Last year, I read A THRONE OF BONES by Vox Day, and thought it was one of the more interesting new epic fantasy novels I’ve read. The author was kind enough to send me an advance copy of THE LAST WITCHKING, a group of three short stories set in A THRONE OF BONES’S setting of Selenoth. Specifically, THE LAST WITCHKING, THE HOBLETS OF WICCAM FENSBORO, and OPERA VITA AETERNA.
The first story deals with the titular LAST WITCHKING, and provides an origin story for one of the villains in A THRONE OF BONES. In Selenoth, the “Witchkings” were the pejorative name for a race of extremely powerful sorcerers that once ruled and tyrannized much of the world. The elves eventually destroyed the witchkings, but before they did, the last two witchkings conceived a child and hid him among the humans, intending that child to be the instrument of vengeance upon their enemies. The child, named Speer, grows up as an unremarkable human boy until his thirteenth birthday, whereupon he discovers his true heritage, and things rapidly go downhill as Speer tries to fulfill his father’s question for vengeance.
The story was an interesting examination of both revenge and the witchkings’ morality, which (unsurprisingly) was essentially Nietzsche backed up by sorcery. In his quest for revenge, Speer pushes beyond limits even his cruel father would not have crossed…with unpleasant results for many of the characters in A THRONE OF BONES.
I think THE HOBLETS OF WICCAM FENSBORO was the weakest of the three stories. In the story, the goblin commander of a village ruled by orcs finds that the orc king does not particularly care for hobs, a race that has lived alongside the goblins for generations, and has issued an order for their destruction. The goblin commander desperately tries to save the hobs and the goblin village from the wrath of their orcish occupiers.
In a note at the end of the story, the author points out that he intended the story as a homage to the Italians during the German occupation of Italy at the end of World War II, when many Italian civilians and army officers tried to keep the Nazis from getting their hands on the Italian Jews. While this is a noble homage, I don’t think the story quite worked. First, the goblins and orcs are essentially comic figures – the goblins are weak, and the orcs are vicious and brutal – which as characters were unsuited to the tone of a story based on genocide and morality, somewhat like trying to repair an iPad with a claw hammer. Second, the story never quite adequately explains what the hobs are, which made it difficult to care about them. I assumed that “hobs” were sort of Selenoth’s version of hobbits, but that was only assumption on my part. Traditionally, hobs were helpful household spirits, but that didn’t quite match the story. In Jim Butcher’s THE DRESDEN FILES, hobs are vicious psychotic Faerie predators, and I’m definitely sure that didn’t match the story. All in all, I think THE HOBLETS OF WICCAM FENSBORO was an ambitious miss (the author’s note did say he wrote the story ten years before starting the Selenoth novels, so I suspect the setting wasn’t quite formed all the way yet).
Finally, OPERA VITA AETERNA was a superb story, and my favorite of the three. The story is essentially one decades-long conversation between an abbot of the church of the Immaculate (Selenoth’s equivalent to Christianity), and a mighty elven sorcerer who has grown intrigued by the church’s teaching. Selenoth’s elves seem to have a tendency towards cat-like sociopathy, so the conversations between the sorcerer and the abbot were interesting. Additionally, it’s very rare to find a story that handles a religious conversion experience well, but OPERA does it, and ties in nicely with the larger history of Selenoth.
So, as I said with THE WARDOG’S COIN, people who have already read A THRONE OF BONES will find these stories an interesting addition to the world of Selenoth. If you haven’t read A THRONE OF BONES, these stories are a good introduction, and will help you decide if the longer book would be to your liking or not.
On a semi-related note, the Selenoth books are a welcome breath of fresh air. SF/F publishing has become too ossified and moribund (science fiction and fantasy are supposed to be the literature of the speculative, yet every writer these days seems to have the exact same standard-issue SWPL worldview) so books from a writer who is capable of regarding organized religion as something other than a peculiar superstition practiced by the peasantry are most welcome.