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. The Throne of Bones is the first book published by Ken Abner's Terminal Fright Publications. I looked at it: A handsome book with creditable art by Jamie Oberschlake. Abner writes on the cover flaps that this collection blew him away and he obviously believes in it. I know Ken and he's a sincere guy not given to exaggerated hype. For him to be this enthusiastic -- well, it was, at least, worth a quick read. That wasn't possible. Once I entered Brian McNaughton's rich, dark world, I realized I had been captured and mastered. As I read I quickly submitted to McNaughton's prose, found myself going at his pace as I began to savor every word with delight.
The Throne of Bones is decadent, witty, satiric, original fantasy that may owe it's genesis to earlier sources, but stands alone in singular weirdness. McNaughton creates a nasty, merciless world with his wickedly keen use of language and a sinfully splendid ability to show the details of his creation.
The created world is never named in the ten inter-related stories. (The title tale is actually six short pieces, so really fifteen.) Life is brutish, short, carnal, and frequently beset with ghouls. Yes, ghouls. McNaughton writes in one story:
For all their laughter, ghouls are a dull lot. Hunger is the fire in which they burn, and it burns hotter than the hunger for power over men or for knowledge of the gods in a crazed mortal. It vaporizes delicacy and leaves behind only a slag of anger and lust. They see their fellows as impediments to feeding, to be mauled and shrieked at when the mourners go home. They are seldom alone, not through love of one another's company, but because a lone ghoul is suspected of stealing food. Their copulation is so hasty that distinctions of sex and identity are often ignored.
The ghouls also acquire the memories of those they feed upon and assume the physical likeness of their meals -- and McNaughton gleefully exploits this in a variety of ways in his stories.
Much of the world McNaughton weaves is given substance by his exotic but logical naming: of places (the city Crotalorn, the Cephalune Hills, and the necropolis of Dreamers' Hill...); discordant family Houses (Cronden, Vogg, Fard, Sleith, Glyphth, Vendren); men (Qudomass Phunosa, Dr. Porfat, Picote Frein, Squirmodon, Angobard the Fomor...); women (Umbra, Phitithia, Dendra, Meryphillia, Therissa...) and of course, ghouls (Gluttoria, Arthrax; the evil Vomikron Noxis, King of the Ghouls...) The society bears a vague resemblance to Imperial Rome (an empress with a Praetorian-like guard, a pantheon of gods and goddesses, family clans, public statuary) as well as medieval western Europe (horses, battle axes, swords, nobility, warriors, scholars and poets.) Like all good fantasy, it's all familiar enough to feel comfortable, yet strange enough to fascinate.
I'm sure if you do have a firmer grounding in Smith and the like, you may find even more to enjoy about The Throne of Bones. But a lush use of language by an accomplished, witty, imaginative writer to create a dark realm peopled by unique characters is enough to recommend this collection to anyone.
The most extravagant rumors of the stranger's ugliness had been nothing but plain truth. A further rumor had yet to be investigated, that he was a fiend whose mother had made a fool of herself with a snake. I dismounted and walked towards him, my hand resting on the hilt of the manqueller that hung by my saddle.
As if we had been chatting all day, he asked, "This used to be the slope of a hill, didn't it?"
That was obvious. The Sons of Cludd had sheered it right off, leaving the cliff of bare earth that towered above us. I assumed they had planned to build a retaining wall, for destabilizing gullies already scored the cliff, but they had abandoned the picks and shovels that lay rusting about us and run off to hunt witches.
I tried to restart our conversation on a formal basis: "I am Lord Fariel."
"Of the House of Sleith," he stated, and I managed not to flinch when he swung his eyes at me. "You didn't lay your own land waste, did you?"
Except for their extraordinary sadness, his eyes were those of an ordinary old man. It was their setting that had upset everyone, tattoos like the patterned skin of a reptile. Not even his eyelids and his lips had escaped the needle. The scaly effect was accidental, because the details depicted nothing more sinister than exotic flowers and fungi.
However odd, a human garden was pleasanter than a human snake, and I answered him less stiffly: "The Empress wanted the Cluddites out of her hair, so she sent them to fortify the border. They tell me this will be a supply road."
He nodded absently as he scanned the pines at the top of the cliff, then turned and pondered the hardwood forest on the interrupted slope.He seemed to be looking for lost landmarks.
I said, "You don't come from here, do you?"
"I do. My wife may have been your kinswoman. Dendra Sleith?"
I gaped as I would at a confessed elf, for he was a creature found only in fireside tales and songs. My Aunt Dendra had long ago been kidnapped on her wedding-night by a woodcutter's son named: "Ringard?"
My father would have killed him on the spot. Less impetuous relatives would have deferred his death, the better to savor it, but I felt only curiosity about a man whose stature in our provincial gossip was mythic. Disfigurement aside, he was bald and bent and ordinary as an old boot. He looked hard and lean, but so does the oaf who slops out my stables, and nobody would ever sing rousing ballads about him.
He stared at me with the dignity of a hound too weary to fawn or cringe. If I'd struck him, I don't think he would have been impressed. He had been struck before.
Contrary to his expectations, I was concerned for his safety. "You had better come with me," I said. "The Cluddites are in the grip of a witch-craze, they've misused some of my people already, and your appearance...."
His smile was an angry twitch. "Like many others who served with Lord Azaxiel, I was shipwrecked on the coast of Tampoontam, where the savages gave me the choice of joining their tribe by either adoption or ingestion. You might say that I earned these decorations in the service of our late Emperor."
The Cluddites wouldn't say that. They would assume that old Ringard had dined and worshipped in the fashion of his adoptive brothers. Burning an idolatrous cannibal might strike them as a diverting respite from burning witches. While I considered how to warn him tactfully, he asked, "What set them off?"
"One of their preachers, of course. An owl hooted, a wolf howled, the wind sighed among the trees--they don't like any of that. They're mostly from Zaxann, this bunch, swineherds and ploughboys, but they seem afraid of the woods."
"The gulf between a woodsman and a farmer is as great as that between a grand lord like yourself and a common sailor." He gestured at the raw gap the Holy Soldiers had cut through the hill. "Farmers hate trees."
While we talked he had led me toward a pile of felled trees, tall as the cliff, that the Cluddites had pushed aside. He circled the heap, climbed it easily as a monkey, peered into it as if searching. Once or twice he called softly, though I could not hear the words.
"Have you lost a dog?"
"No." He gave no explanation, but he caught the hint that his behavior was odd. He scrambled down and accepted my offer of food and shelter.
Posted February 17, 2013
This is the best horror/fantasy I've ever read. I have read it multiple times and it never gets old! The writing is sublime, the stories are amazing, it is terrifying and funny and disturbing...I cannot say enough good things about it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2012
Posted March 16, 2011
This is a fantastic short story compilation of ghouls. Not any other undead to be found, though. If you're tired of vampires, this would be great. World Fantasy Award winner!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2010
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Posted February 16, 2013
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Posted November 5, 2008
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