As a longtime reader of Vox Popoli, I half expected Vox Day’s fantasy world of Selenoth to be populated with ankle-biting trolls, fat frogs, and lizard queens, the landscape charred from the 4G war between the flaming sword-wielding libertarian knights and the glock-toting social justice warriors. Instead of the archetypal dark fantasy fortress we would find a technofascist walled garden controlled by Lord Tad McRapey, an omniderigent gamma male with a hint of Asbergers whose evil plan for world domination involves a combination of vaccinations, Keynesian economics, and DISQUALIFICATION. Only the dread ilk dwarves, Bane the Destroyer, and impeccable logic could stand in his pink-shirted path. The reader would eventually be exposed as being largely ignorant of everything and his objections to the goings-on contemptuously dismissed by the author as irrelevant. All of the action would be underscored with electronic punk music.
Selenoth has none of these things, but it does have war-boars, shapeshifting cat-barbarians, and a Hugo nomination (for Opera Vita Aeterna).
A fantasy world is going to be a reflection of an author’s interests. In Tolkien’s case, his love for language, mythology, and poetry formed the primary foundations of Middle Earth – easily the high water mark in world-building for fantasy (and all of literature for that matter).
For Vox and Selenoth, we get Machiavellian political intrigue, historical verisimilitude, and battle scenes that aren’t just two armies running at each other in retarded direct assaults. There’s, like, actual strategy involved.
As far as the various fantasy languages and geography go, there’s not the same ridiculous level of detail as one finds with Tolkien, but that’s a given.
Without a map it was hard for me to picture where I was, but after a while I got a general layout in my head. What we lack in a map, we make up for in names. (EDIT: There is a map right at the beginning, it’s big and helpful.) In keeping with Roman naming conventions, the Amorran characters each have various praenomen, nomen and cognomen. It gets confusing, but it taught me a thing or two about history, for which I’m always grateful. Vox also has tons of subtextual allusions here –referencing historical events, philosophers, you name it. I admit I’m not literate enough to recognize them all.
And as we might expect from an author who scores highly on a couple of the Dark Triad traits, the evil characters and beasties in his universe are well-drawn and enjoyably hideous. Vox describes his prose as pedestrian, but it really comes alive when he’s writing about evil, tortured, or otherwise psychopathic characters. There’s a section in the cool-but-unfortunately titled A Throne of Bones written from the point of view of a demon-possessed goblin that is pretty horrifying.
I say unfortunately titled because A Throne of Bones will inevitably draw comparisons to Game of Thrones. The title makes it sound like a cheap knock-off, but as the awesome cover indicates, it’s nothing of the sort. The main thing they have in common is the genre and the multiple POV characters. Whereas the horrors of Westeros are tinged with nihilism and authorial cruelty, the horrors of Selenoth are elevated into tragedy. In Vox’s world, fellowship, nobility, and faith counterbalance the cruelty of the Coliseum.
Which is what’s most interesting about Selenoth – seeing a ‘crystal dragon’ Catholic church set in an analogue of an ancient Roman republic. It adds a level of complexity to an already complex political situation, and the way Vox is able to weave it all together is a big part of the fun.
In the upcoming weeks, I’m planning on reviewing A Throne of Bones and all the other tales set in Selenoth. It’s been months since I’ve read them, and I need at least a skim-read to refresh my memory and give them a fair shake.
Have a happy Halloween, and be sure to avoid the ankle-biting trolls.