‘A Throne of Bones’ is superior and intelligent fantasy. It is like a novelisation of ‘Julius Caesar’, with a serious tone and detailed exposition – then with the acid trip of high fantasy. Where it differs from the works of the bard to Vox’s detriment is that this is not tabloid entertainment. Shakespeare is remembered precisely because he was producing the tabloid mass market entertainment of his day. Being considered vulgar by the so-called great and good did not stop the masses flocking to his plays.
‘A Throne of Bones’ has the sophistication but not perhaps the populist appeal. Intelligent, educated people who enjoy fantasy may appreciate the detailed rendering of ancient pseudo-Rome and the classical references. That will certainly stand him in good stead in parts of the fantasy niche market but does not have the sales reach of Mills and Boon or Conan the Barbarian.
Even so the writing is clear and sharp. There is no problem here with quality, exposition or characterisation. A strength of Vox’s writing is to create a cast of believable characters each with their own strengths and flaws, goals, passions and fears.
Despite its intellectual depth Vox’s work certainly appeals more than the loathesome, deathly dull cookie-cutter work of his rivals in which historical accuracy and human nature are often cast aside to match the narrative. Many people would rather read ‘Summa Elvetica’ fifty times over than have to struggle through ‘The Subtle Knife’ by Philip Pullman.
Indeed, to some extent Vox appears to benefit from the relatively unique political and religious perspectives of his work. The historic depth and reach of fantasy unconstrained by the politics of identity is (as Vox himself has argued) a rarity amidst the modern staple of virtue signalling fantasy fiction.
It’s going to be interesting to see what the reaction to A Sea of Skulls will be later this year. I think I can safely say that the cultures are deeper, the action is more intense, and there is less coming-of-age and more philosophy. But then, the author is seldom a reliable judge of his own work.
What I can say is that there will be orc, elf, and dwarf perspective characters in addition to the human ones. And I will also note that I am very conscious of the problem George RR Martin created for himself by allowing his perspective characters to grow from 9 to 22.