, Castalia House, either way.

(By the way, the human side of warfare is incredibly well illustrated, particularly in the chapter featuring "Eyepopper." If I didn't actually cry, it was only because I was too busy double-checking the by-line to make sure it didn't say "Tolstoy.")

I should also offer some praise to the characters whose perspectives we see in the book. Unlike in Martin's books, there is no one I want to choke to death, no name that makes me dread the coming chapter (*cough* Sansa *cough*). Martin's greatest strength is his ability to show both sides of every conflict in a sympathetic light. Day exhibits this ability as well, with legitimate heroes representing differing opinions on religion, morality, national identity, and so on. He writes persuasively and genuinely from all of these perspectives, which is enormously refreshing, especially as he avoids appearing to simply hate humanity in the process.

Which brings me to the worst thing about this book: the sequel isn't out yet!
It's in the works, although obviously slower than I'd like. It will be out this year, one way or another, but "this year" is looking more like "November" than "September" now. I'm beginning to understand why editors are so seldom very prolific writers, as once you spend a few hours editing someone else's book, you're seldom in much of a mood to work on your own.

Also, A Sea of Skulls is a more difficult book to write than A Throne of Bones was. Not for the same reasons that have plagued Mr. Martin, but because, as the reviewer noted, I try to write from the perspective of the different characters. It turns out that the level of difficulty rises considerably when one is writing not only from the various perspectives of human, elf, dwarf, and orc, but from those perspectives set within their native cultures. Alas for those who desired a greater sense of the numinous, it appears my vulgar lyrical gifts much better suit the latter two cultures than the elevated elven culture that Tolkien so memorably portrayed.

Anyhow, if you haven't read A Throne of Bones yet, you should probably get started on it now if you're going to get through it in time for the sequel, since it is an 850-page monster.

What's interesting about this review is that it apparently isn't by a longtime fan or someone familiar with my previous or current works, and yet they nevertheless reach the conclusion that at least the first volume compares favorably with the bestselling works by Mr. Martin. In contrast, those who spuriously claim that I cannot write invariably do so on the basis of not having done more than skimmed a short story or two, and moreover, are less than entirely credible on the basis of their pre-existing enmity for me.

I will never be a great novelist because I simply don't have the gift. I know what a great writer is, and I simply cannot do what they do. But that doesn't mean that I can't write some of the best epic fantasy out there, because what is required for epic fantasy leans more towards stamina, clear thinking, and a coherent vision than pure literary talent. And that is one reason that I have chosen to focus on it, at least in terms of my fiction, rather than some of the other sub-genres in which I have dabbled.

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48 Comments:

Blogger Servant of the Chief July 15, 2016 11:40 AM  

Decided to check out your book A throne of Bones at last after this, everyone else seems to think its a good romp.

And the UK Amazon gave me the choice of purchasing it for around a fiver in kindle format...

Or 270 pounds in hardcover. Used. Fuck me silly, what is this nonsense?

Anonymous rpv July 15, 2016 11:53 AM  

I loved it and look forward to the sequel as well.

Blogger Nate July 15, 2016 11:55 AM  

"I suspect it's a little more Wheel of Time than Game of Thrones."

ahem...

Anonymous Stephen J. July 15, 2016 11:56 AM  

I always liked Stephen King's tiers of ability. He divided writers into the bad, the competent, the good and the great, and contended that while it was not possible for a bad writer to become competent or a good writer to become great, it was thoroughly possible for a competent writer to become a good one, and even a very good one, by simply practicing his craft.

I do plan on reading A Sea of Skulls at some point, although this time round I may actually get the e-book. Love physical paper volumes as I do, eventually one's shoulder does get tired of the brickbats.

Blogger Human Animal July 15, 2016 12:10 PM  

it is an 850-page monster.

It's why I've been interested in series and pulps. GRRM readers will often skip entire character perspectives, a bit like how few comic fans read every series among DC and Marvel's products.

I always liked Stephen King's tiers of ability...

Practice and structure. Then if you're lacking self-awareness, beta readers. If Stieg Larsson has Jim Butcher's approach, we'd have had a lot more Paulo Roberto boxing a kidnapping giant who can't feel pain and a lot less about poly-amorous marriages.

Oh wait, he was writing in Sweden. Nevermind.

But King's better books, even The Dome, are more structured. On Writing probably avoided structure because it sounds like work. And math. But his book on horror... Danse Macabre? Got more into his theory of this and that.

Though compared to the advice you'll get from one of the cat ladies of a typical English department? Even that potato Scalzi looks savvy.

Blogger Leo Little Book July 15, 2016 12:13 PM  

Not everyone is so empathically tender as to follow avidly the delicately dull proceedings of the novelist. One man's workmanship is another man's wrought iron.

" 850-page monster."

My primary memory at this distant remove is that the book was disgustingly short, so this description startled me.

I still vividly recall the aborted abortion vignette, and the silhouettes of the cats of Selenoth shimmer miragelike in dusk's heat.

Oh for the unfoolish villain, the unfaggot priest, and the unfearing hero! This trinity is hen's teeth. Type on.

Blogger Polynices July 15, 2016 12:27 PM  

I'm going to echo that complaint: no sequel yet! Worst thing evar!

I also agree with Leo, I don't recall it being long at all, rather I was disappointed when it ended. Write moar!

Anonymous Jill July 15, 2016 12:30 PM  

I know what you mean about editing for a few hours and not wanting to work on my own writing. It's difficult to transition from being immersed in another writer's work to my own. As a freelancer, I'm to the point where I'm not taking new clients unless it's for easy work like proofreading and formatting. As a publisher, you're just going to have to make it work...so that your readers can buy your new book. :)

Blogger clk July 15, 2016 12:30 PM  

If you read all the works of Tolkien -- including the unfinished works, lost tales, letters .. I come away with the impression that its more a function of steady hard work, with lots of revisions and .. you got to love your characters to make them live .. the beauty of these works is the canonical nature - they create a world and establish "laws" and then live within those "laws" and that takes planning.

I am not even sure what "pure literary talent" means ? who would be an example of such a pure literary talent ?

Anonymous Coal Fired Brisket July 15, 2016 12:30 PM  

Vox, was the digging speed of Marcus' tunnel out of the fort realistic with the tools available to him?

Blogger Leo Little Book July 15, 2016 12:35 PM  

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Blogger Human Animal July 15, 2016 12:47 PM  

I am not even sure what "pure literary talent" means ? who would be an example of such a pure literary talent ?

Novelty, synthesis, the richness of language and images, the capacity to show or suggest rather than bludgeon. And then also to bludgeon with purpose and calculation.

PG Wodehouse in general. Helen Dunmore's The Siege, probably. I haven't read Lolita, but I've seen a few passages quoted and can believe it's as excellent as the subject is nauseating. Moby Dick is so far behind me I've forgotten all of it, but that might be another example.

Blogger Zeke OF Confettii July 15, 2016 12:51 PM  

John C Wright.

Blogger Markku July 15, 2016 12:59 PM  

Fuck me silly, what is this nonsense?

It was published by another publisher before Castalia House existed, and now is out of print. Some scroundels are profiteering from the fact that we haven't had time to make our own version yet.

Anonymous Jill July 15, 2016 1:02 PM  

I would agree that PG Wodehouse is an example of pure literary talent when it comes to comedy. Phillip K Dick comes to mind for sci fi. Those are probably my two favorite authors. I'm not biased or anything.

Anonymous LastRedoubt July 15, 2016 1:02 PM  

I plan on reading AToB but there are so many things on my list now, including rereading both the Lung and New Sun books.

I have enjoyed the Wardog's Coin, and Opera Vitae Aeterna (sp?).

Insofar as King, meh.

He has talent, and insight as to what can make a good writer. He also has a sickness in his soul. I've read Carrie, Running Man, Cycle of the Werewolf, most of the Gunslinger books, the Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, and not realizing it was King at the time, the Long Walk.

By the time I got through the Wizard in Glass, I was sick and tired of him. The end of the Stand, of the darkness, the nihilism, the futility.

I caught enough of the Dome to see the caricatures of conservatives, the cardboard cutouts some of the characters were. And of course the people in power who were "good" were only pretending for the sake of power.

Anonymous Holmwood July 15, 2016 1:11 PM  

Markku wrote:Some scroundels are profiteering from the fact that we haven't had time to make our own version yet.

Or, with respect to Markku, the free market is operating as it should. Supply is sharply limited; there will never be more of this first edition, and if the series catches on wildly, #270 could look like a pittance.

True, I think only a lunatic or a very wealthy Vox Day fan would spend #270, but obviously the seller thinks both lunatics and wealthy Vox Day fans exist. He is likely correct.

-Holmwood

Anonymous Jill July 15, 2016 1:16 PM  

"He has talent, and insight as to what can make a good writer. He also has a sickness in his soul."

That's what I notice about writers like Vox Day--he writes about dark subjects, but entirely lacks the soul sickness. Calls himself Dark Lord--lacks soul sickness to be Dark Lord.

Blogger Cataline Sergius July 15, 2016 1:30 PM  

@Vox

Are we still doing something for the Dragoncon Awards?

It's getting down to the wire on nominations.

Anonymous Kell July 15, 2016 1:30 PM  

Bought a copy of Throne of Bones but haven't read it yet. It's on my to-do list. I just have a problem where I read three books and my to-read pile shrinks from 82 to 84...

In some ways I think I'm a bit like the reviewer. I appreciate the fact that VD calls a spade a spade, and he doesn't seem to have an over-inflated sense of his own writing ability. That's enough for me to spend some money.

Also, VD, don't sell your own skills short. Just because you aren't great NOW doesn't mean that time and practice won't get you there. Larry Correia is a good example of a guy who's work has steadily improved. I absolutely cannot imagine you'll fail to improve with time, either.

Anonymous JCB July 15, 2016 1:41 PM  

This seems like as good a time as any to ask a trivial question - when I look at the map of Selenoth, I notice that the island province of Illyris Baara has an island that is on 1/2 under Amorran control. Is this a Cyprus type situation that will factor into a future book or short story? Or were you just fooling around?

Blogger VD July 15, 2016 1:50 PM  

Vox, was the digging speed of Marcus' tunnel out of the fort realistic with the tools available to him?

With the tools and manpower, yes, but practically it was probably 24-36 hours too short due to the workspace. I stupidly worked it out based on how much earth a legion moved every day when it built its evening fortifications, forgetting to account for the fact that fewer could dig at a tunnel than at a ditch.

But they definitely had the tools. Marius's men used to call themselves his mules, and complain that they spent more time digging than fighting or even marching.

Anonymous S. Misanthrope July 15, 2016 2:52 PM  

Hey, cool, that's my review! I have read some of your other books: Cuckservative, SJWAL, and Quantum Mortis. Also I've read both your blogs for a few months. Not sure if that makes me a fan whose opinion is thereby invalidated or not. Anyway, glad to hear the next book is coming soon. Keep up the great work!

Blogger Paul Lutgen July 15, 2016 3:28 PM  

Is writing stressful? I ask because a lot of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn, David Gemmel, Robert Jordan, seem to pass away at a relatively young age.

Blogger Paul Lutgen July 15, 2016 3:32 PM  

Sure they had conditions that killed them but I wonder if stress complicated the problem.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 15, 2016 4:45 PM  

That was a good review. The good news is that the macro structure of the Wheel of Time books was very good, even if the characters themselves were insufferable. It would be a great universe to host a videogame.

Martin's got an excellent grasp of human nature in the micro, but his worldview sucks.

Blogger Jonathan A. Cavender July 15, 2016 4:54 PM  

To follow up from above, is there any indication as to when a hardback version will be available?

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 15, 2016 4:57 PM  

clk wrote:I am not even sure what "pure literary talent" means ? who would be an example of such a pure literary talent ?

Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Haruki Murakami, all notable as people who manage to channel the perspective of their location and time with crystal clarity.

Also Chuck Tingle, because modern life is illiterate and super gay.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 15, 2016 5:00 PM  

Paul Lutgen wrote:Is writing stressful?

Comparable to building or renovating a house.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 15, 2016 5:07 PM  

John C. Wright would be a terrible novelist, but he is a sci fi grandmaster. In fact, he's a great study in contrasts that way. Almost all brain and almost no heart (except for the final short story of Awake in the Night Land, which was...something else).

Stephen King is an occasional genius but he spent too much time on the juice and it ruined a lot of his work.

Blogger GK Chesterton July 15, 2016 5:27 PM  

I'll agree that you have a problem with novels but your short stories are amazingly well done. Especially the none military ones. "The Last Witchking" was one of the best horror shorts I've read in a good long while. I have to wonder, since so few on the Left read it, if you could submit it under a different title and name and get some sort of horror award out of it.

Blogger jamsco July 15, 2016 5:37 PM  

"I stupidly worked it out based on how much earth a legion moved every day when it built its evening fortifications, forgetting to account for the fact that fewer could dig at a tunnel than at a ditch."

The retcon is still available.

Also, just for the record, I've got some free time.

Blogger Dave July 15, 2016 5:42 PM  

This review stretches the bounds of credibility. Katrina; a fan of naval history, has concerns regarding the accurate portrayal of warfare. Nearly brought to tears; reminded of Tolstoy. Thanking the author or editor at Castalia House which is one in the same.

Not being a fan of fantasy or 850 page monsters, ATOB has never been on my radar. All that being said however, it might have just appeared on the edge of the radar screen blinking slowly.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 15, 2016 5:57 PM  

Dave wrote:This review stretches the bounds of credibility. Katrina; a fan of naval history, has concerns regarding the accurate portrayal of warfare. Nearly brought to tears; reminded of Tolstoy. Thanking the author or editor at Castalia House which is one in the same.

Not being a fan of fantasy or 850 page monsters, ATOB has never been on my radar. All that being said however, it might have just appeared on the edge of the radar screen blinking slowly.



Selection bias. Does it also stretch the bounds of credibility that most of the regular commenters here score in the upper 1% of a vocabulary test?

Anonymous S. Misanthrope July 15, 2016 6:15 PM  

@33 Did Vox really edit his own book? *That* stretches the bounds of credibility.

Blogger VD July 15, 2016 6:38 PM  

Thanking the author or editor at Castalia House which is one in the same.

But ATOB was not first published by Castalia House. Jeff Gerke was the editor. He even contributed a specific scene to the book.

Blogger VD July 15, 2016 6:39 PM  

The retcon is still available.

Work out how long it SHOULD have taken and I'll see if I can manage it.

Blogger Dave July 15, 2016 7:22 PM  

I'm aware ATOB was written before CH existed so while praising CH as the publisher is technically correct, it sounds slightly odd.

If you might indulge in some inside baseball talk: did you alter or edit the edition that was previously published? Who was the original publisher again? I'm sure you mentioned this before but did you retain the rights or did you negotiate to publish by CH?

Oh, will CH consider making ATOB the new release bonus book for Sea of SKulls? Yes, an incredible request for $6.99 but think of all the new readers introduced to the series.

Anonymous Cadwallander J July 15, 2016 7:55 PM  

Some scroundels are profiteering from the fact that we haven't had time to make our own version yet.

Scoudrel? I like the sound of that - I could be one of those scoundrels. I need to read AToB on kindle anyway to quickly reference the Roman bathhouse terminology.

Blogger Steve Mackelprang July 15, 2016 8:26 PM  

850 pages... music to my ears

Blogger VD July 15, 2016 9:15 PM  

If you might indulge in some inside baseball talk: did you alter or edit the edition that was previously published? Who was the original publisher again? I'm sure you mentioned this before but did you retain the rights or did you negotiate to publish by CH?

Not really. Some typo cleanup mostly. Marcher Lord. The rights reverted to me when Marcher Lord was bought by a larger publisher, as per my contract with them.

Anonymous BGKB July 15, 2016 9:38 PM  

Does it also stretch the bounds of credibility that most of the regular commenters here score in the upper 1% of a vocabulary test?

Not if they look up the words people use here that they don't know. Its actually quite refreshing to encounter. All that time I thought "sugar tits" was snoring cocaine off of women.

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr July 15, 2016 10:15 PM  

AToB is a masterpiece. You can see the wargame design expertise show through.

One minot thing I liked...Vox had the first clear description I've ever read of Roman naming conventions. Clarity is a virtue.

Blogger Mr. B.A.D. July 16, 2016 11:23 AM  

I consider myself a slow reader, from lack of time. It took me less than 2 months to get through my second reading of ATOB.

Blogger Mr. B.A.D. July 16, 2016 11:35 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger RobertT July 16, 2016 4:47 PM  

I think your shorter books are some of your best work.

Blogger Neil July 18, 2016 5:06 AM  

Since I haven't read the book yet, it would be unfair for me to say this on Amazon. But you told me to be "Brutal! Brutal!!!", so I have to say your first paragraph is a stinker. I shall Fisk.
"Who are you?"
-- Ok, enticing if a little trite but at least it's short.
Ahenobarbus stared at the faded painting in the gilded frame mounted on the wall in front of him.
-- Allow me to pause for a moment while I try to figure out if it's Ahenobarbus who said "Who are you?" or if somebody who else in the room has just said it to Ahenobarbus. Nope. I can't tell. Can I have a hint?
The flickering candles cast an eerie glow upon the scene: Six armed men stood over the fallen body of a seventh man, from whose face Ahenobarbus, or as others reverently called him, His Sanctified Holiness Charity IV, couldn't take his eyes.
-- Yikes. Even giving credit for the colon, just the second clause is 30 words. And the structure is getting into Bulwer-Lytton territory. From whom I beg mercy. Oh, but now I think I know who is talking to who. It's Ahenobarbus. To the guy in the painting. Or maybe one of the other guys in the painting. Or someone who has just entered the room Ahenobarbus is in.
The victim was nude, and though there were six assassins in the painting, the body bore seven wounds. Someone had struck twice.
-- Oh, yeah? Maybe the seventh wound was made by the guy making the picture. It could have been two guys who struck twice because one of the guys is a Seventh Day Adventist and another one is a jerk. Or one of the guys could have made all of them, even though they are all Adventists, except he's not a very observant one. Or it could have been suicide, by a man who happened to suffer from congenital analgesia, and these guys are the CSI team.
"Why did they kill you?"
-- No, he'd ask "HOW did they kill you?" The painting's name is "Death of the Undying" and Ahenobarbus is a Sanctified Holiness and it was once a masterpiece, so he should know its title, since he's so smart, and pop up with the obvious question.
-- Fisking ends.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Which is why you will always think of me as a dick. But I will read more of the book on Amazon and try to like it enough to buy it. Best wishes.

Blogger DiverCity August 08, 2016 4:21 PM  

I'm over half way through AToB and I just started reading a week ago. Very good book that grabs you pretty early on and keeps upping the ante as it proceeds. I truly hope the sequel is out this year!!

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